Tom Igoe Reviews Borg Like Me in MAKE Magazine

I was thrilled to get my latest copy of MAKE and to discover this review of Borg Like Me by maker icon Tom Igoe (co-creator of the revolutionary Arduino microcontroller).

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WINK Review: Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia

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We all know the multimedia artistic brilliance of pioneering New Wave band Devo. And many of us know that Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh is an artist who works in other media. But even other moderately devoted fans such as myself may be surprised to realize just how multiple Mothersbaugh’s artistic talents are, how persistent, or how significant when surveyed as a whole. This is all remedied in an impressive new volume, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, assembled by Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver Director Adam Lerner.

Read the complete review here.

RU Sirius Interview Me for H+ Magazine

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From Sirius’ Intro: Gareth Branwyn’s latest book, Borg Like Me, takes a slightly unusual route to tell us the story of his Cyborgification, a process that started, of necessity, when he was very young. By combining memoir-style segments with articles published in various periodicals ranging from my own MONDO 2000 through Wired, Boing Boing and Make, the book both reflects back on various periods in counterculture/technoculture and reflects them directly via writings that appeared at the time.

The result is surprisingly coherent. It’s also a serious read that touches on some dark and difficult days. Gareth loses control over his body and he loses his wife, first to the touring life of a rock musician and then to suicide. Through it all, his spirit of romanticism, experimentation, curiosity and hackers/tinkerers’ ethics persevere.

Read the entire interview here.

WINK Review: Beyond The Dark Veil

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My most recent WINK review, of a book of Victorian post-mortem photography is now live.

Beyond the Dark Veil is a handsome new volume from Washington state’s Thanatos Archive, published by Last Gasp (perfect casting there!), exploring this fascinating, now seemingly macabre death practice. This is a gorgeously-produced hardbound volume with an embossed, gold-foiled black leather cover and golden-edged pages. Photography comprises the bulk of the content, but there are also essays from Jack Mord (owner of the Archive), author and death researcher Bess Lovejoy, artist Marion Peck, poet Joanna Roche, historian of photography Joe Smoke, and others.

Read the full review here.

My Friends Are the Gifts

I have decided that, for Christmas this year, I’m going to give only presents made by friends. I have so many friends with Etsy stores, small businesses, self-published books and music, artwork, and other things to sell, I figured why not support my pals (and self-employment) and share some of their amazing handiwork with family and my other friends?

I did a post on my Facebook wall sharing this idea and asking friends to list their wares in the comments. I got nearly 200 Likes and comments/listing of items for sale. I couldn’t list them all in this post, but here are some of my favorites, mainly products I already own or can vouch for.

Many people commented on how much they loved this idea. Half a dozen did similar posts on their FB pages. Consider doing so yourself and buying from your friends this year, or at least buying more handmade wares and self-published media. And if you do, I’d love to hear about it.

 

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Borg Like Me (and other neat stuff) [Gareth Branwyn] Well, shameless as it is, I couldn’t sleep with myself if I didn’t first hawk my own self-published crap. My Sparks of Fire Press imprint sells my book, Borg Like Me, several chapbooks, rubber stamps that I’ve designed, mini bookmarks, and bookplates. From now until the end of 2014, buy one print book and get all additional books for half price. You also get issued a free Artistic License with every book ordered. Who doesn’t need artistic license?

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Combat Garden Gnomes Shawn Thorsson is a very talented props and costume maker who is a frequent favorite at Maker Faire, with his giant robots and genetically-engineered superhuman costumes. And these adorably deadly Combat Garden Gnomes! One year, I got my family “Poo Pets” (biodegradable animal statues pressed from animal poop) for their gardens. We may need to trade up in guardians of the garden lethality.

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Cyberoptix Tie Lab My friend Bethany Shorb is an artisanal crazy-woman. I love seeing all of the amazing products (and fine art) she creates, and the passion and single-mindedness with which she pursues her muse. I own (and adore) several of her incredible (and spectacularly nerdy) neckties. Now she’s branched out into bowties, scarves, ascots, all kinds of gorgeous stuff. Bethany’s wares come in really lovely boxes (there’s even a wooden gift box option), making these a really special gift to give. And, as Bethany says, these are: “Ties that don’t suck.”

