Hey City Zen!: Disco-Punk in Music, Computing and Academia: personal intro for Ian Rogers
We are thrilled to Present Ian Rogers whose approach and career highlight a Punk attitude we share. Of course, there is the superficial connection of our being professors and DJs, who love and often play the Beastie Boys. But we want to focus on a deeper philosophical stance we think we share and which is very needed in academia — -potentially exemplified by SICE. We think of it as a Punk-Disco attitude. Punk and Disco became wrongly seen as opposing forces due to the racist and homophobic “disco sucks” movement. But, in truth, the two informed one another from the beginning, as both originated at the same time in NYC, as a revulsion against the erudite affectations of the white men ivory tower that Rock, Jazz, and Classical music had become. While Punk brought a DIY attitude to breaking walls, Disco broke them via a melting pot pleasure principle: it melded the Latin sounds of Puerto Rico with Philly R&B to produce hymns of sexual liberation for everybody — -be it Donna Summer’s hymn to female orgasm (in I feel love) to openly gay, bisexual and transgendered acts like Sylvester, Grace Jones, The Village People, etc. As Johnny Rotten/Lydon (lead singer of the Sex Pistols and P.i.L.) famously said: “I like disco, it is functional music that makes people dance”. In fact, most punk acts of the time liked and indeed produced disco: from David Byrne (who played guitar in cult disco hits) to Blondie (a white female Punk Rocker with the first disco-rap #1 hit in America) to the Thin White Duke himself.
The point here is that effective rebellion is made by empowering people to do it themselves, include everybody’s point of view, and be fun, sexy and stylish at it! To bring this discussion back to us here in academia and SICE, let us acknowledge that ours is the ultimate ivory tower dominated by white people. Punk-Disco is not naturally rewarded in siloed departments and hierarchies of elite schools and scholars. Nothing could be less Punk-Disco than a Nobel prize, the pinnacle of academia. Indeed, it is no accident that both Johan and I started our careers at the Los Alamos National Lab, home of some of the most Punk-Disco scientists of all time like John and Klara Von Neumann and Richard Feynman. But SICE attracted us because of its original breaking walls vision, which was at heart Punk-Disco — -I only came here because I was recruited by the most Punk-Disco philosopher of our days: Andy Clark. We work every day to break the ivory tower, with DIY ethos but also functionally and in style — -be it with our new NSF-NRT interdisciplinary training grant that attempts to find a common beat between computing and the social and physical sciences, be it with our attitudes to fight the accepted wisdom of academia, which even when well-intentioned tends to approach everything with a white-elitist bias.
All this to highlight how important it is for us at SICE to remain connected to Punk-Disco movers and shakers like Ian Rogers. His phenomenal trajectory from CS here in Bloomington to forging digital music revolution (winamp, TopSin, Beats Music, Apple), to his role now in shaping more personalized fashion and luxury at LVMH, we can think of no one more Punk-Disco than him. Academia needs to learn from his lessons, “because our crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear” we need his “Super Disco Breakin, Money making”. “I’m tellin’ y’all it’s sabotage.”
Indiana University, April 12, 2018
Originally published at hey-city-zen.blogspot.com.