boing boing number 7
Interview by Mark Frauenfelder, editor
The prefab lifestyle waits for all of us. It takes no effort
to live it, you just graduate from school and then approach
corporations and offer yurself as organ tissue. One of them
will decide that you are hypo-allergenic enough to fit into
their structure and graft you onto some part of their corporate
body. Then you do your thing, usually collecting, processing,
and transfering data (if you went to one kind of school), or
collecting, processing, and transferring matter (if you went
to the other kind). The data or material you handle every day
will probably interest you only because by doing it well you
will be fed, clothed and housed by the corporate body you serve.
Janey Fritsche is one of those rare people who has pruned herself
from maladaptive corporate bodies by designing a lifestyle
that synergistically integrates playing, learning and creating.
Through a combination of technical knowledge, artistic talent,
and powerful spirituality, Janey has created a life for herself
that's a lot of fun and Pro-Gaia. Her multimedia creations
are rich databases that transmit highly creative visions of
processes taking place throughout our galaxy, from the biological
activities in the rainforests of Borneo to the eminent colonization
of Mars. Besides developing her own software/art projects,
Janey is working with Apple's Discovery project, and consulting
for LucasArts. In October, she will travel to Japan for the
Hightech Art Planning (HARP) symposium and make a presentation on
her multimedia project about the Penan of Borneo called Blowpipes
and Bulldozers. After the conference, she will head for Kathmandu
to help out on a project that provides funding for Nepali women
so that they can attend college. --
Mark: What is your background?
I have a B.S. in math, and I minored in art. I
guess all through my grade school and high school years I enjoyed
both of them and when the time came to make a decision about
what I wanted to focus on I ended up studying math. My high school
actually gave me a scholarship for art, but I ended up not accepting
it. The practical side won out on that one. It was mainly because
I was afraid of being a starving artist. But the whole time I've
been working with computers, I've had an overriding desire to
integrate computers, music and art. When Hypercard came out,
that seemed to be a real turning point, an opening for me to
start changing direction in what I was doing.
Is that when you started getting jazzed about
the personal computer?
I had already bought a Mac SE, the year before.
I mainly bought that to log onto the WELL (The
WELL is a great bulletin board run by Whole Earth Review - ed.)
I only used it for that and a little bit of word processing for
a while. I co-host the spirituality conference and the muchomedia
conference on the WELL, so I go in there every day. Through the
WELL, I've met a bunch of interesting people and a lot of deadheads.
I ended up working with Mickey Hart on his book, Drumming
at the Edge of Magic, which was a lot of fun.
How did you contribute to his book?
This was when I had this meltdown as far as doing
corporate gigs. I couldn't really justify it any more on a soulful
level. I finished up a contract I had for a very large corporation,
and I took about six months off. In that time I met Mickey Hart
and Fred Lieberman (a professor of ethnomusicology at UC Santa
Cruz). They were both working on the Drumming at the Edge of
Magic book, and asked me if I wanted to help out. So, I worked
with them for about three months, doing general organizing and
research, and setting them up on the WELL so they could automatically
upload and download the manuscript.
What is Drumming at the Edge of Magic about?
It was a huge book then, and it's actually been
split off into two books. Drumming at the Edge focuses on Mickey's
personal story of his journey into the spirit of percussion and
what kind of magical things happen with the drummers and the
listeners. It has a lot of wonderful storytelling by drummers
around the world that Mickey has jammed with and befriended.
The second book, Planet Drum, is loaded with images and is a
bit more historical. He delves into myths and some very old traditional
information about drumming and rituals.
So you can attribute the WELL as one thing that
helped you get out of your corporate straightjacket. It's a
good example of technology helping to elevate one's spiritual
side. What aspects of spirituality are you most interested
I'm most interested in the kind of fringey things
that have to do with ancient knowledge that I think we've denied
for centuries, ever since the rise of scientific thought and
Cartesian analysis, and the denial of the intuitive side of thinking.
I guess it was around the 17th century when that started happening.
With all the witches being burned at the stake, it became a very
strident view to steer away from anything that couldn't be charted
on an X-Y-Z graph. I'm interested in tapping into ancient knowledge,
such as the I Ching. By the way, in the spring Whole Earth Review
I reviewed a software package based on the I Ching called Synchronicity.
It's a great use of the computer. The program is beautifully
done. The graphics and music give you the feeling of being in
a Japanese garden.
