‘Jam’ enjoys a varied set of associations.
It’s a responsive term that reflects shifts in technologies of all sorts – from the kitchen to the web and just about everything in between. Over the past century, associations of jam, jamming and being jammed have collided with and guided popular culture in innumerable ways. An example being Mel Brooks’ humorous problematisation of the word via his ‘jamming’ skit in Spaceballs, where the use of a particular flavour of jam (hurled in a giant space jam jar shatter on the radar of Dark Helmet’s flagship) signified a particular enemy of the empire – Lonestar.
In this issue the papers present us with considerations of jam and of jamming that explore some of the more familiar uses of the terms with some of the more surprising. Firstly, and as one might have expected, we have papers looking at musical improvisation using digital technologies; at mash-ups and bootlegging of ‘old’ content to create ‘new’; at live coding as a cultural practice to create digital content involving the remixing of cultural ideas and materials; and, at the potential of software to create environments for ‘networked jamming’. Less expected, and more literally, two papers take as their point of departure the ‘jam factory’. On the one hand we learn that a repurposed jam factory presents us with an historically important Australian cinema complex aimed at providing an entertainment experience with a focus on stimulating all five senses, while on the other hand we learn that the mass production of jam in such spaces made the practice of making jam at home more of a cultural and resistance activity than a practical one. We go on to think about a French feminist making jam – well – using jamming as a term to disrupt the theoretical machinery of a patriarchal academy, before returning to new technologies, in this case weblogs, and their role in jamming or disrupting linear histories. Finally, theory-jamming is proposed as an antidote to the downward spiral of communication theory into an ontological black hole.
According to David Toop, who kicks off this issue with an invited feature article, “jamming is associated predominantly with a known form, the participants play in order to exercise their skill, even to the point of competitiveness, but also for the pleasure of interaction without the need for perfection”. UK based writer, sound artist and curator Toop questions the notions of what contemporary improvisation may share with the ideas traditionally associated with ‘Jam’ in the musical setting. How does technology shape the interactions of concurrent layers of sound in space? Does the flexibility of the interface bring with it inherent qualities and furthermore how might those be resolved as a means of creating meaningful interaction?
Possibly no longer does the idea of jamming rely on the interaction of multiple players in one space, as was traditionally the case with musicians, DJs, cultural appropriators or VJs. Increasingly performance possibilities online and via other virtual spaces mean that the gesture and visual languages of ‘Jam’ are being rethought, reshaped and in many cases removed as a means of inviting new possibility to the interactions of jammers. This removal of certain stimulus potentially heightens other states of awareness in these Jam spaces.
“Mash-ups” are put forward by Em McAvan as a form of jamming that is about producing new works from old. This draws upong the idea of jamming as the remixing or reuse of content and its presentation in a new form. Sometimes called bootlegs (not to be confused with illegal copying), mash-ups ‘mash’ together already released songs, often bringing together unusual or unlikely musical collaborations. McAvan problematises the idea that mash-up is a wholly anti capitalist activity, pointing to the mash-up artists who have “made the leap from bootlegger to major-label sanctioned artist”.
Andrew R. Brown’s piece on the potentials of ‘live coding’ as an improvisatory jam environment suggests new ways in which the computer can be utilised in the creation of realtime creative content. Acknowledging the two main uses of the term ‘jamming’ as digital manipulation and reuse of materials (by musicians and other performers) and improvisation, especially in collaborative situations, Brown draws our attention to live coding which he argues is a “practice that gets to the heart of both these meanings… where digital content (music and/or visuals predominantly) is created through computer programming as a performance”. In live coding it is the code that is the medium of expression, and it is the processes involved in the creation of musical output that are of interest.
Next up, and touching again on the use of software in musical jamming, is Steve Dillon’s piece on the software Jam2Jam in which the application allows for controlled but varied interactions between a variety of users in both actual and virtual spaces. The paper describes the research and processes involved in the creation of the software, initially based on research into the musical tastes of a group of 8-14 year old children in the US. Through analysis of the styles identified by the children, numerical values and algorithms were created that form the structure for the software. The software is used to allow for and study ‘networked jamming’.
Moving away from music and new technologies, to a more literal understanding of the term ‘jam’, in Leanne Downing’s paper we learn that an old Jam Factory building has been repurposed to present a cinema complex that appeals to vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Within the complex the overpriced confectionary counter, colloquial known as ‘Lollywood’ somehow fittingly makes the link between current and past use of the space. Downing presents us with a compelling account of the creation and manipulation of a ‘cinema anchored’ destination that jams together a variety of leisure and entertainment experiences, in which the sugar based lineage of the ‘Jam Factory’ is preserved (sic).
