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by Jason Gross

19 Mar 2009

In another example of creative experimenting, Time mag is trying out a limited edition publication that’s kind of a… (get ready for an overused term) mash-up.  According to an Associated Press story:

“Time Inc. is experimenting with a customized magazine that combines reader-selected sections from eight publications as it tries to mimic in printed form the personalized news feeds that have become popular on the Internet.”

Basically, you chose the stories among 56 possible combinations.  Interesting idea and they’re right to try it out in a small dose at first to see how it goes.  A drawback is that it’s focused on one advertiser so, as the article notes, it’s hard to do targeted ads, which would ideally be a big plus for a pub like this.

Still, it can’t do much worse than many pubs that are out there already struggling.

by Diepiriye Kuku

19 Mar 2009

I just added the White House as a friend on YouTube. I had looked forward to President Obama’s weekly addresses, and made the mistake of filtering through some of my subscriptions, like the Hill Billy Report, for example, which I stumbled upon due to the slogan “Ditch Mitch!” That’s right, I went to elementary school with Senator McConnell’s daughter, and he’s still serving as my representative. Yet, sitting in my South Delhi apartment, realizing that I’ve never lived as an adult in my own hometown, news through the local newspaper’s website, as well as that from the Tube are a well-cherished and reliable friends. It is primarily through YouTube that I have been able to access local politics and inform myself as a voter.

Brown School Seniors for Clinton

It is unsurprising to find my elementary school teachers actively supporting the myriad of local rallies protesting the invasion of Iraq. They were also there when Obama breezed through the Ville, as we call Louisville, pronounced ‘Looavull’. My teachers provided peace trouper support for local rallies against police brutality or in support of the municipal gay Hate Crimes ordinance that threatened to evaporate once the county and city jurisdictions merged. All of this can been seen on this same screen, and considering how far we’ve come since the days of the Underground Railroad or the Civil Rights marches is daunting.

As a senior in high school, knowing I’d soon head off to college leaving the Bible Belt for good, too young too vote, I stuck out my support for the first candidacy of Bill Clinton. Compared to anyone who had come since Lincoln and Kennedy, he was as good as buttered toast and as dialogue-oriented as any leader could get in those days. We treated him like the great savior, and lauded his liberalism. Less than a decade later we had abandoned Bill for a private transgression, and his wife for intransparency, which still colors her public image. In retrospect, Americans were too scared and scarred to ask for more. Decades later, we were even too marred by PC politics to demand that Hillary come out with how she negotiates home and career just like the rest of us. How might that whole fiasco have played out if there were such outlets as YouTube, as opposed to the cooperate media following Ken Star? Bloggers, too, would have shut that shit down! Now we’ve had a serious revolution, and it makes me wanna holler. To paraphrase Miss Milkshake/Kelis:

He’s Bossy / He’s the first kid to scream on the track / He switched up the beat of the drum / That right! He’s the one that brought all the boys to the yard / And that’s right! He’s the one that’s in large an’ in-charge, cause he’s Bossy!

White House videos average the length of a pop song, though some pieces, like his passionate talk to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on education is as long as Black Moses’ Hot Buttered Soul. Barack is just as seductive in his delivery as well. Obviously the inauguration playlist is as long as Songs in the Key of Life.  Speaking of which, the George Gershwin Award ceremony is noticeably absent from the White House channel, as if he don’t want folks to know too much ‘bout what’s going through his head. Remember Talking Book? I know Barack heard when Stevie said: “Your name is o’erseer / I’ll change if you vote me in as the pres.” Barack probably didn’t want Stevie telling all his business. His transition’s YouTube account is a bit more revealing: Changedotgov. The historic campaign logs into YouTube as “BarackObamadotcom,” to which interested viewers will have to turn to see the 37-minute-long speech, A More Perfect Union, which at last count had over 7 millions viewers through the campaign’s channel, but had invariably been uploaded by pages of users in as many languages. Barack is Bossy! The White House’s masthead simply politely offers the latest news. Passionate is an understatement for our president, he’s Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. Amen!

