#prisoner106: Once More, with Feeling!

Each episode of The Prisoner begins with the story of the arrival. I think that it is important because it is the central myth that informs what ever happens next. No matter how wild or ludicrous what might happen next, it is informed by the intensity of the arrival and nothing speaks more to that for me than this moment captured in an animated GIF:


For me, this mood of focused intensity and purpose are captured in these few seconds that are in each episode. I think I once disliked the repetition of the opening but I now see it as a central informing myth or ritual that must accompany each episode much like the Eucharist in the mass. I have been using GifGrabber to make animated GIFs is this course. I like the program: it captures GIFs easily and allows one to fine tune exactly which frame one wishes to start or end with. It also has a great window that allows the user to center the frame on the subject which has been very effective with the GIFs that I have submitted to this course. I really don’t know why I would use commercial video software to do this – some of the participants seem to go through a lot of steps to make an animated GIF. I would love to hear in the comments what programs you use and why.

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ds106: Open Pedagogy or Personality Cult?

English: Jim Groom as Edupunk

Jim Groom.   God he must be tired of that picture. He looks like he is about to be led away in handcuffs.

I think it is important to talk about why DS 106 is successful as a class. In some online conversations, the question has come up over whether or not the course can be reproduced elsewhere or not. As an instructional designer, I disagree with the idea that success of DS 106 is driven by Jim Groom‘s personality. I disagree with that idea as much as I disagree with the notion that courses succeed through indefinables like “magic” or “secret sauce.” I believe that courses succeed for a set of reasons and that they fail for another set of reasons. Now I happen to love Chairman Groom and a lot of what he has done in education, and his personality is obviously part of that. And that his how it should be. Instructors who are engaged in their courses, for good or ill, will stamp the course with their personality. But I have seen great people teach badly and faculty who were very not known for their sparkly personalities shine online. If students can actually describe their teacher in an online class, that teacher is doing something right, something interesting, something engaging. I was a quasi-lurker/student in one iteration of DS 106 where Jim was very present. And I am in a current iteration with another faculty member who is as deeply engaged, leading to a similar success – but definitely a different kind of personality – both classes are successful. But I would argue that there are three things built into DS 106 that significantly contribute to its success that can be separated from personality: instructor presence, student support, and student engagement.

It is not the personality that creates the success; it is the engagement of the instructor. I know that some personalities are more “engaging” than others. But instructors who make regular videos, podcasts, send weekly emails, and comment frequently on student blogs are experienced by the students as an instructor who is present in the course. That is not “personality cult” that is “instructor presence” and there is a lot of research out there that shows that instructor presence is essential for student success in online learning. Instructor presence occurs not only when an instructor responds to an assignment, but when an instructor utilizes a wide-variety of social media to connect with the students who may be using a wide-variety of devices and social networking platforms to connect with one another. In other words, many students are already using this media – one can be present by showing up where the students are already at. An instructor can connect their networks together (upload once, send out to many), and create an effective level of presence. Some of this can be automated; RSS feeds can be gathered to a page, a posting in WordPress might go out as a Twitter as well, but the automation is purposeful – it is always done with connecting others in mind. DS 106 encourages this through the Domain of One’s Own and Reclaim Hosting intitiatives: students and instructors are using WordPress and other tools in their own domains to connect with one another.

Student support is critical to online success, and this support should be built into the course. DS106 provides a detailed, extensively annotated syllabus as well as a “DS106 Handbook” that tells students not only about policies and assignments, but also the kinds of tools they will need, links to information about how to use the tools, and where to go to get help. In fact, getting help is the first item. Other so-called innovative xMOOCs just figured out that student support is essential to online student success and are slowly backing away from the table. Student support is built into this course in many ways. If a student has questions about an assignment, there are multiple social networks (e.g. Twitter) where a student has immediate access to students who have either finished that assignment or one quite like it. Good documentation is critical to student support. The documentation for ds106 works so well that the course could be run by the students based on it. It is a different course, but it is definitely ds106. Good documentation or a well-thought out syllabus can be just as useful as any textbook. When I think of good documentation for leaderless organizations, I like to think of the AA big book or even the Little Red Book of Mao. People have used these successfully as organizational guides (see “The Starfish and the Spider: the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations.”)