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Goshdarnknit Notebooks For the past 11 years, I’ve kept all of my notes and (not so) big ideas in Moleskine Cahiers pocket notebooks. DC artist Rania Hassan prints her own lovely illustrations on blank Moleskines. I have several of Rania’s printed Cahier-sized books and they’re always a treat to pull from my pocket.

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Zeichen Press I’ve had a mad crush on the boutique letterpress shop, Zeichen Press (OK, and maybe Fran Shea who co-owns it, along with Jen Shea), ever since I did an interview with them for a Maker Business series on MAKE. I was thrilled when they also agreed to do my Sparks of Fire Press bookplates. Zeichen does a lot of commission printing like that, but they also do an amazingly funny line of letterpress greeting cards. It’s Fran’s sharp-witted, funny, and just plain kooky sense of humor that brings out the toe-in-dirt schoolboy in me. I want to get some of those “No Soliciting Unless You’re Wrapped in Bacon” cards, laminate them, and give them out as door signs (after I snag one for myself).

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Holiday Deal for Borg Like Me!

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Between now and the end of the year, when you buy the first copy at full price, you can add additional copies at only $15. Half off! You also get a free gift of a Sparks of Fire Press “Artistic License” (for every book ordered) sent in a mail art envelope. Now you’ll never be without the permission you need to let your creative juices exceed culturally-imposed limits. You’ll be LICENSED! Order your copies here.

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Understanding William Blake: Part 1

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The following chapter is excerpted from my book, Borg Like Me. It is the only pieced I’ve ever published about William Blake. Since he takes up so much of my interest and attention, and is so profoundly important to me, I decided I wanted to use my blog to delve deeper into WHY he remains so important to me and to share some of what I’ve teased out of his work. So, I decided to make this piece from BLM (which originally appeared in MAKE) serve as the intro to this series.

Next up: Gareth’s Essential Reader’s Guide to Blake.

 

WILLIAM BLAKE: PATRON SAINT OF MAKERS

William Blake. William Blake. William Blah, Blah, Blah. My family and friends (and social media friends and followers) are painfully aware of my seemingly inexhaustible prattling on about William Blake. You don’t have to hang around me for long before you’ll hear a dropped Blake quote here, a snippet of poetry there, or me quickly drawing some Blakean analogy for something we’re discussing, whatever we’re discussing.

The sad thing (for me) is that a lot of this falls on tin ears. Anything by or about Blake seems to have the uncanny ability to tax the attention spans of all but a stalwart few. I can almost count the seconds before I see eyes glaze over and begin to dart side-to-side, hands creeping toward smartphones itching to be checked for the latest Facebook Likes and Twitter alerts.

Over the years, I’ve come to think of understanding Blake and his art as analogous to learning a new language. You can’t just “speak” Blake overnight (or understand him being spoken). This is, of course, the case with any artist, thinker, or crazy person who’s created his or her own complex cosmology, as Blake did. So when people hear me frequently referencing Blake, I imagine what they hear is, say, Latin or German, or the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons. They think “Oh God, he’s speaking that weird language again that I don’t understand or really care about. HELP!” And away go their attention spans – “Hey, look, new kitty-cat memes on Facebook! HE-larious!”

A relatively new friend recently asked me how I got interested in Blake. As I recount in this piece, it was actually through the work of anthropologist and co-founder of the science of cybernetics, Gregory Bateson. In reading Bateson, and listening to his lectures, he frequently mentioned and quoted Blake and seemed to imply that there was some resonance between his work and Blake’s. I couldn’t imagine how this could be the case. How could there be significant common ground between an atheist scientist, naturalist, and pioneer of cybernetics, and a strange, maladjusted, mystical Christian artist from the turn of the 19th century who hallucinated angels and whose poetry we were forced to memorize in high school?

