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by Rory O'Connor

6 Oct 2008

Leaning heavily on their most recent record—Made in the Dark provided the bulk of the evening’s material save for about four or five songs—Hot Chip wasted little time getting the audience moving on the first date of its two night stand at Chicago’s Metro.

On record, Hot Chip can be a little elusive to pin down, bouncing around from quirky electro to a more serious pop friendly sound. Tracing their development in the studio finds a band perpetually evolving and polishing their sound, but it offers little in the way of clues pointing towards a particular musical direction. The latest album is, of course, no exception. Made in the Dark transitions from a front end filled with electro and—at times almost bombastic—dance music only to give way to a few ballads that close out the album. While this can leave some listeners a little bit confused, the objective at a Hot Chip live show is much more direct and primitive – they are here to entertain. 

Hot Chip’s live show is high energy and almost aggressive in its approach. On stage the band’s instrumentation becomes more pronounced and takes a front seat, both figuratively and literally, as it is guitarist Al Doyle standing stage front for most of the set. Tracks like “Over and Over” and “Ready for the Floor” (during the latter some oversized balloons were released from the ceiling) are already a perfect fit to the flow of the evening, while a slower, more melodic track like “And I was a Boy from School” gets an up-tempo makeover that allows it to blend in seamlessly. As with their latest album, the band did put their foot on the brakes, though, rolling out “In the Privacy of Your Love” towards the latter part of the show. And while it didn’t quite fit in with the up-tempo tracks that preceded it, the meditative track added a little depth to this dance-saturated evening.

by Rob Horning

6 Oct 2008

PSFK linked to this essay from Design Week by Ben Terrett about creating “unproduct,” which seems to mean consumer goods that are more idea than substance.

A concept I have been thinking a lot about recently is ‘unproduct’. Originally coined by the designer Matt Jones and built upon by the strategist Russell Davies, among others, unproduct is basically maximum idea, minimum stuff. It is an idea that offers some suggestions as to how brands and designers could help combat climate change. You get more value, but you produce less stuff.

This seems like an argument for more commercial control of intellectual property, with the logic being that the more capital is tied up in virtual things, the less environmental damage will be wrought in supplying the economy with physical goods. Or in other words, we should pay to participate in brands rather than accumulate goods.

Could brands be adequate consolation for not having actual material goods? Could they be something we could claim a kind of ersatz ownership of to satisfy our innate desire to possess things while our physical stock actually dwindles? It seems plausible, I guess, but would require an exacerbation of identity politics, as we would become far more invested in the symbolism of goods rather than the usefulness we derive from them, since the physical use would be gone and the social-symbolic use would be all there is.

Terrett, who seems primarily interested in making better signage, argues that adding information to existing goods enhances their value and thereby precludes the need to manufacture replacements. This in turn “slows down consumerism”:

One important factor in unproduct is data. Because software is now everywhere, you can add and collect data easily and often. We have long realised that adding data to things often makes them more valuable; for example, the way houses become more expensive with added history - from ‘this used to be a fruit warehouse’ to those ceramic blue plaques. Those little bits of data are increasing the value without creating new stuff, keeping the wheels of capitalism turning while slowing down the treadmill of consumerism.

I tend to draw the opposite conclusion about the proliferation of data. I think it works to allow us to consume more quickly, and therefore consume more in a limited amount of time. In our individual lives, we may be aware of environmental limitations to our consumption in an abstract way, but the limit we understand deeply and intimately and react to almost instinctually is the time constraint. We know that there is lots of stuff out there (thanks to marketing’s ubiquity and the penetration of entertainment with salesmanship) but we don’t have the time to take advantage of it all. But consuming it vicariously through its metadata—coming to an understanding of it, processing it, whatever you want to call it—allows us to move on more rapidly to the next thing. Signage potentially cannibalizes on the intrinsic worth of the thing, encouraging us to skim over what is being signed.

But the strategy Terrett advocates also evokes a different problem—if the data applied to already existing goods works to make them appear unique, these goods become positional goods—goods whose scarcity is irremediable and whose function is generally to exacerbate class differences. The houses with added history do indeed become more expensive, but no utility is added to the economy along with this enhanced value—houses are worth more, but no more people are housed. Capitalism would be working to distribute more of the stuff available to fewer people (by means of data manipulation), as it will have ceased to make new stuff.

by Mike Schiller

6 Oct 2008

It seems so long ago that LucasArts was known for anything other than their Star Wars games.  Once upon a time, it may actually have been known more for its classic point ‘n click adventure games than the prize license it wields.  Maniac Mansion, its sequel Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road...these are games that LucasArts built its non-Star Wars reputation on.  Lately, it’s been…well, pretty much nothing.  Nothing, that is, until tomorrow.