My new YouTube friend—at least the invitation has been sent—joined only this year, so he has some catching up to do. For example, the White House hasn’t uploaded that many videos, and the profile is a little loose. They are probably pretty certain that they already get enough press, and besides, the videos speak for themselves, each one a conversation about morals and policies as a strategy, not “partisanship and bickering (applause).” YouTube bans uploads with even background music, charging copyright infringement. This means that one should not take inspiration from Donny Hathaway, for example, while Vlogging about heavy issues. Barack’s stuff is “public domain per White House copyright policy.” He ain’t heavy, Barack might say, He’s my brother.

On the Whistle Stop Train Tour video, Barack lauds the “conductors that make our trains run,” as the scene pans to a Black man in a well-starched RXR uniform, reminiscent of the Honorable Brother A. Phillip Randolph organizing the Pullman Porters, and later recruited Bayard Rustin to teach civil disobedience to Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is some of the most inspirational viewing on YouTube since somebody uploaded Mahalia at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Michelle Obama is there in her role as First lady, as is the vice-chef speaking about Green Jobs, other appointees on blogging, and the president himself on healthcare, ending the war and other social justice issues. There is even a short list of White House favorites, one of which has over 100,000 viewers. All of the videos are highly rated thus far, but frankly there are relatively few viewers to date. To put it in context, Beyoncé posted her video Diva two months ago, and already has ten million viewers. “OMG,” she says in one publicity video where she accepts a book from her fan club. I was ROFLMAO at her theatrics, however well meaning.

Both full-length concerts and full-length speeches are simultaneously available on the same site. Gone is the era of sound bites. The complexity of issues facing us today could perhaps only be met with media as comprehensive as High Life music, which is funkier than its American cousin, Funk. Fela’s intros alone could last seven minutes while we sweat it out on the dance floor. No break, no job, no sense, we’d chant protesting the government’s war on the people right there while getting down to the break of 1977’s Zombie. Government soldiers raided Fela’s home and threw his mother out of window in response. Politics and pop culture so often enjoy a relationship as complex as Fela’s polyrhythmic beats as this Nigerian artist’s own life has shown for better and for worse.

News longer than sound bites may have met its match. Folks as young as gen-Xers are raging about how attention spans have shorted, and new media, including satellite boob tube and its five-second clips, all cater towards rearing a generation of young Americans who cannot really pay attention. Given the adrenaline rush from video gaming, they might only enjoy instant gratification. Just today I overheard a 15-year-old ask his friend, “What’s 16 times two,” and then reached for his sophisticated graphing calculator upon seeing his classmate’s puzzlement. President Barack Obama, however, is asking us to ask more of ourselves. Setting an example, he consistently takes his case directly to the people. He addresses the nation for free each week, giving us more face time than any friend on Facebook. Truth be told, he’s as crafty as Stevie Wonder with those words, and he’s not even that bad to look at- see for yourself.

New media enthusiasts can filter through years worth of footage of Dubya blundering the English language, with a few choice search words. Users can just as easily listen to Ronald Reagan combating socialized medicine as an early class warrior, labeling widespread healthcare coverage an eminent threat disguised as a “humanitarian project.”  He had a single-minded vision of governance- that it should be miniscule. Like an orchestra conductor heading a symphony, there was little space in the old politics for dialogue amongst all the players, more akin to JB and the band composing Cold Sweat in one take. Maceo/C’mon now/Brother/put it, put it where it’s at now/Aww, Let him have it! James can heard saying leading his band. Like the beat of Miles Davis’ So What, from which this definitive funk music classic takes its pace, the polyrhythmic beat upon which Black music is built, depends upon dialogue- and that’s what’s up. Give the drummer some, James asks everybody before backing up to let the drummer get down. Everybody gets to shine and the final product is that much more fabulous, enriched by this synergy. Help him out Archie, go on ‘head play wit’ ‘em…double up on ‘em. Oh if we cold rely on government to be as in sync.

These finer bits of history are now available for anyone interested and attentive. Reagan argues: The “majority rule” is a fine aspect of democracy provided there are guarantees written in to our government concerning the rights of the individual and of the minorities. This is the same man that provided the fertile lobbying ground to recede the government’s ability to protect the people from media oligarchy. Now with Reagan’s trick, trick trickle down economics exposed as elitism and usurpation of public goods, traditional media outlets are letting folks go. When change is upon us and we need media most, more and more traditional media outlets will simply pick up and disseminate what fewer and fewer folks have placed on the corporate-filtered news wire. No, given those circumstances, I never thought I’d add the White House as a friend. Luckily, m new White House friend is as funky as you wanna be.

