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David Byrne Subverts PowerPoint 150

NoData writes "The AP is reporting that David Byrne, visionary musician and frontman for 80s New Wave art band 'Talking Heads,' has turned Powerpoint into a visual art medium in a (satiric) DVD/Book combo. Says Byrne in the article: 'The genius of it is that it was designed for any idiot to use.'" Shades of Edward Tufte ("PowerPoint Makes You Dumb"), as the article points out. The book is published by high-end German publisher Steidl.
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David Byrne Subverts PowerPoint

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  • by Mavic'A ( 231627 )
    ...if you're featured on the Windows XP CD?
    • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) * on Sunday December 28, 2003 @09:38AM (#7821478)
      The Marketing here is wa-a-a-a-y more insidious than you think. Back in the Day, when I was awakening in pools of someone else's vomit curbside in front of CBGB's to the encore strains of "Pscho Killer.... Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa... Better run run run run Run Away!" David Byrne was der shizznitz... or whatever ridiculous phrase has replaced the ridiculous phrase "da bomb" in modern parlance.

      20-somethings don't make decisions regarding what presentation software is loaded across an enterprise; we 40-somethings have that dubious honor. And all we hear these days is how Powerpoint is, well, so 1996, and un-cool. Who better to convince us otherwise? The lead singer from ColdPlay (am I spelling that correctly?)? No, young man,it's the guy in the big white suit who defined counterculture 'art' way back when the current generation of marketing "grown-ups" were actually artistic.

      Funny thing is, I kinda remember how, back in the early '90s, marketing campaigns similarly co-copted Andy Warhol imagery to "artistically connect with" a previous generation who now found themselves in Brooks Brothers suits. I thought that was bogus then, but I think using Byrne is clever. Thanks, Slashdot, for pointing out how I've become what I once loathed.

      All of which brings the lyrics to a Byrne song crashing home to me here on a Sunday morning as the children quietly watch a Strawberry Shortcake video in the next room:

      " And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
      And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
      And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?...

      "And you may ask yourself
      What is that beautiful house?
      And you may ask yourself
      Where does that highway go?
      And you may ask yourself
      Am I right?...Am I wrong?
      And you may tell yourself
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Is it me, or has anyone else noticed how Talking Heads music doesn't age well? Some of my favorite music from that era still seems very relevant and exciting (Television, X, The Clash) while Talking Heads seem, well, dated.

        As for David Byrne shilling for MS, I don't think that's the case. I think he is shilling for himself, and PowerPoint is being used like it should be--as a sales tool.

        • Another effect of marketing--sort of.

          There are popular bands around that sound something like Television (et al), but no one who's influenced by Talking Heads is similar-sounding enough--or similarly enough marketed--to immediately remind you of them.

          The most Talking Heads-like pop single of this past year was a Justin Timberlake song, but it's not like his image encourages "Once In A Lifetime" to pop right into your head when you hear him; whereas about half the Strokes' songs make you think "Televisio

          • The most Talking Heads-like pop single of this past year was a Justin Timberlake song

            Which song is that? I really like the Talking Heads. I didn't really like N'Sync. I like some of Justin's singles. I really like "Rock Your Body", i like "Like I Love You" and "Senorita". "Cry Me a River" is awful. "I'm Loving It" is almost awful or might not be; but I really like the McDonald's song of the same name (and some of the girls in the commercials). (I haven't heard enough of the Justin song to know if the McD

        • Nah, I disagree with that. I've been listening to "Remain In Light" quite a bit recently, and it really rocks my socks as much as it did when I first got it 15 years ago.

          Same thing with Devo, I'll never tire of their first 4 records. "Shout" and beyond are fairly dated, sound-wise, but I still listen to them on a very regular basis.
      • ''Dateline - New York - Archeologists today discovered some previously unknown DECTapes containing some "TROFF" files created by Andy Warhol. TROFF is a early predecessor to Miscrosoft Word...''