Now, we have Fracture, LucasArts’ foray into the world of new-IP first-person shooting.  As with any new IP in this genre that’s not exactly hurting for games, there’s a hook: namely, that one of your guns can raise and lower the surrounding terrain.  Look, this is like playing Populous as one of the people on the ground.  Potentially, this could be (pardon my gushing) AWESOME.  Raise the ground to provide yourself with some cover, reach previously unreachable platforms, really confuse some poor sap who happens to be standing on a hill…the possibilities are tremendous.  This is the sort of mechanic that tends to only reach its potential when the sequel (or the sequel to the sequel) hits, but the idea of this one sounds great.

If you can defeat your enemies by creating impromptu ponds underneath them and drowning them, I’m so there.

I talked last week about having a hard time letting go of my old devotion to Sonic the Hedgehog, and this week features another of my old standbys that I have a hard time letting go of: Crash Bandicoot.  Granted, the last couple of Crash games have been just fine, honestly, but they’re not as absorbing and certainly not as novel as the original PlayStation versions of the games.  Part of that might have something to do with the fact that Crash, as a character, was designed with the limits of the PlayStation in mind; a large part of Crash’s character design was around creating a character using polygons that looked like he was actually made up of a bunch of polygons.  Crash has always looked a little awkward, but it was perfectly natural on the PlayStation.  The current generation of systems hasn’t quite figured out how to render the bandicoot such that he looks natural in HD.  Maybe Mind Over Mutant can figure out the secret.

This year’s editions of EA and 2K’s competing NBA franchises come out this week too, and hey!  There’s an Etch-a-Sketch game of some sort coming out for the PC, too.  Who wants to bet they get sued because someone shakes the microprocessor clean out of their laptop just trying to clean the screen?

What are you looking at this week?  What did I miss?  Scope out the full release list and a trailer for Fracture after the jump!

by Bill Gibron

5 Oct 2008

The theory that sequels should exceed their originals is nothing new to the filmmaking machine. Most big budget blockbusters attempt the “pile on” conceit when creating a follow-up to a smash summer hit - more robots, more explosions, more stylized CG spectacle. The conventional thinking is that audiences want the same thing, just much more of it. The horror genre tries the same strategy. When Jason Voorhees kills several teenagers in any number of Friday the 13ths, you know that the next visit to Camp Crystal Lake will be bigger, badder, and bloodier. It’s the same with other fear franchises like The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Fledgling series Feast wants to capitalize on the cult status of the original Project Greenlight to set up a gruesome collection of gross outs. Thankfully, Feast II: Sloppy Seconds doubles everything that made the first film so unforgettable.

The morning after the initial attack, a few survivors remain. The Bartender is picked up by Biker Queen, sister of Harley Mom. She and her gang of roughrider gals want revenge on the guy who betrayed their friend and fellow chopper chick. Elsewhere, a pair of dwarf wrestlers who also own the town’s only locksmith establishment are out to escape the creatures who interrupted their recreational fun (read: sex with a buxom babe), while a car dealer known as Slasher discovers his Secret-preaching wife is sleeping with his number one salesman. And Honey Pie, who escaped the melee the first time around, is back battling sexually aggressive monsters with the same slapstick struggles. As the small town is overrun with repugnant randy fiends, our rag tag group tries to infiltrate the only safe building left - a jail controlled by a junkie Meth-head whose desperate to keep them out. 

Geek shows don’t get more gloriously gruesome than Feast II: Sloppy Seconds (new to DVD from Dimension Extreme and The Weinstein Group). They also don’t offer up this many splatter rampage laughs. This is one funny, fudged up film, an outright amplification of everything John Gulager did when given the opportunity to make his original madcap monster movie. Simultaneously schlocky and sickening, with just enough creature carnality to make you question the sanity of everyone involved, Feast II simply picks up where the first film left off, tosses in a bunch of tattooed biker chicks, a pair of wrestling midgets, and enough vomit, blood, and beast bodily fluids to start a specimen lab. Then it treats everyone as a potential victim and goes gangbusters for the throat. The result is something rare in the world of cinematic scares - a completely fearless offering that has the audacity to exceed audience expectations while stumbling along to its own unique drummer.