by Jer Fairall

19 Mar 2009

“Things have been rather quiet round the Voxtrot camp these last two years,” writes Voxtrot’s Ramesh Srivastava on the band’s website, and indeed, the silence from the Austin quartet has been rather ominous. After a handful of acclaimed EPs that had them poised as the “next big thing” in indie-pop, the band’s self-titled 2007 debut was met with responses from fans and critics that ranged from muted to outright hostile. Was the experience discouraging enough to mean the end of Voxtrot? Thankfully, no. Though no new album (or EP, even) has been announced, the band has debuted a new single, “Trepanation Party” to coincide with a pair of shows on the occasion of the South By Southwest festival taking place in the band’s hometown. It’s a longer, slower kind of Voxtrot song, filled with dramatic keyboard flourishes and Beatles quotes, but it is still a new Voxtrot song, and coming from the lone fan of the band’s much-maligned debut, that can only be a good thing.

“Trepanation Party” [MP3]

by David Pullar

19 Mar 2009

Enthusiasm is an excellent quality to find in a non-fiction writer.  So many books are either drily specialised or glib and workmanlike.  It’s a real pleasure to read a book and feel that the writer is discovering facts mere minutes before you, relating them in real time with all the passion of new knowledge.

If nothing else, Australian writer Gideon Haigh is an enthusiast.  His journalistic background means that he’s used to flipping from one topic to another and acquiring knowledge on the fly.  If he has an area of specialisation, it’s cricket, about which he has written over a dozen works.  But he also writes widely on business and social issues, working as a well-informed amateur.

Watching him speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2008 was a revelation.  At several points in a panel discussion, he completely abandoned answering questions on his previous book (Asbestos House)to read large selections of court transcript from a forthcoming work on abortion.  It was entertaining to watch someone become completely caught up in a topic.  There’s only one way to describe it: Haigh was geeking out.

The book in question, The Racket: How Abortion Became Legal In Australia (Melbourne University Press), was released toward the end of last year and it’s mostly a continuation of Haigh’s festival geek-out.  The list of sources and information at the end of the book is prodigious and Haigh seems determined to use every single detail he has found.  Reading it, you experience the same feeling as watching Haigh speak—a writer joyously throwing out facts to the audience.

The Racket details the web of corruption and crime connected to the underground abortion trade and how a range of activists, politicians and doctors eventually saw it dismantled and abortion legalised.  Using transcripts from abortion trials, memoirs and first-hand testimony, Haigh manages to assemble a comprehensive picture of how events unfolded.

At less than 300 pages, the barrage of information and anecdote can be a bit overwhelming and it’s easy to lose track of the colourful characters that made up Melbourne’s abortion trade in the 1950s and 60s.  Haigh’s sources are incredible and he is able to recreate the era and the events with remarkable complexity, if not as much clarity.  He seems intoxicated by his findings and it mostly rubs off on the reader.

For such a grim and confronting topic, Haigh’s light touch is welcome.  While the details are often difficult to stomach, the amusing digressions and sub-plots ease the difficulty.

While imperfect and a little overstuffed, The Racket is a fascinating insight into another world—and the highly active mind of an exceptional journalist.

by Bill Gibron

18 Mar 2009

As we’ve stated before (yes, we know you’re sick of it by now) action and horror get a bum rap, mostly for some very wrong, very narrow-minded reasons. Like a gut-busting comedy, critics like to believe that both are dead easy. They also believe they have been rendered unexceptional, by filmmakers who don’t really give a damn, or actually don’t know how to. They point to the endless string of shoddy productions, mangy motion pictures that put the last two words in that phrase up for debate and make their asinine assertion. The truth is, terror and thrills are perhaps the most difficult cinematic responses to come by, and that’s because, like humor what scares someone or pushes them right to the edge of their seat is a completely personal and subjective ideal. What horrifies one might make another laugh, and visa versa. Still, the studios keep trying, and by doing so, fulfill the pundit’s prophecy in ways only a cash hungry conglomerate can achieve. Desperate to keep their moneymaker in the public eye, they will literally do anything to drum up publicity.