        Pardon me while I giggle uncontrollably.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Perhaps you have become what you loath, not by getting a beautiful wife and car, but by longing for a nostalgic past that never existed, getting your knickers in a bunch because some other geezer dared suggest use of a piece of software. A PIECE OF SOFTWARE, NOT A NUCLEAR WEAPON OR BIOTERROR AGENT. The zealotry of a 20 something becomes pathetic if you're still tooting that horn when you are in your 40's.

        It was a delusion that our generation was any different or less pimpable the generations that came befo
      • Back in the Day, when I was awakening in pools of someone else's vomit curbside in front of CBGB's to the encore strains of "Pscho Killer.... Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa... Better run run run run Run Away!"

        For me it was Erics in Liverpool, watching them play support for the Ramones. Aside from that it's the same story...

        Funny thing is, I kinda remember how, back in the early '90s, marketing campaigns similarly co-copted Andy Warhol imagery to "artistically connect with" a previous generation who now found t
      • --In Soviet Russia, HOUSE burns down YOU!

        --Wait, that doesn't make any sense. Oh well, I have the lyrics to "BDTH" running thru my head now after RTFA. :)
    • No MS Conspiracies here. David Byrne has long been obsessed with marketing as artictic medium. A favorite recent piece that I love is called Your Action World. Released as a book, circulating initially in galleries, it opens with colors of famous companies--green, Beneton; orange/purple, FedEx. Then drugs, cities, outerspace, palm tree dreams, and insanity. Then metaphors of weapons coiled like DNA, burning in fire, flying in clouds. These designs were build as advertisments, complete with a picture
    • Yeah, what's up with that? How did David Bryne get to be the DJ Mike Llama of Windows Media Player?
  • Anyone read that article in wired about why powerpoint sucked? Wasn't there something recently aswell about how power point made you dumb?
  • He's Lazy []

    -I-I-I'm wicked and I'm lazy
    Ooooh, don't you wanna save me
    I'm lazy when I'm lovin', I'm lazy when I play
    I'm lazy with my girlfriend a thousand times a day
    I'm lazy when I'm speaking, I'm lazy when I walk
    I'm lazy when I'm dancin' and I'm lazy when I talk

    I really hope someone managed to get him to put some *serious effort* into this book+DVD, seems like he's recently been dealing with a major motivation problem.

    Then again, if PowerPoint is ForDummies, that probably fits nicely with his lazy
  • OMG!! (Score:1, Funny)

    by borgdows ( 599861 )
    turning Powerpoint into a visual art medium...

    this man is EVIL!!!
  • by zecg ( 521666 )
    A publicity stunt and a cheap one, at that. Someone is beginning to realize that the really important channels of information on the Internet are controlled by nerds and so washed-out artists are starting to jump on the fad train.

    This "DVD", it is obvious, is a cheap and quick way to get his name in the papers, if not to make a few bucks. The symbols that are described (such as Dolly the sheep enclosed on a PowerPoint page in quotation marks) sound... well, again, cheap.
    • by NoData ( 9132 ) < minus author> on Sunday December 28, 2003 @09:49AM (#7821488)
      I doubt it. Byrne's pretty much an icon in art music, he just doesn't need cheap publicity. I think he's just wacky and quirky.

      And if there's anyone who's a "nerd" in music, it's Byrne. The new wave art rockers of the 80s were the nerds of music. Of his contemporaries, he's third in nerdiness only to maybe Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo or Thomas Dolby (She Binded Me With Science), who went on to form an interactive music software company [] in the 90s.
      • Yes, Dolby and Co. were pretty great. However, Byrne and the Heads came in with the Punk movement---a fringe element of it, but still along with it and strongly influenced by it. They were more the weird uncle for the US New Wave bands than contemporaries.


      • An icon in art music? I never even heard of the guy until this article.

        80s new wave rockers haven't been icons of anything since the early 90s.
        • An icon in art music? I never even heard of the guy until this article.