So, I went to Blake looking for what connected him to Gregory Bateson and the things that were significant to me about Bateson’s work. Since one of Bateson’s memorable maxims was to look for the “patterns that connect” (“…the orchid to the primrose and the dolphin to the whale and all four of them to me”) this seemed like a worthy quest. That quest has now consumed the better part of my adult life and my interest in Blake has long ago overtaken my interest in Bateson. And yes, now I completely understand what connects the two of them and their seemingly disparate ideas together. But I’ll let you go on that quest yourself—connecting them to each other, and them to me, and me to you.

This piece originally appeared in MAKE Volume 17, the Lost Knowledge issue (aka the steampunk issue), which I guest edited. I thought it entirely appropriate to put the work of William Blake within the context of the crazed, creative re-imaginings of Victorian science, technology, and culture represented by the steampunk maker scene of 2009.

 

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For the past 25 years, nearly every day, I’ve interacted, in some fashion, with William Blake, “the mad English poet” (as some contemporary detractors dubbed him). I poke my nose into one of the dozens of books I’ve collected, or I whisper (or shout to the rafters) a poem, or I chew on some gristly hunk of his ridiculously complex mytho-poetic cosmology.

For someone with the attention span of a four-year-old, having anything captivate me to such an extent is downright alarming. Equally strange is the fact that, I’m a writer. I live to communicate my ideas and experiences to others, yet I’ve never published a word about Blake. Until now. Why am I so fascinated by this apocalyptic, outsider artist (in his day, anyway) whose work still defies comfortable comprehension? What keeps me coming back?

In this article, I’ll explain a little of Blake’s invented printing method and make a case for why I think he’s a perfect candidate for Patron Saint of Makers.

WILLIAM BLAKE, 18TH-CENTURY ZINE PUBLISHER

I was introduced to William Blake in British Lit class in high school, but ironically, it was during the desktop publishing revolution of the mid-1980s that I started to understand what he was really all about.

I came to the real Blake by way of cybernetics pioneer Gregory Bateson. Bateson was fascinated by how Blake famously “mixed up” modes of perception in his work; Blake claimed he possessed something called “fourfold vision” and that he could simultaneously see things on different levels of awareness.

Bateson had studied schizophrenia for the Veterans Administration and discovered that, similarly, schizophrenics confuse and conflate, for instance, the literal and the metaphorical; they don’t organize thoughts, communication, and perceptions into logical categories the same way that non-schizophrenics do. Blake also seemed to leak at the margins separating these logical types of communication and awareness. Of course, one can argue that all artists do this, but it’s the extremes of the leakage in Blake’s work, the sheer quantity, and the complexity of it (and its surprising coherence, if you stick around long enough to sort it out) that makes Blake so compelling. Bateson was also intrigued by how functional Blake was while living in his world of perceptual and categorical mashups.

As I began to delve deeper into Blake, one day I had something of an epiphany. I’d gotten a lovely two-volume set of his most popular works: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, two of his masterpieces of “illuminated printing,” a technique of free-form engraving, painting, and printing he’d invented. Up until his discovery, illustration engraving and book printing were two separate disciplines, with the engravings etched, printed, and later, tipped into the books as plates. By combining these two arts on the page, Blake’s technique freed him to write text, compose pages, design typography, and paint illustrations, right on the copper printing plates.

I was reading about all of this while working on an art and technology zine I was publishing, called Going Gaga, using an Apple Mac SE running PageMaker layout software. I was doing a lot of the writing, designing, even some of the illustrations, right in PageMaker, and printing out my zine on the Canon copier sitting next to my Mac. I realized that Blake had experienced the power of a different, but surprisingly analogous, set of media tools and had felt a similar sense of explosive creative freedom, more than 200 years earlier. William Blake had been a proto zine publisher! William Blake was a multimedia artist!1

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WINK Review: The Wrenchies

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It’s hard to describe The Wrenchies. It’s a gorgeously drawn and colored 304-page graphic novel that takes place in several time periods (including a post-apocalyptic, post-adult future). The Wrenchies is a comic book within the comic book, about a group of young crusaders out to save the world. And there are the future Wrenchies and the original Wrenchies that are actually the Wrenchies from the comic book within the comic book. Confused yet? There are also wizards and magic, dark elf energy vampire zombie thingies that are filled with bugs, aliens from Proxima Centauri, mad scientists, time-travelers, a future world populated only by kid gangs (one of these gangs being the titular Wrenchies), and a scientist who lives inside of a robotic Golem-like creature. Intrigued yet?