Perhaps this explains the exploding editorial mailbox recently. As these films come and go from the Cineplex at an alarming speedy pace, SE&L and Surround Sound have been inundated with soundtracks - lots and lots of soundtracks. In the last few weeks alone we’ve received over 20, and many of them have been for efforts that were marginal media sensations at best. One has to wonder what studios see in releasing the scores for such sonic non-issues as The Unborn, The Uninvited, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (not once, but in two DIFFERENT versions). Sure, last installment’s Watchmen double hit made sense since Warners clearly thought it had a mega-hit on its hands. Now, with the Zack Synder triumph underperforming, it’s clear that contractual obligations, not a realistic view on a soundtrack’s substantive qualities, dictate the pressing of a promotional disc. And such legalese is clearly the case here. There is no other reason these marginal musical offerings should see the CD light of day, beginning with: 

The Unborn - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]

Some ideas seem stupid from the get go. Others take their time in revealing their ridiculousness. For writer/director David S. Goyer, there seems to be a clear distinction between the merely banal and completely braindead. As a scribe, he’s lucked into some decent affairs (Dark City, Batman Begins, Blade II). As a director, he’s helmed some of the worst hackneyed garbage this side of a Charles Band production (oddly enough, Goyer worked for the schlockmeister during the ‘80s). Zigzag was tired, Blade III literally killed off the franchise, and The Invisible was like Ferris Bueller’s Unfunny Undead Day Off. Still, trailers for the recent The Unborn seemed to indicate a change in Goyer’s filmmaking fortunes. Part Jacob’s Ladder, part demon child spine tingler, it took the promise of a tired premise (the evil unborn twin) and tweaked it for a CG-13 demo. Sadly, the results only reaffirmed the man’s well-meaning mediocrity. Even with a star studded cast, Goyer just couldn’t get his gruesome groove on. The score for The Unborn indicates the hopeless hit or miss reasons why.

It all begins with a very X-Files-like title track, a bunch of odd electronic beats providing the backdrop to a combination of synthesizer squawks and symphonic cues. As the tune moves along on a set of staccato melody mounds, we’re not sure if we’re in for a fright flick, or a potboiling political thriller. Luckily, the next three tracks - “The Glove, “Jumby Wants to Be Born Now”, and “Twins” take us where we need to go. Composer Ramin Djawadi’s modus operandi seems to be a combination of the lax and the overly loud. Tracks like “Possessed” will start out with slow, subtle signatures only to explode near the end with abrasive, abrupt orchestrations. There’s lots of nods to the composer’s broadcast past (Djawadi is responsible for scoring the entire run of FOX’s Prison Break), and you can even hear a bit of Batman Begins and Pirates of the Caribbean in the mix (the man was responsible for additional music for both films, among others). By “Bug” we anticipate the tracks overwhelming cacophony of atonal terrors. But then The Unborn slips back into sinister lullaby mode, mixing small note piano lines with eerie sonic washes. Still, “Sefer Ha-Morot” is wild enough to wake-up even the drowsiest dread denizen - and not necessarily in a good way.

The Uninvited - Original Motion Picture Score [rating: 5]

Critics love to complain that horror films are formulaic and derivative. If you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all. That makes a fright flick remake doubly desperate. Not only is it representative of an already stereotyped genre, but it’s repeating an idea already done - and typically, a lot better. Still, when it was announced that American fans would finally see a Western take on the unfathomably popular Korean chiller A Tale of Two Sister (good, but not as great as some have indicated) there was reason to be both wildly excited and wary - especially with the Guard Brothers behind the lens. Sadly, the movie didn’t make much of an impression on reviewers or the audience. While it had the standard strong opening weekend, it soon faded off the cultural landscape to make way for more terror tales like remakes of Friday the 13th and The Last House on the Left. For composer Christopher Young, the lack of success is not that unusual. As the musician responsible for the sonic backdrop to solid shivers like Hellraiser, Species, and The Grudge, he can only be responsible for the aural aspects of fear. Unfortunately, he’s hooked up with some really subpar cinematics - especially this time around.