          Sorry to tell you, but it's true. David Byrne is famous. The Talking Heads are famous too. Really, really famous. Whether you consider his music true Art, or just new wave pop, if you haven't heard if him you probably shouldn't be posting any comments to this article and you most definatly shouldn't be admitting to it in public.
      • You forget Laurie Andersen [], who managed to make a hit song [] out of references to comic books and the military-industrial underpinnings of the U.S economy.

        Now there's a musical nerd to look up to!
    • Have you seen the beast (I haven't)? Or are you reviewing the content based on a second hand report on _yahoo_?

      As far as it goes, I agree with another poster who replied - Byrne isn't a publicity hound. I happen to find him interesting and amusing, but many don't, and he's fine with that. 80's art rock isn't for everyone. Comparisons with Dolby are spot on.

      I doubt much money was made on this - 1500 copies @ $80 isn't exactly a new industry. (I'm sure nobody lost money, but if amassing capital were the g

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 28, 2003 @09:02AM (#7821404)
    Next up, stacking old PCs as sculpture, tiling your bathroom with old purple 486s (and having in-tile heating to boot!), and the new video from Justin Timberlake, featuring MSWord and 'Dancing Clippy'
    • I have used Powerpoint upteen times over my career as I occassionally speak on Computer Security issues from general to specific audiences. I have always been forced to use PowerPoint simply because there seems to be nothing better out there at the moment. I have looked at KPresenter [], Prosper [], OpenOffice's Impress [], and maybe one or two others. I love Keynote's [] features and gloss, but the expense of buying a very powerful 15" Powerbook to get it to work smoothly is somewhat of an obstacle to me. I'd lov
  • by The Cydonian ( 603441 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @09:20AM (#7821442) Homepage Journal
    From the article:-
    One of the Internet's inventors, Vint Cerf, gets laughs from audiences by quipping, "Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."
    Oh boy. :-D
  • Honestly, I can't take anyone serious who can't tell the differnce between a software brand name and a type of software. Even if he's not a geek but considers himslef an artist.
    If you plan to act publicly (artists usually do that), you should display enough brains to tell the difference. Otherwise you're not being an artist rather than a complete idiot.
    Art under a brand name isn't. It's a commercial.
  • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @09:41AM (#7821479)
    A quick search on Google will tell you that Snoop Dog and Microsoft Word yields 4,810 hits, David Bowie and Excel yields 10,500 hits, and Madonna and Flash yields a whopping 217,000 (compare that with only 203,000 hits for Britney Spears and Flash).

    Oddly enough, a search Frank Zappa and Filemaker Pro yielded a measly 396 hits (possibly he's not doing much work lately), though Marilyn Manson and ASP Server Side Scripting did return almost twice that number at 694 hits.

    So you see it's not just artists from the 80's who are into new technology.

    Discuss amongst yourselves.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Jemma at []
    (well known in net-art circles)

    has done a few projects as .ppt the medium chosen is part of the artistic statement

  • by leoaugust ( 665240 ) <> on Sunday December 28, 2003 @10:30AM (#7821555) Journal

    Tufte is for the Masses, and Brnes for a thin Slice of the Masses (the Classes) -

    1. What Tufte is saying (and I did attend one of his Seminars which was impressive more for the breath of his examples rather than the depth of his analysis) is meant for the masses - majority of the people who are going to be making presentations.
    2. What Byrne is saying is mainly for a thin slice of the masses (the classes) who can overcome the limitations of the tool to create something really "interesting."
    3. To put it bluntly, when a hundred kids are allowed to play Guitars, 99 of them should follow Tufte, and only one should follow Byrne - because 99 are not going to make careers as rock stars while one of them may. Only 1 out of 100 will learn to overcome the limitations imposed by the 6 strings and frets to create something that shall move audiences - the rest won't be able to do so.

    Byrne does does talk about the limitations of Powerpoint

    • "It communicates within certain limited parameters really well and very easily. The genius of it is that it was designed for any idiot to use. I learned it in a few hours, and that's the idea." ...
    • "Software constraints are only confining if you use them for what they're intended to be used for," Byrne said in a phone interview.
    • "PowerPoint may not be of any use for you in a presentation, but it may liberate you in another way, an artistic way. Who knows."