The third thing that ensures the success of DS 106 is student engagement. Student engagement does not mean “attention grabbing” or “entertaining” as you might suppose from the way xMOOCs are written about. Student engagement is the interactions between the student and the teacher, the students with one another, and with the content of the course. Student engagement is one of the leading factors in online student success. Other MOOCs are basically places where one watches a video of a certified master and then takes a test. There is little to no student-student engagement. DS 106 defaults to open and is highly collaborative. The assignments are meant not only to be shared but they invite the participation of others. The assignments are written with collaboration and engagement in mind. The course only works if you share what you are doing with your fellow students. And because many of the assignments are written by the students, they speak to the students. The students have a great sense of ownership to their work because it is not just another disposable paper. I love Wiley’s term “disposable assignments” – assignments where the students are all doing to the same thing, the teacher is the only one that reads them, and then they go in the trash. This is not that class.

I will grant that it was Jim Groom’s anarchic, edu punk, DYI spirit that encourages students to roll their own. But there were others attached to University of Mary Washington and beyond that shaped DS 106 in significant ways. The kind of synergy that the students experience is not an accident – it is the by product of a truly open course. The course could conceivably be run by students, with assignments generated by students, and assessed by students (and something like this happened with one iteration of the course). A course with an open pedagogy benefits from everything that the students bring to the table (which includes their networks apart from the class). The course becomes unique to those students in some very profound ways.

I have been looking at cMOOCs for a while now with the idea that there must be a Connectivist model of instructional design. I think I am almost there and DS 106 is certainly a model of that along with CCKo8-12, and Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning. I have written elsewhere here on Connectivist instructional design – principles that I think are reflected in DS 106. The questions I asked there are answered by DS 106:

So given these experiences, what should Connectivist instructional design look like? Based on the principles of Connectivism, learning should:

  • Provide for a diversity of opinions
  • Allow students to create connections between specialized nodes and learning sources
  • Foster their capacity to learn (teach metacognitive learning skills)
  • Increase their ability see connections between fields, concepts, and ideas
  • Teach students to build networks that will allow students to keep current in their field
  • Allow students to choose what to learn and how

All of these principles are attended to in DS 106 and because of that, this course and courses like it, will be going long after the personalities fade. I think the point that participants are trying to make when they say that “it can’t be reproduced” is their sense of connection and their relationships that the course facilitated, but what can be reproduced through a Connectivist instructional design, is just that: the facilitation of instructor presence, student support, and engagement.

NB: This posting grew out of conversations online about whether or not DS 106 could be reproduced, a few of those participants, interestingly enough, wrote a paper “A DS 106 Thing Happened on the Way to the 3M Tech Forum” that talks about utilizing a DS 106 experience to promote an open corporation. This is a very interesting read with a great bibliography.

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prisoner106: Book Cover Assignment

Although my favorite writer of books about TV shows is the inimitable Peggy Herz of “All About Rhoda” and “The Truth About Fonzie” fame, Paul W. Fairman, of the Partridge Family novels, is a close second. He also wrote pulp Science Fiction and novelizations of the “That Girl” TV series. We would order such books from the Scholastic Bookclub at school. I read three Partridge Family novels in a row one summer in the 5th grade, and afterwards, I think I was the youngest person in my grammar school to be filled with a sense of existential dread and a horrible fore-boding about the fate of humanity. Later that year, they re-elected Nixon. I was upset. I was sent home from school for writing his name on my desk in pencil with the “x” in his name drawn as a swastika. I dedicate this assignment to Mr. Fairman and the gang at Miller Street School.


I used the GIMP editor and matched fonts and colors as closely as a could to the period.

