temporarily impermanent

Hopscotch Threshold


like a temperature on
one's lips, is the word
not begun inspirating
a whisper of breath
to the sky
nigh expired.

expressed espresso of
quick twitch
flip sprinting
and surfing
the waves of
pedestrian glinting
and slowing
the beat to a much softer glowing,
for laying me lowing .tv dogs radioing,
[or rowing those waves but revisioned for knowing]
and wondering and waiting
and tired.

(bergson breeze is still blowing)

can third be the number to remember you (bye)?
sport supple gestures in
damp potter's spaces
claymation emerges
from multiplied paces
fastfry fractal relation
on hot blacktop baking
oven fired.

crying wolf. pack well
for timely dilation
braille acupuncture
teletype operator
of gait surfing needles
and coded transmissions
"i love you" net virus
contemplating my status of

so tired.

biological rhythms, vectoralism, meshworks

The factory was, and is, a space of production in which biological rhythms are continually contested at the interface between labourer and machine apparatus. In this we are not simply describing a disciplining of the body biomechanically-speaking, but also a constraining of the body's internal rhythms in a more holistic sense, which manifests itself in a number of physiological outcomes.

Courtesy of the NBA

As mentioned earlier, professional sport occupies a unique position at the nexus of material industrial production and immaterial postindustrial production. Though in the postindustrial economy of service, information and entertainment there is no longer the fixed capital apparatus of the factory and its assembly line production, do not presume that the sporting factory of the stadium does not itself reconfigure the biological rhythms of the athletic body in similar fashion.

Take the case of professional basketball in North America. There are 30 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA), 15 each in Eastern and Western conferences. Each team plays 82 games, an equal number of which are played at home and on the road. Generally speaking, teams play other teams within their conference 4 times and those from the other conference twice, which of course necessitates a significant amount of travel across the continent. Teams can play on back-to-back nights, but not three nights in a row. Other sundry rules about scheduling are also determined by the league.

Instead of the postindustrial attack on the collective biological rhythms of athletic flesh having an easily identifiable locus, however, the causality in the case of professional basketball is far more diffused, though no less pronounced. Zoom in on the NBA assemblage to the Toronto Raptors, who played the Utah Jazz yesterday (Sunday) afternoon at 12:30pm EST. For the professional athlete used to playing at night this is a significant disruption of normal biological rhythms.

Why not just play Sunday evening? This is not seen as desirable by the Raptors' owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), who would prefer opportunities for families to attend the event. Due to the historical construction of the traditional school and work week, Sunday night is not favoured.

Why not play Saturday evening? The Raptors are not the only professional sports franchise owned by MLSE, which also counts the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL), Toronto FC of Major League Soccer (MLS), Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL) and Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) in its portfolio. Of these, the Maple Leafs are the crown jewel of the corporate empire, and the Saturday night slot is reserved for them. Professional hockey has a unique place in Canadian culture which has historically developed through Foster Hewitt's radio and television program, Hockey Night in Canada, broadcast coast-to-coast for more than seventy years.

So why not play late Sunday afternoon? This would have been possible earlier in the season, when the National Football League (NFL) was still playing. As professional hockey holds a special place and time in Canadian culture (Saturday evening), so American culture similarly considers Sunday afternoon its special place and time for professional football. As such, the rival NBA would not schedule its national telecasts in this time slot — there is too much overlap between the target markets of the two leagues and the NBA would be crushed in the ratings. Each individual NBA franchise has its own regional telecasts, however, and these would be allowed to run against the NFL programming.

Once the NFL season was completed and media competition diminished, the NBA began to telecast its feature Sunday afternoon doubleheader on ABC. In these games the league showcases its best teams and most popular stars, those with the highest Q scores and thus those of greatest sign value to corporate sponsors. The NBA does not want to dilute this audience and since revenues for national telecasts are shared among all franchises, the league established a blackout window for regional telecasts on Sunday afternoons.

