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by Bill Gibron

19 Aug 2009

Good science fiction is hard to come by. For every District 9 there’s a Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. For every 2001: A Space Odyssey there’s a 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It’s hard to balance the needs of the devoted and demanding fanbase with the desires of the commercial demographic. As a result, most examples of cinematic speculation are ferocious shoot ‘em ups, lasers and starships taking the place of pistols and horses (or in more modern modes, handguns and SUVs). Instead of ideas, eye candy is regularly tossed around, F/X replacing characterization and narrative ingenuity. Still, if there is one consistent within the genre, it’s the music. Thanks to George Lucas and John Williams, every example of interstellar overdrive must have a soundtrack that resembles a lost work by the Martian Mozart. With rare exceptions - Danny Boyle’s brilliant Sunshine - it’s all space pomp and interplanetary circumstance.

This time around we have three rather indicative examples of such broad, brooding orchestrations. Luckily, Surround Sound has been given some of the better attempts at such scope. As he has done throughout most of the series, Bear McCreary delivers a significant sonic signature to one of TV’s best, while the British take on extraterrestrial gets an equally excellent overview by Ben Foster. Last but not least, Star Trek‘s entire legacy - cinematic and broadcast - is put under the sonic microscope as one of Europe’s premiere ensembles offers up their interpretations of its motion picture and small screen majesty. In each case, ambition supersedes stereotypes, our composer’s moving beyond the basics of the category to delve into areas both exceptional - and expected - within each of their assigned tasks. Let’s begin with one of the best:

by Rob Horning

19 Aug 2009

Just a few days after having my first experience with Twitter and “real-time search” that could be remotely characterized as useful, I’m reading in this Mark Gimein essay at the Big Money that Twitter is doomed.

The irony of Twitter is that even as it becomes more pervasive, it is in danger of very quickly becoming markedly less useful. Twitter is in danger of collapsing under its own weight. Not because of its problems keeping up with traffic—those are solvable—but because the volume of material that Twitter unleashes now puts impossible demands on its users’ time and attention. The problem, in a nutshell, is information overload. The more Twitter grows and the more feeds Twitterers follow, the harder it gets to mine it for what is truly useful and engaging. Even as Twitter reaches a peak in the cultural cred cycle, it’s time to start asking how it can be saved from itself.

The problem, in Gimein’s view, is that users are too profligate in who they follow, making the concept meaningless—the number of followers one has is no indication of the amount of people who are actually reading what you have to say, even when it comes in telegraphic blasts. This line of reasoning suggests how Twitter works to quantize communication, making the numbers in the audience more important than what’s said. Of course, that has always been true of ratings-driven media, but it hasn’t been true for our conversations.

But the genius of Twitter as a potential business is that it turns ordinary people into media companies. It lets us subject our conversations to Nielsen-like ratings, to regard our communications as a product conveying our personal brand. Then we can crunch the numerical data Twitter supplies to tweak our brand, and see what works to improve the numbers, which serve as proxy for our relevance and reach and, by extension, our right to feel important. Then these numbers can be used to sell ads as well—we can indicate to advertisers what sort of demographic we have in our followers, making it a new way to monetize our friendships, following the inroads Facebook has made in that department. In the process, we become a product, a package of manipulatable content.

Gimein’s critique has nothing to do with decrying that process of reification. He’s more concerned with effective filtering. I think real-time search makes the following/followed concept meaningless to practical information gathering—the followers number is all about status and ersatz influence measurement, not communication in any conventional sense. Twitter is less about disseminating information than it is about subjects trying to make themselves feel more real, ontologically speaking, in a increasingly mediated world.

Gimein’s argument almost incidentally indicates how fragile the illusion of self-branding is—we can fixate all we want on the numbers and the illusion of control that gives us over how popular and influential we can become, but that number is ultimately misleading. Gimein relates an anecdote of having one of his posts pushed on Google’s corporate Twitter feed, which has a million followers—it brought his own post a few hundred hits. That’s telling—the click-through percentage probably diminishes the larger the recommending pool is (niche aggregators are going to be more inherently trustworthy to its followers). But also telling is the way Gimein is willing to subject himself with no apparent hesitation to the sort of analysis usually reserved for online advertising. 

Anyway, Twitter foments the fantasy of our vast influence, our endless relevance to everyone, and enlists more or less meaningless numbers to sustain it. Following people and being followed doesn’t signify any kind of commitment, any reciprocal responsibility—it’s just an effortless way to give and receive empty recognition. It’s a devalued currency, hyperinflated. But we can use that number nonetheless as a focal point, a kind of mandala for our self-worship.

The quantification disguises the emptiness of the social relations it is supposedly counting, an operation that reiterates the kind of instrumental rationality that characterizes the neoliberalism colonizing more and more of everyday life. Despite its early promise as a social-planning tool, Twittering is becoming a self-referential operation; we project things that make us feel important and pretend that it is for the benefit of unseen (and, in fact, often indifferent) others. We get a simulacrum of civic participation minus the trouble of other people and reciprocity and responsibility. We can buy followers for our Twitter feed and then forget in the midst of our fantasy how self-defeating that is.

by PopMatters Staff

19 Aug 2009

Do Make Say Think
Other Truths
Releasing: 20 October

The Toronto group’s sixth album may look like an EP from the song list below, but this is most decidedly a full-length. These songs are quite lengthy and developed, three of them being over 10 minutes each. Hence, there’s no free MP3 of a single song on offer here, but Constellation is offering a mix sampler for your listening pleasure.

01 Do
02 Make
03 Say
04 Think

Do Make Say Think
Other Truths album sampler mix [MP3]

by PopMatters Staff

19 Aug 2009

Andrew WK
55 Cadillac
(Skyscraper Music Maker/Ecstatic Peace)
Releasing: 7 September (UK) / 8 September (everywhere)

Hmm… the rocker makes a record of solo piano tunes and he says he wants them to sound like songs he’d be playing in a car. There’s a video to try to explain this. But then he is a classically trained musician, so perhaps he’ll pull it off in the end.

01 Begin the Engine
02 Seeing the Car
03 Night Driver
04 Central Park Cruiser
05 5
06 City Time
07 Car Nightmare
08 Cadillac

by G E Light

19 Aug 2009

The early greatness of Leeds’ the Wedding Present surely must be put down to the magical alchemy that occurs between the witty, contemporary, and yet somehow plainly colloquial songwriting of David Gedge and the blitzoid guitar attack of one Pete Solowka, who appears to be strumming a banjo on speed when he straps on his Fender SG. Unlike contemporaries the Smiths, this chemical interaction—Gedge is to Morrissey as Solowka is to Marr—is not quite so clear cut as Gedge also plays rhythm guitar. Formed as a serious band from the remains of the Lost Pandas, the Weddoes toured local clubs and pubs and issued several singles on their own record label, Reception, before hitting it big with notices and airplay from John Peel and critical acclaim for their debut, George Best.

The Reception Era

Their second Reception single “Once More” demonstrates the “shambling” C86 speedy guitar half of the Weddoes’ formula quite nicely.

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