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prisoner106: Education Hypecycle in The Prisoner

EasyLearn01Being a Director of Academic Technology, how can I not love the episode “The General”? This episode has everything: a crazy professor, an education fad, extreme B.F. Skinnerisms, a “Trust Me” sign, and crazy Old School Tie outfits complete with top hats and sunglasses worn indoors! I was really laughing as I have not seen this episode in years and the parallels between this and the xMOOC craze are positively priceless; both “Speed Learn” of The Prisoner and xMOOCs are mechanical, one-way dumps of information – education as a transfer of information; both relied on wild claims (“three years in three minutes,” “a hundred percent entry, a hundred percent pass,” and the xMOOC’s “ten college future”); both rely on watching a video and taking a test; both ignore interactivity and engagement, but I must say, the level of student support in The Village is a little better and the retention numbers would be the envy of any college.


I love the confabulation of The Village with schools. In the beginning when he follows the crowd who are chasing the professor, he is accosted by the usual Village goons – and the exchange is interesting because they ask No. 6 “Are you a student?” and he says “Who isn’t? Are you prefects?” The two goons are even dressed a little like school boys. His critique of Speed Learn is an attack on mass education of any kind that is just about content: he calls the produced students “rows of cabbages.” No. 12 also trips up No. 6 when he asks him a “what” question about a treaty and No. 6 answers with a “when” answer – in other words the “education” did prepare him to apply the knowledge, only to regurgitate the facts. I think this is a clue for him later on to ask the General “why?”

newlookI love the Eton Old School Boy top hat with the Carnaby St. sunglasses. I think we may have found a new elearning uniform for Humboldt State! So in this episode we have yet another example of a 60s super computer that was seemingly killed by an imponderable question, but do you know what really kills computers in The Prisoner-Star Trek-Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-etc? A freakin’ circuit breaker!! They were 89 cents back then!

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prisoner106: Some Thoughts on Spy Shows of the 60s

Cover of "Our Man Flint"

Cover of Our Man Flint

I was born in 1961 and grew up watching a lot of spy shows. Spies were everywhere: Saturday morning cartoons included “Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole,” Mad Magazine featured “Spy vs Spy,” and we watched “I Spy,” “Get Smart,” “Mission: Impossible” “It Takes a Thief,” and “The Avengers.” I was never a fan of the “Man from Uncle” bit, but it was on now and then. When we went to the movies we would see movies like “From Russia with Love,” “Our Man Flint” (seriously, they showed this to us at the Saturday matinee, to children), and “The Ipcress Files.” Combine all of that with all of the Cold War nuclear hysteria and you had a really paranoid, but very low-cut and swank cocktail with a side of paisley! What was great about our Saturday matinee at the Santa Maria Theatre was that the owner would get these fourth run movies for cheap and it was usually something like “Murderer’s Row” a Matt Helm movie starring Dean Martin and Ann Margaret. All of this spy stuff pervaded our minds and were the fodder for very elaborate charades at play time. I remember just being old enough to walk down the street to visit friends by myself (but not old enough to cross the street) and one of the first thing we did was start to put together “spy kits” – string, bottle caps, an old block for a secret radio, etc. We didn’t have proper briefcases so we found some old purses. So there we were running up and down the back alleys of Santa Maria toting purses! Needless to say, some of the parents were concerned.

As a teenager I was less inclined to carrying a purse, but still really appreciated shows like “I Spy” which was in constant rerun and Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer in movies like “Funeral in Berlin” and “The Billion Dollar Brain.” The characters played by Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, and Michael Caine captured something of that politically alienated rebel spirit that was more common in the Nixon era. They had personal moral issues about what they were doing and how power and influence were being wielded. The fantasy of the world of the spy is a great metaphor for the alienation of teenagers from the world around them. It justifies their own social awkwardness by giving them a heroic secret.

Many were learning the lessons of the time: one side could be just as bad as the other. We were also learning about the seemingly amoral nature of technology: behind every super-villain, is a really great super-computer.  I am sure someone has written on the role of technology in pop culture of the 60s but it is a really interesting mirror to look into.

None of this is particularly new or profound – but then imagine in the middle of all of this nonsense, a show like “The Prisoner” comes along. At the time I saw it (on public television in the 70s), I had to look past some of its more surreal aspects to really get it. Some of those more surreal aspects, beyond the circus-like atmosphere and the lava lamp fetish, was what I thought an improbable storyline – No. 6 being kidnapped and taken to an island – surely there has to be an easier way to get information from someone? So I looked past all of that and what I found were really interesting essays on psychology, identity, politics and authority.