And so the game takes place at 12:30pm EST on Sunday. But for the Western Conference Utah Jazz this is one of the road trips across the continent to the east. In terms of biological rhythms, this 12:30pm tip-off is the equivalent of a 10:30am start time. Add to that the daylight savings forward time shift and it is actually a 9:30am start to production, a major bodily difference from the average evening game. In the peculiar joint production model that is professional sport — the cooperative production structure of the game's uncertain outcome and associated data flows — this additional disruption of biological rhythm was seen to offer a competitive advantage for the hometown Raptors.

The more important lesson, however, is that the factory assembly line as the locus of biorhythmical disruption has been replaced in this particular case by a complex meshwork constituting team, league, corporate entity, television network, corporate sponsor, competitive rival, national identity and cultural history. As such, the focal point for a collective struggle of flesh becomes more difficult to pinpoint and more difficult to resist.

Flows and Consumer-Rhythms

In a much earlier sportsBabel post discussing baseball legend Ted Williams and his cryogenesis, I summed up the critique with the following passage: "Baseball, fighter pilots, motor oil: all the rich symbolism of industrial-age corporeality disintegrating into information, signaling the decay of the American Empire and freezing it for the posterity of future history. The triumph of modern capitalism, rational science, and abstract individualism have led us to the logical end point where the only economic and social need left to be served is to supersede the limits of our human bodies. We have trouble accepting the fact that we die. We are hysterical about aging. Surely human ingenuity can overcome these limits? Yet ne'er shall The Greatest Generation understand the ecology of this brave new world it has set us towards and thus it seeks solace in the warm nostalgic embrace of the simulated (re)creation of history."

Yankee StadiumRecruiting StationGas Pump

While there is a definitive shift in all forms of sports media towards a dissolution into a single information stream, we should not confuse this together with the historical progression in sports media from newspaper to telegraph to radio to television to videogame and internet as if it were a linear evolution with each successive stage obsolescing the one prior. Each medium in fact persists (though perhaps in slightly modified form with the subsequent advent of newer media forms) simply because it serves a particular rhythm and its attendant ritual as, for example, with locals at the Corner Bistro in New York who casually flip through scores and standings in the newspaper sports pages on a weekday afternoon while idly scanning the Yankees-Red Sox tilt on the YES network.

This is desirable for sporting capital: to sell the same original stream of information not so much to different consumers, but to different consumer-rhythms. In other words, when the original stream of information, images and identities leaves the production space of the stadium to become a television broadcast, web page, fantasy sports league, etc., it is not simply a break in the flow in the sense articulated by Deleuze and Guattari, but also a break into various distinct rhythmical outputs.

Of course, in the business of sports media (vectoralism) this is but a primary consumption; individual consumers in resonant harmony with one particular consumer-rhythm or another are themselves packaged into "audiences" for distribution to third-party corporate sponsors. As such, these latter sponsors have the opportunity to purchase across rhythms, or to select specific rhythms for their advertising campaigns.

Sensory Inter/Play

Not long ago I suggested that, in contrast with the striated space of the gridiron football field, the association football pitch constituted a smooth space free of most constraints on athlete movement. If this is the case, one can imagine the challenges created in trying to describe the game action — to code it — for someone in the absence of corroborating visual support: how to know where the moving bodies and, more importantly, the ball are at any given point in time?

Quite unexpectedly, I learned the answer to that question this summer at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference in Paris while watching a presentation by Richard Haynes of the Stirling Media Research Institute titled "Seymour de Lotbiniere and the Formative Years of Modern Sports Commentary." Eighty years ago the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the first live soccer game by radio. Prior to the game, the BBC published a plan of the field divided into numbered squares in the Radio Times magazine, which made a great deal of sense as an affective solution since the new radio era was vectoring away from the print era. When Teddy Wakelam called the action on the radio that weekend, he would refer to athletes in various grid sectors as the play moved around the pitch — in the process coining the phrase "back to square one."