Read the full review here.

Singing in the Dark

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For Borg Like Me, I wrote a series of ten one-page pieces that were designed to follow after the essay “Mindfucking Since 1976,” a piece I originally wrote for Boing Boing about “guerrilla ontologist” Robert Anton Wilson. In that piece, I introduced Wilson’s Operation Mindfuck (aka OM), an ongoing campaign to creatively mess with people’s minds; to “hack” consensus reality, an idea that Wilson and Robert Shay first introduced in their Illuminatus! trilogy. The OMs in my book were designed to fill blank pages at the ends of chapters, and were little personal reality hacks and acts of “poetic terrorism” designed to make your brain and the world around you a little more interesting.

When the book finally came together, and these ten pieces were put in place, I thought they distracted from the narrative flow and added another dimension that I thought weakened the rest of the book. So, at the last minute, I pulled them. Next year, I may do another Borg Like Me chapbook that includes the original “Mindfucking” essay and the ten OMs. Here’s an example of one of them.

OM #5: Singing in the Dark

Do yourself a favor. Sing in the dark.

Here’s how: Wait until no one is around. It’s the fear of others hearing that makes so many of us “shower singers” afraid to open up our mouths and really go for it. So, the next time you’re alone and all is still and quiet: Sing. REALLY sing!

I like to lie on my back in bed, in the dark, late at night, and while all the world around me is asleep, I belt one out. I know that no one can possibly hear, except me. It feels amazing.

It’s been so ingrained in us that you shouldn’t sing if you “can’t” sing, which translates to if you don’t have a performance-worthy voice. It’s time to sing out a big “fuck you!” to that notion. You’re not singing for them, you’re singing for you. You’re singing for the sheer expressive joy of singing.

Here’s the perceptual shift you need to make: DON’T focus on how it sounds, focus on how it FEELS. Sing for the process, not the product. Think about the lyrics you’re singing, what they mean, the feelings they express, and really try and inhabit those emotions. Try and make your “performance” as deeply resonant as possible. Make each word carry its full power and meaning.

Here’s why: Do it because it feels good. Singing from your heart is FOR your heart. I really do believe it’s good for your mental health, for your ability to express yourself, your ability to more deeply feel your emotions. And it might even improve your ability to sing in the light of day (if you care to do that). But don’t bother about that now. Do it because it’s sound poetry for your soul.

I frequently wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. I lie there in the pitch black, in the enveloping silence, and I sing something soulful and soothing to myself. Or something fun and frivolous. Or rousing. I try and sing the living shit out of whatever it is, feel it deep in the root of my being. Frequently, the experience is surprisingly moving, even profound. It’s a heartfelt performance that only I will ever hear. Suitably relaxed and becalmed, my faith in the expressive powers of the human instrument restored, I dog-paddle my dreamy desires back to Slumberland.

Do yourself a favor, be bold. Be brave enough to open yourself up. To sing in the dark.

[Inset of “Tears in the Rain” original artwork for Borg Like Me by John Bergin]


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If you want to see what I did include in Borg Like Me, you can learn more about the book and order it here.

Join The Deconstruction

I just got back from a fantastic ten day book “tour” in the Bay Area. While I was there, I had a great time hanging out with my pal Jason Naumoff. Among other things, we discussed his unique upcoming game/global event called The Deconstruction.

The Deconstruction is about learning to think in new ways and remaking the world around you. It’s a global rethink in the form of a game where teams get together, ID a problem or project, and document their solutions over two days. They also have a very innovative way of covering the 48-hour event, using video feeds from all participants, they produce a real-time live streaming event. It’s all about trying to see the world around you in new ways and learning how to hack your way toward the world you want.

The next contest is on Nov 14-16, so sign up NOW if you want to participate.