But looking back on all of this from this vantage point (54) I begin to see repetitions and patterns: political variations on common themes especially now in the post 9/11 Era of “Extraordinary Rendition,” “Enhanced Interrogation” and other Orwellian euphemisms. The series, unfortunately, has an urgent immediacy. People do get taken to figurative or very real islands (e.g Guantanamo on Cuba) on very flimsy to solid pretenses, are held there with out trial or representation, and then tortured for years. If this were happening in the 60s (which had its own problems), there would be a movie with someone like James Coburn rescuing the captives and blowing-up the island. I like that we are revisiting The Prisoner because I think it is an unconscious call back to a moral center that we let fear take from us.

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My History of Not Running for Office

Seal of the VPThere was a golden era on the internet when companies were so desperate for content they would publish pretty much anything. There were at one time in the 90s five or six free press release services that would basically send out anything you sent them to websites that that were stupid enough to subscribe to their services. I think there was someone cursorily checking for porn and hate speech but basically anything that looked even close to passable news got through. I started a tradition with myself – every four years, I declined to run for the vice-presidency, whether it was offered to me or not.  These would show up at generic news sites, trade journal sites, union newsletter sites, etc. Sometimes in sites that supported hunting magazines. Here is a blast from the past that I found recently on a site that I sent out in 2004:

Cain Declines Nomination

Geoffrey B. Cain will not accept nominations for the vice-presidency. His schedule and lack of ambition thwart the hopes of many.

Aptos, CA (PRWEB) March 24, 2004 — Writer and educator Geoffrey B. Cain will not run as vice-president on any ticket this year no matter who runs as president. “I have a lot of respect for Kerry,” said Cain, “but I have grammar classes to teach and students to tutor at two community colleges.” Cain is described by those who work with him as “a busy man with places to be.”

Cain’s famous rolled-up sleeves and can-do style would make him an obvious choice for many, but, as Cain says, “I gotta tell Kerry, ‘sorry sailor, my dance card is full.'” Cain has not yet received the call, but he expects it any day now. “I dread having the phone ring. I am almost relieved when it is a fund-raising call.”

Cain has not been directly involved in politics in the past, and his lack of political ambition does not stop at the vice presidency. Cain would have declined the nomination for presidency this year, but there were just too many scheduling conflicts. We can look forward to his not running for president in following elections, he says.

The Cain Family is a virtual West Coast dynasty of those who have not run for office. At the turn of the century, Cain’s great-grandfather was too busy scratching out a living as a farmer to oppose William McKinley’s vice-president Theodore Roosevelt. It would not have occurred to his grandfather to run against Woodrow Wilson’s running mate Thomas R. Marshall. Cain’s father, James Cain, was too busy teaching school and actually supporting Kennedy to even think of opposing vice-presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson. The thought had never even crossed his mind, mused his son, Geoffrey Cain.

Geoffrey B. Cain is a teacher and tutor who works in Monterey Peninsula College’s English and Study Skills Center and in Cabrillo College’s Writing Center. He also writes novels, short-stories, and poetry.


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ds106: Audio Driven Story-Telling and Some Episode Notes

Rover, shortly after incapacitating Number Six...

Rover, shortly after incapacitating Number Six on the beach outside The Village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Audio in The Prisoner
One of the interesting things about The Prisoner is how much the audio informs what we are seeing. The quaint old-fashioned feel to the village is contrasted with the hygienic, vacuumed sealed, slick mechanical sound of the sealing of even the quaintest door. UK productions of the time were notoriously underfunded and anyone with any innovative ideas had better also be very resourceful.  If you watch Rover, for instance, with the sound off, you have a weather balloon that eventually suffocates someone. But with the sound on, it is another experience all together. Rover is accompanied by a growing low rumble and a sound like a roaring wind or storm, then a high pitched, grating whine accompanied by an actual roar, and then after contact with the subject, I swear it sounds like the wind bit combined with some kind of chant or singing slowed down on a reel-to-reel tape. I have an example from “Arrival” – judge for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments. The whole effect is strange and disconcerting. The audio also has to be accompanied by an appropriate reaction. Watching malefactors writhing in horror over a weather balloon is also necessary in this case. I think this would have worked better as a radio drama that would have allowed the audience to imagine what Rover might have been like.