After you became involved in Mickey Hart's books,
did you just walk away from your corporate existence, or gradually
I'm actually doing a lot of work for Apple, but
it feels different than the other jobs I was doing, because for
me it's not walking away from a corporate environment so much
as finding an environment that supports my interests. I'm interested
in the process of my work but also the content. I want to do
things that have significance for me personally and contribute
positively to the way the world is going, rather than just earning
a lot of money for corporations that aren't necessarily very
attuned to the environment or the implications of what their
business is doing. Also, what I wanted to do was get away from
strictly doing a lot of programming and analysis work for large
mainframes and start getting involved artistically. So, what
I did was learn Hypercard, and developed a graphic interactive
Hypercard stack. Then I sent it to Apple's Multimedia Lab in
San Francisco. I had met with those guys once before. I'd thought
of doing a project with Joseph Campbell's archives, with text,
interviews, video, slides, and animation. It would be focused
on his teachings and his rich archives of about 13,000 slides.
This was a project Mickey Hart had suggested to me, because he
knew that there was a lot of interest in it. He was a friend
of Campbell's, and he knew that the archives had ended up at
the Jung Institute. So I hooked up with the folks at the Jung
Institute and we all went to Apple to talk to them about it,
but also to see what type of work they were doing there. As it
turns out, the Campbell project didn't happen; the group at the
Jungian Institute was absorbed in working on a book at that time,
and they didn't feel they could tackle something else big then.
However, it opened the door for me by meeting with those folks
and by developing a demo. I was given a lot of responsibility
at the Multimedia Lab pretty quickly and ended up being the production
manager for "Life Story". It was
a joint collaboration of Apple, Lucasfilm and the Smithsonian.
It won the "CINDY Best of Show" award this year and the "Gold
at the International New York Film and Video Festival last year.
It was a rather legendary place to be working at that time.
What kind of media do you use for your multimedia
Mostly I've been working with a combination of
videodisc and CD-ROM. You can put 52,000 slides or 30 minutes
of animation on a videodisc. CD-ROM is the delivery platform,
containing all the software and text information. Since CD-ROMs
are so slow, it's best to move the information to a hard disk
of some kind.
Tell me about the thing you're
doing for the Smithsonian Institute.
It's called the Mars
Explorer. Context Productions started working on it in
January 1990. The idea was to develop a multimedia application
that simulates a mission to Mars. NASA Ames has been the primary
sponsor. Jack Sculley and I were the two that developed the
prototype. Then we took it to the Smithsonian and when they
saw it they really liked it, and indicated that they'd be interested
in putting it in their Air and Space Museum in the Mars Gallery
that they're opening up in the summer of '92. We are working
on the design document to show the four interactive design
phase we want to feature in the gallery.
So when somebody sits down in front of this
thing, what's going to happen?
There are four different sections to it. They have
to do with the process of getting to Mars, and look at the reasons
why we want to go to Mars. What is it like being on Mars, how
do you survive as a human being? In the gallery, some places
you might be sitting, but others you may be standing. It will
all be interactive. There will be a lot of video and animation.
Did you do all the research on Mars yourself?
Jack is really kind of a Mars wizard. He worked
for NASA Ames for a year or two and his main focus was on Mars.
The first couple of months that I worked on it I spent a lot
of time researching Mars. Reading books about it and looking
at videos. We were very lucky because we were doing a lot of
work with Chris McKay and Carol Stoker at NASA. Those guys are
their leading Martians (laughter). If you see anything about
Mars on TV, you're going to see one or both of them interviewed.
They're really great. They were a lot of fun and they were very,
very helpful in providing information, giving us ideas, giving
us good insight, and helping provide financial support for the
A few years ago I read bout some people who
were proposing to cover the poles of Mars with black plastic,
so the ice would melt and give Mars an atmosphere and warm
up the planet. Have you heard about that?
I've heard of various plans for trying to build
an atmosphere on Mars. They range from trying to melt the polar
ice caps to bashing it with something like a meteor. One of the
things about these plans is that they bring up a lot of ethical
questions. Like do we have a right to even do that to a planet?
It's interesting also to talk to the folks at NASA about the
search for life on Mars. When they sent up those Mariner and
Viking space shots, they were very intereseted in seeing if there
were indications that there had ever been any life on Mars. Of
course, they came up empty handed.
Maybe the Martians didn't like the radioactive
chicken soup being used as bait.
They landed in places where it was unlikely that
there was ever life. There's all sorts of outflow channels on
Mars now that indicate that there was water at one point. But
in selecting a sight, they were more interested in finding a
flat area where they could land safely. From indications, it
looks like Mars had an atmosphere very much like the Earth did
four billion years ago. It looks like it was once a thriving
What happened to all the water?