Before the mass production of jam in jam factories, the ‘putting up’ of seasonal fruit – as jam making used to be called – was a practical activity aimed at the preservation and storage of valuable foodstuffs. While contemplating the romantic notions she holds of jam making, Lynn Houston shows how the practice has changed over the years to form various resistance practices, such as, at times and by some, resisting consumption of distrusted factory-produced jam. Houston presents jam making in the home as a means of thwarting capitalism, and a cultural practice whose ultimate pleasure lies perhaps in the community building, gift giving practice of offering friends and neighbours a pot of homemade jam.
And just as Houston likes to imagine herself a baker and jam maker as symbol of her preference of domestic identity, Alison Bartlett imagines the jamming of machinery in quite literal form, jam on the machinery of the printing press, clogging it and making it ineffective – the domestic overcoming the industrial. As a doctoral student in the early 1990s Bartlett found the writing of French philosopher Luce Irigaray appealing. Irigaray had described a female writing or écriture féminine as disruptive, akin to female sexuality itself. In an interview in the mid 1970s Irigaray had said that women’s discourse needed consideration outside of the hermeneutic grids that were ‘excessively univocal’, she claimed that a ‘jamming of the theoretical machinery’ and its pretence to truth was needed. ‘Jamming’ in this paper then is used as a means of overcoming established and partial truths – jamming the machinery. This brings us nicely out of a literal discussion of jam as a sticky sweet substance, to ideas around jamming as disruption.
Weblogs (blogs) are presented by Yasmin Ibrahim as ‘disrupting the linearity that the history of a nation proposes’. Just as Bartlett writes about female writing as a style different to the dominant, Ibrahim is presenting blogging as a writing style that is both personal and disruptive – in this case of the linearity of dominant discourses, somewhat alike the non linear female writing that Irigaray describes. Ibrahim explores the relationship between individual narrative, personal stories told on blogs, and their disruptive potential in the construction of national identities and histories. In so doing she is examining the potential of blogging to re-cast historicity and renegotiate national identity. Jam is evoked in this paper as the way that personal narratives are ‘jamming’ or flooding electronic spaces with competing narratives, and we move from the previous paper’s focus on French feminist philosopher’s thoughts on locating the self in writing to Russian philosopher Bakhtin’s thoughts on self and authorship. Weblogs, jamming electronic spaces, provide ‘new public spaces of private commentary, public commemoration and global communion’.
In the last paper in this issue, Stephen Stockwell draws on German-born philosopher Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin (among others) to propose theory-jamming ‘as an antidote for the confusion and disarray that typifies communication theory’. Stockwell observes a downward spiral with competing and entrenched divisions across a range of paradigms. He suggests a solution may lie in a communication practice and its theoretical underpinnings, that if we look at ‘the jam’, (‘the improvised reorganization of traditional themes into new and striking patterns’) we might confront the downward spiral. There is too much contention and not enough connection between schools that practice communication theories, dating back to Lazarsfeld’s split with Adorno and the Frankfurt School whereby the competing disciplines of mass communication studies and cultural/media studies began, and according to Stockwell marks the foundation of the ‘ontological black hole in communication theory’. Drawing on the practice of the musical jam, Stockwell draws us back nicely to Toop’s observations on the necessity of understanding the importance of taking part in a jam session sensitively, and by carefully listening. For Stockwell theory-jamming provides a means to think new thoughts.
In this issue then, a variety of flavours of ‘Jam’, incorporating the literal and figurative are explored, deconstructed, boiled and bottled. We consider not just the food stuff jam, or the creative or resistant act of jamming, but rather the writers in this issue ask where Jam is headed, and in some cases is ‘Jam’ still ‘Jam’ or a new sticky substance that glues together our proverbial pieces of cultural bread or prevents the machinery from moving. Our writers ask can the mannerisms of particular musicians, cultural plunderers and other creatives uniformly become recognised through their approaches to ‘Jam’. They propose that while the shapeless form of ‘Jam’ suggests a particular aesthetic sensibility both in terms of the eatable object and the form of interaction at a creative level – perhaps it is possible to envisage unfamiliar ‘jars’ in which the concepts of ‘Jam’ might be formed and shaped?