In the episode “The Schizoid Man” he doesn’t just retrieve, Rover actually kills someone. Usually Rover just puts people in the hospital, I think this is the first episode where the security system takes a life. Poor Curtis.

Some Notes on the Episodes
This week, we were asked to watch “Chimes of Big Ben,” “A, B, and C,” and “Schizoid Man.” I am finding the order we are watching these to be eccentric, but maybe it is thematic? One thing that I find interesting about the three episodes together is they really address some of the issues around Behaviorist psychology (especially B.F. Skinner). Ironically, many of the instructors I work with are still heavily influenced by Skinner. A mind is not a fire to be ignited, but a bucket to be filled. If we change what is in the bucket, we change the person. Students can’t learn by interacting with one another freely online – they have to be in the presence of an accredited master in order to receive the information. No. 6 is in a constant battle of the will against this philosophy. All of the “science” and technology of the show implies that a mind is as easy to change as a shirt, all you need is the right settings on an oscilloscope, a computer (that is that thing that makes clicky-clacky sounds and makes lights blink), and, of course, since this is the 60s, just the right drugs. Information in “A, B, and C,” and “Schizoid Man” is something like a commodity that can be digitized and consumed. No. 14 and No. 2 in “A, B, and C” are devoid of any kind of ethics. When No. 14 is concerned about the treatment of No. 6, she seems to be persuaded by No. 2’s admonition “what about your enthusiasm for science?”

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Prisoner106: Animated GIFs

Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner


I have not made animated GIFs since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It is strange that they seem to be making a comeback. I will admit – the whole process of choosing what to capture and why, what tools to use, and deciding what to edit, did make me think more deeply about the episode “Free for All” and what I think is the Expressionist style of directing and acting in much of The Prisoner.


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Prisoner106: The Job Announcement

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventures of She...

Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I write fiction and poetry. I have also taught English lit and composition. I work in education administration at the moment. There is nothing wrong with that – I do a lot of very good work for students, faculty, and staff (whether they know it or not) and I believe in making education available for as many people as I can regardless of their background or economic status – that is basically my mission in life. Sometimes this mission does not always connect with my other mission which is to create art. But one thing that I have done a lot of in admin work is write job descriptions, so I thought, “what a great assignment: have a student write a job description for a fictional character.” What if Sherlock Holmes had to write a job description for his Dr. Watson? Or what would the job description of a teacher of the Dark Arts at Hogwarts look like? So I thought, here I am in Prisoner106 immersing myself in The Prisoner, what would a job description for No. 2 look like? So I wrote one using the common California State University job description as a guide. But being the Fluxus-revolutionary-monkey-wrencher that I am, I went ahead and posted it to Craigslist Humboldt and Craigslist London just to see how long it would take for it to come down or to see if I got any responses to it.

Here in Humboldt County, CA, USA, they actually use the “Government” section of the job ads to post job ads – it was flagged one day and removed the next. In London, however, they have something else going on. It seems that most of the jobs in Craigslist London are about sex, porn, and escort services and does not seem to be monitored very well. I have some appreciative emails from Merry Olde England and it has disappeared from California. I posted the California version below. The UK version as of this writing is still here.