    But Byrne is an 'artist" and has been able to "overcome the limitations" in his own whimsical way. Most of what he does would not work in 99 % of the typical presentations.

    Again, from the article ... and while reading it just imagine how many people could do then and then "sell" the shit ...

    • The book includes mostly lucid musings on how PowerPoint has ushered in "the end of reason," with pictures of bar charts gone hideously astray, fields of curved arrows that point at nothing, disturbing close-ups of wax hands and eyebrows, and a photo of Dolly the cloned sheep enclosed by punctuation brackets.
    • The 20-minute DVD, encased in the navy blue hardback cover, features the same abstractions in motion. Byrne wrote most of the music. How many people giving typical presentations can write "music"
    • The overall tone of this compilation is somewhat like a sales pitch - whimsical and upbeat. Many people have to go for years to School to learn how to make a "sales pitch."

    So, what I am trying to say is that Powerpoint has many many (some Terrible) limitations. Byrne has learnt to overcome some of them in a whimsical and creative way. His "artistic" talent is not present in most of the people making presentations. (I did write earlier on /. about Art and Overcoming limitations here [])

    So, most of the people should not follow his example or philosophy. And, to draw general conclusions from one odd data point (outlier) about the nature of data is pretty naive. On the Bell curve, he would be on one end of a tail ....

    What Tufte is saying holds for the masses. What Byrne represents is for a thin slice (the classes) and the masses should not read too much into it.

  • If you think that the PPT would be great to print out and hand out to meeting attendees, then it should be a Word document. If you want to write a book then use a word processor.

    • A boring bullet-only PowerPoint could/should be done in Word, but consider a more interesting more graphics-intensive PowerPoint -- have you ever tried to lay out graphics in Word? All the "Float over text"/"Move with text" stuff -- it's a nightmare. Maybe Word's poor layout has something to do with some of PowerPoint's popularity.
      • Interresting point. In Word 97 and 2K I got around image positioning by insterting a textbox then insterting the picture in the textbox. That method is broken by default in XP (not even sure what they did). Its always been a no-brainer to accomplish in Powerpoint. MS Publisher is a pain in the ass too.

        Another method I've switched to using is to write the document in html then open it in Word and doing a quick "Save As...".

      • A boring bullet-only PowerPoint could/should be done in Word

        Only if you're a droid. Why not do it in HTML/CSS and use a web browser as the presentation engine?
  • old news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SteelRat ( 11640 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @11:08AM (#7821658) Homepage
    see the wired article from about two months ago. ml
    • And the money quote from the Wired piece:

      "...because people make art out of all kinds of crappy things..."

      Need we say more?
  • by Otter ( 3800 )
    1) Gratuitous use of the word "subvert" is pretentious, self-aggrandizing and stupid. 2) PowerPoint is a tremendously powerful and useful application if used thoghtfully. Certainly, scientific presentations have improved greatly since it replaced hand-made and hand-shot slides and overheads drawn with a Sharpie. Maybe in other environments it's used badly -- granted about 70% of the features should probably never be used under any circumstances. 3) Has Vint Cerf accomplished anything useful in the last 20
    • Has Vint Cerf accomplished anything useful in the last 20 years besides talking about how smart he used to be, promoting that stupid interplanetary network and announcing that Al Gore created the Internet because he, Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet, said so? I'm not even going to get into the question of what he did and didn't do way back when.

      Hmmm. That is funny, when I read Cerf's defense of Gore he specifically disclaimed credit for fathering the internet. Nor did it seem to me he was giving Gor

      • I believe the record was clear. Gore authored bills to pay for the creation of the internet. Look it up.

        That is entirely false. Gore began his first congressional term in 1977, well after the creation of the ARPAnet/Internet. In fact, Gore was an extremely forward-thinking legislator on technology in general and data networks in particular, and contributed to the commercialization of the Internet, but his claim to have been involved in the creation of the Internet in any sense is false.

