Biomimicry is like all science derivative. However, while the ‘classical sciences’ tend to follow a generally linear path, biomimicry transcends this. We need all the information we can gather in every area that touches a project we are working on. Success is dependent on the quality of this information, and the ability of the scientist to reconcile the facts and figures of disparate disciplines into a cohesive product. In some ways the misapplication of the term ‘bio-hacking’ is oddly fitting. However, this constructive approach possibly isn’t as novel as we like to think if we look outside the realm of science. Music generally, and the ‘comix’ movement in 70’s America, were a ‘mash-up’ art centuries before ‘mash-up’ was really ever coined. However, the contributing influence to those fields was freely available, designed to published for mass consumption. The sciences haven’t, and still in many ways don’t, have that trait. As a result I think that we have more in common with Aaron Swartz’s work and views than might be immediately obvious.
My LinkedIn headline describes me as a ‘mash-up blogger’. I chose this term because I saw it as giving me relative freedom as to what topics I cover, but also goes a little way to describing the ‘voice’ I use in my articles in this project, synthesising a number of different areas of information to make a cohesive whole distinct from it’s sources. Very similar to the ‘mashup’ tracks prevalent as internet media took off. The inspiration for such a moniker though is down to MC Lars and his ‘post-punk laptop rap’. His success he largely attributes to two things:
1) Embracing the self-publishing power of the internet, warts and all.
2) Synthesis of all the different musical influences he enjoyed into a single entity.
Lars and a number of the more successful Nerdcore artists (MC Frontalot and Schaffer the Darklord come to mind) of the early to mid-2000s grew up as computer programmers or script kiddies. They didn’t just join the social information revolution when Facebook hit 500 million, they established IRC, and spent school nights in their parents basements playing MUDS. Even I got in on the tail end of this era, compulsively refreshing message boards late into the night, keeping up with conversations with other socially backwards teenagers across the globe. Facebook put a nice clean polish on the social web, but it did so at a well documented cost.
Despite the new corporate sheen on the social net, the Nerdcore founders leveraged their knowledge and experience of the system to their benefit, and in doing so understand that this isn’t the old record company model, within a new environment they found ways to exploit the systems in place to propagate their music in a truly D.I.Y style.
More notably, they did it in full knowledge that by self promoting using social media, they were also significantly detracting from their possible record sales. By embracing social networks and streaming media, in many cases openly endorsing torrenting of their work (N.B. torrents etc. are not illegal if the information is not under copyright), they were promoting the material, but utterly negating record revenue. That said, the successful artists found ways to ‘work within the new paradigm’. Live shows, associated spin-off work, kickstarter incentives , and band merch are the money spinners for these musicians. Sure there is a long way to go, but it’s a start.
How does this brief history lesson in niche rap relate to Aaron, and more specifically biomimicry? The tracks that I have been embedding in the paragraphs above are hugely inspired by other music, and in many cases directly sampling the work in defiance of current copyright. To my knowledge no nerdcore artist has been sued for their work, though the infamy of ‘the grey album’ made national news, but of course hip-hop has always trodden the fine line between derivative/original Biomimicry is applied science inspired by every other science you could care to mention. A successful project hinges on the availability of this information, usually outside of a University setting. The biomimicry institute has done a huge service in the form of AskNature, a publicly searchable database of biological processes. However, the papers referenced in the data base are often hard to get hold of, locked behind the paywall of other Journal Databases. Biomimicrists NEED current, well founded information from every available source if their work is so succeed. As I discussed last month, failure to understand your template is a failure in design, but the isses of paywalls are for the next issue. Suffice it for now to say that scientists need to critically look at the way our information is disseminated and ‘owned’, and find a way to update our models like the artists above.
Aarons legal trouble and eventual suicide are all founded in his attempts to bypass what he perceived as an unfair system. I’m not saying that his views were perfect. His model didn’t describe a system of ‘fair reimbursement’ to those who put the effort in to produce the information, but the following articles I hope will show that he was not alone in his issues with the current research system and methods of publishing, and maybe show you a few nuances in the case which you weren’t so familiar with.
On Intellectual Property
I stole four chords today
From a song I figured out.
So who can say that they weren’t earned?
No one, without a doubt –
Yet I guess it won’t be long
Until you are all alone,
Reading from a well known book
To see I also stole this poem!
– MC Lars, April 1999 from Bukowski in Love: a book of poems by MC Lars