The first thing you notice about Feast II is how Gulager riffs on recent independent mythos. There’s lots of Tarantino here, as well as some Rodriguez lifts and a couple of looks back to early era Raimi, Romero, Fulci, and Jackson. Yet as a filmmaker, the son of Clu understands how best to handle his homages, using the boffo bits to accentuate his often unhinged ideas. This is not to say that Gulager has nothing original to offer. Any film that has sex crazed creatures running around trying to copulate with everything that walks (including pets) while tearing said potential partners limb from bloody limb is exploring underserved terror-tory. Indeed Feast II is really obsessed with finding as many unusual ways to destroy a human (or creature’s) body as possible. And for the most part, we are willing to watch the funky foul slaughter in all its Unrated glory.

In a film full of extremes, the best/worst is perhaps the scattershot autopsy of a supposedly dead monster. As our wannabe surgeon slices open the corpse (with a blowtorch, of all things), we see various viscera. As the exploration goes deeper, there are torrents of bile, lots of post-mortem flatulence, and a shower of stinky beast spunk that would make a paid porn star jealous. Clearly looking to be as irreverent as possible, this is the point where fans will either stay on board, or balk at Gulager’s outright offensiveness. Feast II doesn’t want to play by the standard genre rules, should they mandate the protection of old ladies or little babies. Nothing is safe or sacred here, and in many ways, that’s the movie’s specialty… and saving grace.

Sure, some of the sequences don’t work. Honey Pie’s endless physical comedy torment in a local five and dime becomes dull - especially when we, the audience, see her potential escape routes staring her square in the face. Equally drawn out is a rooftop roundelay where all the remaining characters get a few faux emotional beats. After the frenetic pace of the opening, and the nonstop carnage that ensues, seeing individuals we barely know aching about their personal problems offers little direct interest. Still, when Feast II falls back onto its buckets of bloodletting, we gladly accept the atrocities. After all, the legacy of movie macabre is peppered with crazed claret carnival barking - and most fans find themselves lining up again and again.

Besides, everyone is clearly having a good time uncorking the awfulness. On the cast and crew commentary included on the DVD, Gulager and the gang marvel at the hideousness of this version of the film (read: lots more gore and boundary-pushing brazenness). They giggle at inside jokes and wonder aloud how they ever thought they’d get away with such nastiness. Of course, with Part Three on the way, they recognize the need to save some splatter for later. The disc also contains a look at all the Gulager’s involved (along with John, Dad Clu and brother Tom make an appearance) and you can tell the family enjoys working together. Finally, the Making-of featurette finds the residents of a small Louisiana town startled by the sudden influx of a major movie production - and lots of latex body parts.

Indeed, shaking up the standard genre dynamic is at the core of Feast II: Sloppy Seconds strategy. J-Horrors dark haired spook showboating is dead, and Eli Roth has taken torture porn and its surrounding influence back to the urban legend realm where such faux snuff films belong. Michael Bay is remaking every ‘70s’/‘80s franchise he can find (next up - The Puppet Master movies) while zombies still can’t catch a respectable break. Maybe making a good old fashioned literal flesh feast is the right way to go. Forget the explanations and rationales - bring on the offal and aim as low as you can. If you enjoyed the first film, Feast II will definitely provide your mandated Andre True connection. If you haven’t had the pleasure of being fully Gulagered yet, this is as good a place as any to start. Gore doesn’t get more goofy than this.

by Rob Horning

3 Oct 2008

On his blog a few weeks ago, Kevin Kelly celebrates what I complained about in this recent column: the growing ability to monitor and measure everything. I argued that fashioning databases of ourselves reduces our capacity for selfhood and enslaves us to quantitative ways of evaluating our experiences; Kelly, however, sees all this “metering” as an opportunity to create shareholder value.

In the long run, there is nothing that cannot be made more valuable by metering it. (And in this recursive world, even metering is not too cheap to meter, so metering the meters is a good strategy as well.) We are rapidly inventing new sensors to cheaply, accurately, and continuously measure all things in all dimensions: geo-graphical location, speed, consumption, health, fitness, repairablity, connection, performance, rest, charge, and a million other vectors.

It’s true that you can’t profit from what you can’t measure. But it still seems short-sighted to celebrate everything being metered, and to promote the incursion of measurement further into the private lives of individuals, as if they are being measured for their own benefit. It’s instead the final obliteration of idea that any part of life takes place outside of the commercial nexus. To this vision of the future, everything of any significance, any piece of self-knowledge or self-enhancement will come filtered through the valves and gauges of the commercial machine. Outside of that, we don’t actually exist; unmeasured we are ghosts. It won’t be impossible to be a ghost in this future, but it will be a difficult choice to stick to; it will be hard to be content with merely haunting the lives of others, who will most likely not have made the same choice, since the blandishments of the measured life are not negligible.