From the very beginning, Young seems lost in a homage-heavy backdrop. There are hints at his previous stints with the Cenobites, references to Stanley Kubrick and his ethereal 2001 score, as well as the typical electronic throb one associates with John Carpenter. Soon, the entire soundtrack has a thematic clarity that clashes with these recognizable references. Young is obviously going for the small and simple juxtaposed against the symphonic in scope. The title track is all low whispers and single key strokes. By the time we get to “Christmas Corpse”, the obvious elements are in place - banshee like female trills, single instrument droning, the regular chug of a sparse orchestra. In between, “Twice Told Tales” has a nice piano clarity, and “Terror on the Water” is big and brash with lots of ambience. Still, if there is one thing you can count in with a horror film, it’s derivativeness, and Young’s work here definitely fits that pattern. The Uninvited may have been a cinematic disappointment for the scary movie maven. The score does little to bring anything new or novel to the mix.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 3]

Of all the videogame titles sitting out there waiting for a big screen adaptation, bringing back a beloved golden oldie from the early ‘90s seems foolhardy, especially when the mortal combat console effort was already the subject of one shoddy film. Yet the producers of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li must have felt strongly enough about the material to give the failed franchise a second chance. Without Jean-Claude Van Damme and the late Raul Julia around to mess things up, director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Doom) had a chance to make his own mark on the material. Sadly, the film underperformed so badly that many in the demo didn’t even know that there was a new Street Fighter movie in theaters (it’s still playing in some markets, believe it or not). Of course, once you hear the tired soundtrack submitted by Stephen Endelman, all questions about this offering’s inefficiency are easily answered. If the film is anything like the strangled, stunted score, a series of skyscraper like banners couldn’t earn the fanbase’s attention - or appreciation.

Endelman, who actually received a Grammy nomination for his work on 2004’s De-Lovely, is what you would call a film industry fringe dweller. He’s been involved in numerous projects, both noted (Flirting with Disaster) and nominal (Phat Girlz), but nothing that would distinguish him from a dozen similar soundtrack composers. His work on Street Fighter feels like a marginal movie fan’s idea of what a Hong Kong martial arts epic would sound like. There’s lots of rhythmic drumbeats and random bell noises. The orchestra wanders around the tribal tones, offering recognizable riffs before switching over into boring, bombastic mode. We are supposed to see our heroes in flashy fisticuffs while “Chun-Li vs. Bison” and “Bathroom Fight” careen out of control. But Endelman also wants to go for the emotional, with tracks like “The Montage” and “Reunited with Father” failing to provide much of said sentiment. With the howling hip-hop happenstance of “Arriving in Bangkok” (the city should sue), and slinky salsa like stumbles of “Following Balrog”, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is all over the map. The only locale it doesn’t locate is somewhere memorable.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - Original Score [rating: 5]

Here’s an interesting question - how does a composer compete with a studio set on making their latest movie a backdrop for a bunch of unsigned indie idols? Put another way, does someone like Paul Haslinger, a musician responsible for b-movie bedlam in such titles as Death Race, Crank, and the stellar Shoot ‘Em Up (he was also a member of seminal synth act Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1990) really mind that his score comes second to a bunch of nu-metal nonsense. A few weeks back, Surround Sound took on the pop hit oriented version of the Underworld 3 marketing machine, and were not too impressed. The remix heavy hackwork, replete with bands whose names read like discontinued titles in the Anton LeVay Self-Help Collection, was definitely not worth remembering. It would be nice to say that Mr. Haslinger redeems the project by bringing his classically trained musicianship to what is basically a horror film with outsized action epic pretensions. Unfortunately, except for a track here and there, this score is as silly and near irredeemable as the movie it is meant to supplement.

Granted, there are times when Haslinger gets its right. “The Most Precious Thing to My Heart” has a wonderfully evocative ambient quality, and “Court Battle Suite” is as sonically silly and over the top as it sounds. It’s also a gratuitous guilty listening pleasure. But for the most part, Rise of the Lycans believes in that “blast, and then boredom” ideal that is supposed to invoke movement and power and yet ends up sounding like someone fell asleep on the ‘volume’ switch. Tracks like “The Arrow Attack”, “The Wolves Den”, and “Storming the Castle” all huff and puff like a formerly retired stuntman, while others meander around in a haze of half-realized electronic drones. Haslinger does indeed evoke emotion and mood with his work. We can sense the menace throughout. But there is so little actual melody here, no matter if it’s buried in “Lucian and Sonja’s Love Theme” or “Sonja’s Trial and Execution” (talk about spoilers!) that it’s hard to appreciate the effort. Only the last piece, a remix of the title track, does anything truly interesting or involving with the material. Oddly enough, it accomplishes this by taking Haslinger’s bravado down several sizable notches.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

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