Harmonia Mundi is well known for elegant and comprehensive classical box sets and their new Sacred Music limited edition is no exception. Plus, given the subject matter, it’s perfectly timed for this part of the year. Spanning a staggering 29 discs, the set covers all manner of, you guessed it, sacred music from the Gregorian chants of early music up to the 20th century masses of Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc. There’s also an in-depth book and a PDF disc containing all the tests of the music. Highlights include the full Handel’s “Messiah” and Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”, but the star of the collection is an utterly transcendent version of Mozart’s “Requiem” that argues the case for this being among the finest works of music ever created by a human being.
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Cultural history is one of the abiding passions of PopMatters, and in that spirit we heartily recommend picking up Morris Dickstein’s new study of the music, theatre, film and literature of the ‘30s. This ambitious text is the result of 30 years of research and writing, a work of consummate scholarship that is perfectly timed, given the ongoing economic malaise worldwide and the recent near-return to “depressionary” times. Thoroughly interdisciplinary in scope and focused on the expressions of creative individuals of the time, Dancing in the Dark convinces that these artistic “responses should resonate with us again today as we go through the stresses and anxieties that remind us too much of the Great Depression”.
My virtual son has a logical mind and a natural talent for music, but he prefers to be alone and tends to act and speak inappropriately. In other words, to mirror my real-life family, I created a little kid with high-functioning autism.
As a life simulator, Electronic Arts latest addition to the Sims family, The Sims 3, is more powerful than ever. As a video game, it builds on the success of its forerunners and extends the franchise without becoming labyrinthine or needlessly complex. The biggest change between The Sims 2 and The Sims 3, however, is the dynamic, walkable, living neighborhood for your sims to explore. Walk to a community lot or hop on a bike or into a car and visit a neighbor, no load screens are required. This feature has really given a big hit to my household productivity; I used to fold laundry or knit during venue changes, and now, they’re so quick that I barely have time to pick up my knitting needles.
The controls are easier to use and faster to learn than ever, and at the same time, the player has more control and more choices at every turn. With the third and newest version of its hit series, the developers have struck precisely the right balance between complexity and intuitiveness. Playing in the virtual doll house is as fun as ever.
Despite its slow beginning hours, Ubisoft’s follow up to Assassin’s Creed makes up for its poor early pacing with its commitment to adding more variety and depth to the franchise. Combining the visceral pleasures of free running and precision stealth kills with thought provoking plotting that considers the dichotomy of faith and reason in the Italian Renaissance, Assassin’s Creed is audacious in its willingness to tackle topics that few mainstream video games have done more than graze: religion and philosophy. Not many games would charge the protagonist with assassinating the Pope in the heart of the Vatican. Oh, and then follow up that sequence with musings on the mysteries of cosmology.
Ubisoft has taken full advantage of the medium’s ability to create worlds from the ground up and taken to recreating historical periods that are often not those focused on in contemporary gaming environments. Does the world need another game set during World War II? Instead, the first game allowed the player a view of Damascus during the time of the Crusades. Now players explore the streets and canals of Venice at the height of the Renaissance. Visually astonishing, both thoughtful in its narrative and brutal in its gameplay, Assassin’s Creed II is one of the best games of the year.
Who hasn’t pored over a map, totally absorbed, oblivious to the passage of time? You are Here, for the time being, and ‘Here’ is you, in all the cultural, political, and geographical interpretations of that phrase you care to consider. If you’re inclined to such daydreaming, The Map as Art will intrigue, delight and perplex you, as you browse through 160 contemporary artists’ interpretations of mapping the world.
Your understanding of what comprises a map will get a luxurious stretch, as you slowly page through this delightful book (a sequel to the best selling You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, also by Katharine Harmon), and thus your comprehension of the world will expand. Many of the maps, like us, are designed to fade quickly on this geographical timeline (the wind will take them away); others, no matter how well preserved, will disintegrate more slowly as all objects of art do. Nothing remains fixed, not ourselves, and certainly not our world. You’ll want to find some of these in poster format, if possible, as many of these maps are quite beautiful.
An excellent companion piece to The Map as Art is found in Viking Studio’s Strange Maps. Here the map as concept is turned on its head, or inverted, as the cover art implies. For example in section III. Artography, artist Frank Chimero depicts the state of California as a stubbed-out cigarette—and that’s one of the more readily comprehensible maps. “In cartography, precision is essential. But imagination can be an entertaining substitute,” says the introduction to part I. Cartographic Misconceptions, which playfully depicts maps of, well, creative assumption, which were typical resources prior to the age of satellite imagery.
Author Frank Jacobs calls this collection, derived from his popular blog, Strange Maps, an anti-atlas in its scope of curious cartography that—consider yourself warned—is not meant for navigation. Well, not physical navigation, anyway. Your imagination will wander freely throughout these interpretations. This is a collection of odd maps that are, well, kinda hard to pin down. Readers of this book will wear a bemused smile throughout—and they’ll never look at the state of California the same.
// Moving Pixels
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