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Date: July 5, 2015
Title:() No. 2 Position at “The Village”
Posting Number: 03191928
Department: Administration
Location: The Village
Position: No. 2
Percentage of Full Time: 100%
Months per Year: 12
Salary Range: Neg. (Dependent on experience.)
Position Type: Executive

General Statement:
Under direction of the No. 1, this position assists in the operations of “The Village.” No. 2 will direct the operations of The Village – a “retirement” home for recently resigned intelligence personnel. No. 2 will supervise department directors including senior hospital staff, will work closely with the Security personnel to implement training programs designed to assist residents in acclimatizing and assimilating into their community. No. 2 will over-see our highly successful “Rover” program for defense and prisoner retrieval. A high degree of independent judgment and creativity is required to resolve many minor and major problems when they occur. Stress management skills are essential in this psychologically demanding position. No. 2 will be required to work a schedule that provides on-site support for day and evening staff; and directs the work of other staff and prisoner employees as assigned.

Minimum Qualifications:
• A combination of education and experience equivalent to possession of a Masters degree in psychology, or a closely related field
• A minimum of ten (10) years experience working in the military, military intelligence, secret services or a related field
• Demonstrated sensitivity to and an understanding of the diverse military, socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, and weaknesses of the intelligence community

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
1. Advanced skills and extensive knowledge in the use of the intelligence community and psy-ops
2. Knowledge of effective interrogation, re-education, and asset management and reorientation
3. Experience managing recalcitrant prisoners with highly sensitive information
4. Knowledge of CCTV and other surveillance operations
5. Advance information management skills
6. Ability to work with both PC and Macintosh
7. Excellent skill in the use of Microsoft Office applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Windows & Outlook
8. Excellent skill in the use of iWorks applications, including Keynote, Pages, & Numbers, iTunes and iTunesU
9. Excellent verbal, written communication and presentation skills
10. Skill in research methodologies, resources, data analysis and documentation
11. Skill in respectful, sensitive communication with people at all levels within organizations that are diverse in their cultures, language groups and abilities
12. Skill in directing the work of others
13. Skill in program planning, implementation and evaluation
14. Skill in working accurately under deadline pressure

Preferred Qualifications: Phd. in Psychology, Philosophy (Logic) with an experience with Post-Modern Critical Theory and senior level military or intelligence community experience.
Vague European accent; penchant for accessorising (scarves, hats, monocles, etc.); willingness to engage in blisteringly ironic witty banter.

Benefits: Benefits include paid holidays, vacation and sick leave. Free housing in The Village. Travel (local taxi and helicopter service), Optional tax-deferred flexible benefit 403(b) and 457 plans are available, and other competitive retirement benefits.

First Review Date: 08/28/2015

Open Until Filled: Yes (We accept applications on an on-going basis.)

The Village is an Equal Opportunity Employer that seeks to employ individuals who represent the rich divesity of cultures, language groups, and abilities of its surrounding communities and beyond, and yet will still embrace conformity.

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ds106: Playing with Sound

A typical home reel to reel tape recorder, thi...

A typical home reel to reel tape recorder, this one made by Sonora. It could play stereo quarter track tapes, but record only in one quarter track mono. Home equipment with missing features were fairly common in the 1950s and 1960s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The assignment:

I will warn you right now: As a free agent, I may or may not follow the assignments in prisoner106 to the letter. You cannot fold, spindle, or mutilate me! Do not bend or stamp! I am a free man! With that said, I am getting deeper into the open source software Audacity.

I have used Audacity before to edit audio but not to build things with multiple tracks. It is an amazing process. It is to audio what making stained glass windows is to light. Or it is like making a mosaic. It is as easy to edit sound as it is to cut and paste text in MS Word. Now my example is pretty rudimentary, but I plan to keep going with this. My brothers and I used to do amazing things using portable reel-to-reel tape recorders back in the 60s and 70s and I would like to recover that spirit.

My how and why:

I think a critical part of understanding The Prisoner is the repetition and leitmotifs that occur throughout the series: there are phrases, sentences, words, gestures, snatches of nursery rhymes that all work together to create a self-interrogating sub-text throughout the series. I also hear echoes of Stanislavsky’s “questions for the actor” in the repetitions of “who are you?” and “what do you want?” I find techno to be one of those art forms that embraces repetition, recursiveness, and tessellations – the musical equivalent of the Alhambra.

My cheap ass version of that uses a public domain techno track that I found in Archive.Org edited down judiciously to three minutes and then layered over with clips that were taken from the opening of “The Arrival.”

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