Mixed media, 13 May 2014 (ish)

Current musical obsession: Shriek by Wye Oak

I came across Jenn Wasner’s side project Dungeonesse when it was featured on eMusic last year, and loved it. I didn’t dive into Wye Oak’s back catalogue because the “indie folk rock” label seemed so oout of sync with the shimmering beats and synths of Dungeonesse. When Shriek popped up with reviews that talked about a more electronics and bass-led direction for the band, I downloaded it straight away. It’s darker than Dungeonesse, and not as immediately accessible, but it’s in exactly the right spiky/dreamy crossover electronic corner that kept me captivated by St. Vincent a couple of weeks ago. Stand-out tracks for me: “Schools of Eyes”, “Glory”, and “Logic of Color.” Unfortunately it looks like I’ll just miss them when they play King Tut’s in Glasgow next month.

We have caught up with the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D that have been broadcast on this side of the Atlantic so far, which puts us at ep 19, “The Only Light in the Darkness.” Since “The End of The Beginning” the show is operating on a completely different level. After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the cinema, this is the TV show I wanted.

I’m taking a break from Ken MacLeod’s Descent to read Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, and to dip my toe back into Debt. Flash Boys shines a light on the secretive world of high-frequency trading, must most of what you see is a bunch of cockroaches scuttling out of the way. It’s a fairly shallow exposé that never seems to cut to the heart of the beast. It does a good job of explaining the principles of HFT, though, and it’s impossible to come to understand it and not feel incredibly angry at the companies and institutions that perpetrate and encourage it. The book has a hero in the form of a trader who felt that same anger and decided to set up his own stock exchange that couldn’t be gamed by HFT traders, but is ultimatelty let down by the fact that the story doesn’t have an ending yet. It takes us up to the end of 2013, but leaves us with a cliffhanger: will the banks and regulators tackle HFT, or will it take another crisis?

The new structure of the U.S. stock market had removed the big Wall Street banks from their historic, lucrative role as intermediary. At the same time it created, for any big bank, some unpleasant risks: that the customer would somehow figure out what was happening to his stock market orders. And that the technology might somehow go wrong. If the markets collapsed, or if another flash crash occurred, the high-frequency traders would not take 85 percent of the blame, or bear 85 percent of the costs of the inevitable lawsuits. The banks would bear the lion’s share of the blame and the costs. The relationship of the big Wall Street banks to the high-frequency traders, when you thought about it, was a bit like the relationship of the entire society to the big Wall Street banks. When things went well, the HFT guys took most of the gains; when things went badly, the HFT guys vanished and the banks took the losses.

As for Debt, it’s still doing my head in. I keep having to go back and re-read pages and whole chapters. I think I’ve read chapter 2 about four times now.