Courtesy of BBC/Radio Times

Radio coverage of sport still exists today, albeit to serve very different purposes. While radio once extended the geographical reach of the game in real-time well beyond the stadium walls, television has supplanted radio as the medium that best serves this capacity. Radio survives primarily for those applications in which one's visual acuity is absent or required for some other more important purpose, such as driving. Though I don't really want to enjoy my time driving a car, and I generally despise radio with its bland formulaic approach, frequent commercials, and occasional program content, I will flip on FAN 590 if I'm in the car to catch Toronto Raptors basketball telecasts with Paul Jones and Eric Smith. Jones, the play-by-play man, has a quirk in his delivery with how he attempts to assist the listener in creating a conceptual impression of direction during games: "The Raptors bring the ball up the floor, moving left to right on your radio."

Why is this significant? It has to do with the fixed coordinates required to establish such a conceptual impression.

With the 1927 BBC telecast, the fixed references for the grid system printed in the Radio Times were the east and west sidelines of the stadium and the compass in the bottom-left corner of the map. No matter where one was "sitting" in the mind's eye, one could always orient to the action by understanding traditional map directionality. But remember that today the radio vector exists after the advent of television. While there is no published grid to orient action conceptually, Jones resolves this by fixing the television camera as the benchmark point of reference; the centre court wide-view camera with its back and forth pan shots becomes the "natural" perspective from which to construct a conceptual impression in the mind's eye. To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, the radio audience's identification with the athletes is really an identification with the camera.

Rauschenberg - Open Score (1966)

When discussing the human-machine connection in sport from a media/communications perspective I have tended thus far to privilege the technical component. For example, I keep reiterating how the techniques of videogame production and consumption have to an extent subordinated the role of the human agent in sporting practice. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn this summer from European Graduate School artist-in-residence Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) about Robert Rauschenberg's 1966 performance piece titled "Open Score".

Courtesy of Robert Rauschenberg

As the Media Art Net site describes:

Open Score, Robert Rauschenberg's piece for 9 Evenings, began with a tennis game on the floor of the Armory. Bill Kaminski designed a miniature FM transmitter that fit in the handle of the tennis racquet, and a contact microphone was attached to the handle of the racquet with the antenna wound around the frame of the head. Each time Frank Stella and Mimi Kanarek hit the ball the vibrations of the racquet strings were transmitted to the speakers around the armory, and a loud BONG was heard. At each BONG, one of the 48 lights went out, and the game ended when the Armory was in complete darkness.

Thus we have a situation in which tennis provides the engine for this improvisational theatre art. I had an idea similar to this a few years ago in a post called Gymprov; in a hastily sketched outline I suggested the game would re-tell a classic tale of binary opposition, such as the temptation of Jesus by the Devil, through the engine of pickup basketball. Game play would inspire thematic dialogue, while lighting would have to intuitively follow the appropriate speakers.

Rauschenberg was clearly ahead of his time: in Open Score, by contrast, the "dialogue" is not between the athletes and offstage voices, but rather between the athletes and the technical infrastructure of sound and lighting itself, via the material sporting apparatus (tennis racquet) and immaterial channels of communication (FM radio waves). As Rauschenberg writes: "The unlikely use of the game to control the lights and to perform as an orchestra interest me. The conflict of not being able to see an event that is taking place right in front of one except through a reproduction is the sort of double exposure of action. A screen of light and a screen of darkness."

Courtesy of Robert Rauschenberg

(It is worth noting that Rauschenberg attended the experimental Black Mountain College in the late '40s and early '50s, where he met, among others, John Cage. The parallels between Black Mountain College and the European Graduate School have been suggested to me more than once.)

The Genesis of Baseball Simulations

Baseball recreation

Radio broadcasters recreate a baseball game from a telegraph transmission (courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library).