The Debtors’ Song

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything about the Debtors’ Party [1], I have a few texts in mind about horizontal money, about why we should continue to use the word communism, and more about the macroeconomics of class struggle [2], but I thought I’d start by honouring a debt.

I promised my friend Tsvika Frosh of the Raw Men Empire that I’d write a Debtors’ Song.

So here it is.

= The Debtors' Song =

My bank wants more money
They gonna take away my home
They gonna take away my home
if I don't pay my loan

My doctor wants more money
You see, I had a little spill
but they don't give the pills
if I don't pay my bills


Interflugs, Kulturwertmark

Interflugs[1] is a student managed lecture series organized at WestGermany[2], an underground event venue located in a former doctor’s office near Kottbusser Tor.

The Interflugs series is initiated by students of Universität der Künste. The event was well attended, and discussion flowed freely as the crowd had many questions as well as views and interpretations of their own. The topic was “The Price and Value of Free Culture.” Obviously, a question that’s deeply relevant to artists looking to develop their practice in the age of digital reproduction and social media.

Constanze Kurz and Frank Rieger of the Chaos Computer Club presented the “Kulturwerkmark.”[3]

The Kulterwertmark concept is a developing model of democratic cultural production where fans of artists commit to a monthly flat rate to participate, and distribute this amount to individual culture producers by way of micropayments. Simular in principle to the way[4] operates.

However, the Kulturwertmark envision this model a much broader social level, where the management of the system is not a private firm, but a foundation made up of the artists and the fans. And more ambitiously, the Kulturwertmark project hopes to get the approval of the major rights holders, such as the record labels and movie studios, to participate, indemnifying the subscribers for persecution for downloading and sharing cultural works, in exchange for money funded by the flat rate paid by the subscribers. The Project also hopes to get approval from other organizations that represent rights holders, such as regional collection societies like Germans notorious GEMA[5].

Even more ambitiously, the project hopes to convince rightsholders and cultural producers to vastly reduce exclusivity periods provided by copyrights, to limit them to 15 years, instead of the current life-plus-x, and even provide an earnings expectation, which would waive copyrights on the work even earlier once a certain level of earnings have been exceeded. Also noting that even once a given exclusivity has expired for a given work, the producers of the work would continue to receive income, since income is directed by fans micro payments, not royalties.

On one hand, there is a lot to support about the system, the collective funds provided by the subscribers flat rate create a kind of mutual capital, that can not only be used to support cultural production, but also cultural preservation and promotion.

The system is inherently democratic, as members of the foundation, fans an artists control the system, and the remuneration of individual culture producers is subscriber-directed, by virtue of the micropayment system.

The use of the micropayment system is an important distinction over other “cultural flat rate” proposals, since the subscriber directed micropayments eliminate the need to track usage and downloads , thus eliminating the surveillance needed to allocate payments in flat rate systems driven by downloads or views.

However, the idea of rightsholders and their representatives buying into such a system is extremely dubious for the simple reason is that it only compensates them for the value of their current stock of cultural works, yet their business model is predicated on controlling the value of future cultural works, which a system that lacks user controls does not provide.

The idea of a flat rate is nothing new to the cultural industries. Spotify and Nokia’s partially eliminated “Comes With Music” service both offer all-you-can-eat subscriptions to music, and both have the support of the rightsholders. The rightsholders are not opposed to flat rates, what they are opposed to is exactly the democracy and user freedom that the Kulturwertmark seeks to provide.

It’s not just a question of getting fans to pay for music, it’s much more of a question of being a position to control which artists fans will want to pay for. The labels don’t see themselves as merely holders of existing rights, they see themselves as Star Makers. Their promotion, distribution and hype generating capabilities is what they want to protect. Platforms that don’t allow them to promote their artists are of no interest to them, in fact they are a threat to them. For this reason they will happily allow a private platform where user interactions and data are centrally controlled to offer a flat rate, or even have access to some of their assets for free. So long as the platform delivers what they want most of all: Control. They require the ability to dictate which users can do what with what content on a central platform where their usage can be monitored, advertisements can be shown, search results manipulated and “sponsored,” etc. Without such control they worry that the next generation of stars will not be their own, and that is what they fear most.

Therefore, Kulturwertmark is a pipe dream. It makes the mistake that all the labels want is money. What they really want is to maintain what they already have: The ability to control culture.

The many interesting ideas in the Kulturwertmark model can only have a future if they abandon the idea of attracting capitalist righstholders into the system, and instead focus on building a platform that can attract and sustain the next generation of cultural producers, who do not and will not transfer their rights to the labels.

As I wrote in a Rap commission by the 2008 Oxcars: “If you really want to fuck the recording industry stop downloading their shit!”