What are these blandishments? Kelly points to the “freeconomy” our data streams support: “Cheaply metering data, in fact, is what propels the free economy. Metering is a type of attention. Products and services will be given away in exchange for the meta data about their use. Data about the free is now more valuable than the free thing itself.” On the surface that sounds like nonsense: If the thing is free, than it has no economic value to anyone. But the stuff is not truly free. Kelly continually labels goods and services as “free” even when the payment is being extracted as surveillance: “I can get free email, free storage, free photo manipulation tools, free genealogical sharing, free phone service, free twittering, free .. well almost free anything ... knowing that the hosts are monitoring (metering) my usage.” Being watched is the cost, and for most people it is negligible, because they are online exhibitionists. (Social networking, as I was trying to argue here, invites us all to become online exhibitionists, an attractive appeal because the public forum—where our behavior can be “metered”—is the primary place to establish our selfhood, which, in a mediated world, derives from being observed and judged.) But nonetheless it can be very costly, as the information is used to construct filters around us, affecting the choice architecture we confront and subtly changing just what it is that we are “free” to do, online and elsewhere. The more data we generated, the more we become confined by the preferences it predicts for us. The field in which we can discover spontaneity, or experience serendipity, shrinks. Perhaps in the future we will look back and see that these qualities were worth surrendering, that spontaneity was overrated. But chances are that the impossibility of spontaneity will make the promise of spontaneity a very powerful marketing tool.

Of course, there is the alternate possibility that the avalanche of data will create a new field for accidental discoveries and serendipitous linkages. If metering is as recursive as Kelly predicts, with metering itself being metered, and so on, the infinite flow of information will become even more unmanageable. With an infinite pool to draw from, “usefulness” and meaning can be extracted with the same arbitrarity that allows astrology to derive useful information from the stars. It requires only a clever manipulator of data to proclaim a significance to a pattern in the miasma. Rhetorical skill trumps statistical analysis when there are always more and more statistics to draw from and present as truth. Objective truth recedes even further from access as the data tide rises. The more data there is, the easier it is to lose sight of the correlations that truly signify—whatever that means. As Kelly himself notes, “The skills to parse and divine meaningful patterns out of this new environment will become paramount and eagerly sought.  Those who control the gateways to this metered information will be kings.” “Divine” is an apt choice of words. But controlling the gateway will be less important than having the unscrupulous facility to manipulate the information that is flowing. This is the mettle from which kings of the information age are made—demagoguery.

Measuring everything merely intensifies the need for trustworthy filters, which makes the service Google provides more necessary. “Google and web 2.0 companies realize this,” Kelly writes of the looming information treasure trove. “They meter everything they can because the data about things is more valuable than the thing itself.” At face value, this can’t be true. Metadata is derivative of the “thing”; without the thing that people are primarily interested in knowing about, there is no metadata from which to extract value. It’s like arguing that the credit-default-swap market can continue to expand without any underlying loans to insure. (Arguably the credit crisis exploded in part because investors lost sight of the relevance of those underlying loans to those swaps and began trading CDS contracts as though they were independent assets.)

Measuring everything is clearly valuable to Google, but not necessarily for us, who are interested in things in themselves and not profiting from ways to label and sort them. The value of metering is ultimately parasitical.

In fact, the obsession with metadata compromises our ability to enjoy the thing itself, sidetracking us into a preoccupation with quantitative aspects of our consuming experience rather than qualitative ones. The metadata is always other than the thing itself, but it makes it easier to think we’ve processed the thing itself without investing the time to experience it directly. Because so much more stuff is being thrust at us in digitized form, we begin to see our attention as a limited resource that should be budgeted to stretch it the farthest, which means applying it to derivatives (which can aggregate and condense information about many things) instead of things themselves and allow us to process more stuff superficially, with a sense of satisfaction that we have allowed our mind to touch on more things. We become maximizers, and as Barry Schwartz explained in The Paradox of Choice, this can be debilitating.

Our attention doesn’t need budgeting as long as it is fully engaged. Being engaged, truly and thoroughly, is all we reasonably should require of ourselves; consuming more stuff for the sake of quantity itself is fruitless; we’re always left with a feeling that we should have consumed more. Ubiquitous measurement serves only to intensify that feeling.

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