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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.
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.