You can find the entire rap here:








Greece and the Macroeconomics of Class Struggle.


At thursday evening’s talk at the occupied Empros Theater in Athens, Tiziana Terranova and I gave presentations on the political economy of social media to a diverse and engaged community.

The Empros Theatre is in central Athens, part of the overall urban geography that has been besieged by occupations, protest and police brutality in the recent surge of class conflict stirred by crisis and the accompanying austerity being inflicted on the Greek population. The theater was occupied by a collective of artists a few months ago, and hosts talks, presentations and events, often engaged in the cultural and political questions surrounding the resistance against the politics of austerity. (more…)

For projects like Kickstarter to scale they can not depend on the limited funds workers are able to divert from consumption, and must tap into the real source of accumulation: Surplus Value.

Army of Spidermen

I’m currently involved in a discussion on the Empyre mailing list with Tiziana Terranova, Adam Hyde and others. The topic of Kickstarter and simular sites came up, as I’ve been meaning to address these sorts of projects, both for their potential and their limitations, I though I’d repost an excerpt of my response here:


#R15N, The Official Miscommunication Platform of @transmediale 2012


The Revolutionization of Communication


A delegation from Transmediale 2012 [1] came over to my place last night to discuss the latest Telekommunisten artwork, R15N [2].  In addition to various organizational and technical details that we need to work out in preparation for the not-to-be-missed upcoming Transmediale, we talked about the artistic qualities of R15N and the Miscommunication Technologies series in general, which includes works such as deadSwap [3] and Thimbl [4].

R15N in some ways represents the purest example of a miscommunication technology so far in the series, not only is it a broadcast model, thus fulfilling the Telekomunisten slogan “The Revolution is Calling,” but it really combines many of the core characteristics common to the work of Telekommunisten.

Like Thimbl, it is an economic fiction [5], a platform that for the most part is free to use, yet does not in anyway monetize user data or interaction. Like deadSwap, the system depends on the diligence and competency of the users [6] and their willingness to co-operate with random people, who are likely to be completely unknown to each other. Without such diligence and co-operation of the users, the system breaks down into nothing more than a telephonic game of broken telephone.

R15N will be the Official Miscommunication Platform of Transmediale 2012.

Our hope is that the system will serve to create engagement and a greater sense of community at this years Transmediale. The installation side of R15N is minimal. Some signage and two retro phones under desk lamps, along with a phone booth in which to access the website will represent the work in the physical space of the festivals, but the main purpose of these is to get visitors to register to the system.

Only once the user is registered is the artwork really experienced.

The system is extremely miscommunicative, failed calls and missed calls and occasional poor call quality seem bewildering at first, and the R15N experience begins quite mysteriously and somewhat awkwardly, as users get dropped into the network and begin to be connected with strangers, with whom they are ment to interact. But very quickly the experience starts to feel normal as users acclimatize to it’s quirks and begin to lose inhibitions.

Very quickly, the system becomes a highly efficient way to broadcast information, as despite the somewhat unmanageable communication flow happening on the system, the very cooperation and engagement such a miscommunicative platform requires amplifies the message on channels outside the system, as users share their experience with the people around them and people connected to them on other mediums. By building community though the shared experience of the system, R15N becomes a catalyst for the exogenous propagation of information as well.

Technically, this style of broadcast is similar to what is known as the “Random Phone Call” broadcast model [7], a theoretical model which proves that a given message can saturate a network very quickly by simply connecting random nodes together.

Historically, it works like a randomized, ad-hoc version of the old “phone tree” method of pushing information out to a large community. Phone trees where used by many communities, from schools to church groups to the military [8], when they needed to notify a large number of people quickly. Setting up and maintaining a phone tree was one of the essential tasks of activist groups and political campaigns.

Artistically, we have given the system a retro identity, harkening back to the early days of computer networks and telecommunication platforms and the utopian visions of a new society these new platforms inspired. Both playing on the related nostalgia, but also as a parody of  modern corporate web platforms today, who peddle centralized and captured implementations of use cases that have been around for decades as somehow revolutionary and innovative because they have managed to squeeze out more powerful open alternatives by way of exclusive access to finance capital.

Economically, such a system is extremely accessible, since all calls are initiated by the system and incoming calls are free in most countries, the system is free to use for most people, even for people who have no calling credit on their mobile phones. Nothing more than a working telephone is required to participate.

The system is currently in beta stage, and thus usually inactive, however registration is open and everyone is free to sign up now. Be a part of the R15N community. Don’t miss out on important information! Register Today!

I’ll be at Cafe Buchhandlung [9] tonight at 9pm as usual, please come by.