That's what everybody wants to know. And one of
the reasons scientists want to go there is to find out what we
can learn about the future of the Earth. The two scientists we
were working with had two different reasons. Chris McKay wanted
to go for the search for life. He's a big exobiologist. He still
wants to look. If for nothing else, to see if there are fossils.
Carol Stoker wants to go because she thinks it would be really
cool to have a colony on Mars. Being the esoteric person that
I am, I wonder if Mars has actually seeded the Earth. There's
been some discussion that they've found meteorites on Earth from
Mars. And there is speculation about Martians? Why aren't they
there now, or are they there now? Are they living underground?
And of course there's the face on Mars.
Yeah, that big rock face looking upwards toward
Yes. That's the real intriguing mystery because
at this point, with the information we have, there's no way to
know if it's just a coincidence that this jumble of rocks looks
just like a face, or if it was carefully sculpted by some kind
of intelligence. There are two images that came from the Viking
landers. Unfortunately they're both at about the same time of
day. And if one had been shot at a different angle or a different
time of day, we'd have been able to see the other side of the
face. And if the other side of the face is identical to the side
we can see clearly, it would really raise a lot of interesting
questions. Chris McKay gave me a huge portfolio of information
on it. It contained all the correspondence that he's had about
the face with all sorts of scientific organizations from around
the world. Inquiries, speculations, scientific research. Some
people get emotionally involved in the outcome. I think Chris
is good at taking an unbiased look in this issue. Of course there's
been a lot of really hokey information written about it, stuff
that stands out like a sore thumb when you read it. But there's
also been some good, intense scientific work that's not too anal
either. A lot of scientific investigation goes to the other extreme.
He thinks there's been a lot of interesting work done with image
processing regarding the face. You know what his stance is about
the possibility that it's been sculpted by intelligence? It's
that you can't tell. It's a binary situation. Either it is or
it isn't, and with the information given right now we don't know.
You completed a project
about Borneo recently. What's going on with that?
Blowpipes and Bulldozers is
a project I developed mostly in the fall and summer of last year.
I had to wear an awful lot of hats in the process of building
it. I was doing everything: producing, designing, programming,
doing the graphic design and the sound design and all the digitizing.
The inspiration for the project came from a video that John Werner
produced and directed, which I saw at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
It became the basis for the videodisc I had pressed and John
was terrific in providing me with information and encouragement
throughout building the prototype. The focus is on the Penan,
an endangered tribe of hunters and gatherers in Borneo, and their
rainforest homeland. They've been in the same rainforest for
30 to 40 thousand years, living the same lifestyle. In the last
20 or so years, the logging has gotten so intense, that there's
a very small fraction left of Penan living as hunters and gatherers
in the rainforest. It's cultural genocide. The culture and the
people are dying off. They've been exposed to all sorts of diseases
and they're no longer eating properly. They can't go out and
gather vegetation and hunt the wild game they used to be able
to hunt. Because so many trees have been felled, what happens
is all the animals run deeper into the forest. Now they've had
to stabilize their home life. Instead of being nomads, they're
living in longhouses. Sometimes it takes a week's trek into the
forest to get where the wild boar are, if they can find any at
all. And that means they have to leave their women and children
behind for a long time. It's gotten to be a really difficult
situation. One of the things the project focused on was extrapolating
the implications of what it means to cut down a rainforest. Taking
it to a more global view. The levels of carbon dioxide are raised,
and it changes our atmospheric conditions. The endangered peoples
alone are a major issue, and the biological and botanical losses
are huge as well.
What role is the Borneo government taking?
The project is focused on Sarawak, which is part
of Malaysia, but it's on the island of Borneo. The government
of Sarawak is very corrupt. In fact, one of the interviews on
the videodisc is with James Wong, Minister of Environment for
Sarawak, and he has one of the largest logging concessions in
the country. NHK, Japan's largest television network, broadcast
portions of Blowpipes and Bulldozers. They have high quality
programs; it's similar to the BBC, has no commercials, and is
a very popular network. I'll also be going to Japan in October
for the HARP symposium and this project will be the focus of
my presentation. It is yet another chance to get a critical environmental
message delivered through the doors of high technology.
For information about assisting the Penan and other
rainforest-dwellers, contact Rainforest Action Network, 301 Broadway,
Suite A, San Francisco, CA 94133