        This is what us for

  • Here's [] the famous, early take on PowerPoint being bad.
    • > Here's the famous, early take on PowerPoint being bad.

      As much as I loathe PowerPoint (Powerless and Pointless it is, IMO), I have to
      point out that the Gettysburg Address example is really not fair to PowerPoint.
      First off, Lincoln was not the main speaker, nor was his speech considered to
      be special at the time; the papers went on and on about how wonderful the other
      man's speach was -- and oh, by the way, the President also said a few words.
      The reason the Gettysburg Address is famous today, I am convinc
  • ... I read about this 2 months ago in my paper wired...

    *Shrug* If powerpoint makes you dumb... Outlook must give you alzheimers (sp)

  • PowerSpeak (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @11:40AM (#7821768) Homepage Journal

    Powerpoint is newspeak for presentations. That is, because of it's dumbed down simplicity, making simple things effortless and everything else nearly impossible, it constrains what may be said. At the same time, by being so easy to use, it lulls the user into a sense that it is powerful and expressive to the point that they don't realize what it is that they can't say with it.

    Byrne is a linguist who finds himself in a world that speaks only newspeak. He is examining the logical limits of it's expressivity to determine what it absolutely can't say at all.

    It's an artistic challenge to express as much as possible in an artificially limited medium. It's a new take on a common theme in art.

    To reduce all of that to 'Byrne has become a Powerpoint fanboy' is to completely miss the point.

    Powerpoint is an ideal tool for modern sales technique in that it allows the user to say absolutely nothing but make it sound like a good thing.

  • If shirts with bullet holes can be a medium, powerpoint is definitely eligible to be one.

    Though how much did M$ pay this guy?
  • by smitty45 ( 657682 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @12:26PM (#7821901)
    and they are hilarious, well done, and much different from what anyone would think of as a PowerPoint presentation.

    For those people who have only read the article, his "presentations" (if you can call them that) are cooler than I doubt any Microsoft or Apple could put together.

    Smarten up, folks...forget the medium, it's his content that is genius.
  • by scrytch ( 9198 ) <> on Sunday December 28, 2003 @12:29PM (#7821912)
    I mean, think about it. One by one, bullet points appear:

    • Watch Out
    • You might get what you're after
    • COOL baby
    • Strange but not a stranger

    (Switch to new slide, each word appears one by one with a .3 second delay)


    (Fly in from the sides, gigantic font in word art)

    Burning Down The House
  • Content vs Medium (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jamesl ( 106902 )
    Saying PowerPoint is bad because people give mindless presentations with it is like saying newspapers are bad because all you've read is the National Enquirer
  • This was in Wired magazine nearly a year ago. I'm glad to see that the worlds leading news agency can keep up so closely to a mid-budget tech magazine.
  • See also (Score:2, Funny)

    by jcupitt65 ( 68879 )

    Brian Millar's excellent Executive summary of Hamlet in Powerpoint []. It includes a handy SWOT analysis of the Danish royal family.

    He's also got a PDF [] version.

  • by baywulf ( 214371 ) on Sunday December 28, 2003 @01:57PM (#7822235)
  • "Microsoft spokesman Simon Marks wouldn't comment on whether PowerPoint has debased society but said in an e-mail, "PowerPoint continues to evolve to make it easier for customers to present their information in the style that best suits the content and the audience."

    So PowerPoint doesn't make you stupid. It just makes it easier to show how stupid you are. Used by a genius and the result is art. Used by the average Joe and the result inspires books like "PowerPoint Makes You Dumb". Both Byrne and Tufte are
  • Wired News also covered this story, and has a great interview with Byrne. You can read it here [].

  • I think a lot of people have missed the point, including (unfortunately) those who see this as a Byrne vs. Tufte or whoever conflict.

    David Byrne did not say that PowerPoint is good as a business tool. He said it was useful as an artistic medium. A guitar isn't useful as a business tool, either, but is tremendously useful as an artistic medium.

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