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by Lara Killian

26 Jan 2009

Yesterday marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, fondly known as the Bard of Scotland. Celebrations around the globe toasted the poet and lyricist responsible for bringing Scottish poetry to the world and Auld Lang Syne to us on New Year’s Eve—‘Hogmanay’ on his home turf.


The Daily Record detailed some of the events taking place in Scotland to celebrate the day, while the BBC News provided a summary, accompanied by a photo of an actor reciting some of Burns’ poetry outside the poet’s family home in his birthplace of Alloway, Scotland. On NPR’s All Things Considered program, there was an interview with Alison Jones, the winner of the “Robert Burns World Federation Secondary Schools Competition Festival” for reciting his poetry.


Traditionally, Burns’ anniversary is celebrated with haggis and whisky, and this year is a special landmark, with gatherings likely taking place in every city where those of Scottish descent reside, as well as those who feel, rather than share, that connection in their blood. The makers of The Famous Grouse whisky certainly planned ahead, crafting 250 bottles of a 37 year-old whisky which are now being donated for charity fund-raising efforts around the world. Though he only made it to his own 37th birthday, Burns’ legacy has withstood the test of time, and his influence has been felt for over two hundred years in poetry and song, from Scots Wha Hae to Tam O’Shanter. If you missed the celebration yesterday, feel free to raise a glass tonight.

by PopMatters Staff

26 Jan 2009

by Jason Gross

26 Jan 2009

To continue along in this series looking at the new kingpins who are running the music biz now (instead of the major labels), let’s take a looksy at Activision.  Who’s that?  Well, they sold over 20 million copies of a lil game you might have heard of—Guitar Hero, a product that’s been called a competitor to iTunes.  In fact, last summer, GH was noted as one of the few bright spots in the music biz.

Unlike Steve Jobs and friends, Guitar Hero looks like they have a good chance of signing a deal to get the Beatles catalog.  In fact, after the success of their Aerosmith-themed game, other bands are lining up to have their own versions go to market.  Metallica has already inked deals with Guitar Hero and should have their game out soon.  And as is only fitting, Guitar Hero is also trying to link up a Hendrix game with his estate, which is appropriate since he’s THE guitar hero after all (and that’ll be a big deal for sure when it goes on sale).

So what is it about the game that’s so damn appealing?  The main thing is that it ain’t just a game that you play on a screen with a control pad.  You get a ‘guitar’ or rather a controller that’s shaped like a guitar, which you can wear strapped around your neck like the real deal.  Using avatars or actual images of the string-benders you worship, you can play along without having to know how to really play the instrument—you just follow the color patterns on the screen and press down on the corresponding ones on your ‘guitar.’  Though you’re not playing, you still get the thrill of mimicking along to rock classics in a much more concrete way than playing air guitar (though the champs of that sport might disagree).  Rather than being a passive listening, Guitar Hero gives you something of a sensation of being part of the music and ‘playing’ it and getting rewarded for doing it right- you get applause from the game plus you get to unlock more songs.  But uh… isn’t part of what makes rock exciting sometimes NOT playing everything exactly right?  That might have to wait for a future version of the game (then again, since Guitar Hero lowers the bar for anyone to play it, maybe it is kinda punk in a way…).

At this point, Guitar Hero has enough clout to get some bands to actually re-record some of their catalog (even the Sex Pistols) when they don’t have access to the masters.  And it’s not just established bands lining up for Guitar Hero—indie bands see this as a great way to break into a larger audience and it’s a win for Guitar Hero too as they can license their material for less money.  Add in the fact that Guitar Hero also lets you download songs, then you can see why they’re considered competitors to Mr. Jobs—just like Apple, Guitar Hero learned that consumers don’t just want tunes but they also want a cool, sleek way to get at them, whether it’s an iPod or a guitar-shaped controller.

At the moment, Guitar Hero‘s biggest direct competitor is MTV’s Rock Band game, which has sold 4 million copies and is responsible for 30 million song downloads.  Rock Band also goes Guitar Hero three or four better by adding a rhythm section and mike for the full ‘band’ experience (though without built-in groupies or substance abuse problems).  Nevertheless, their downloads are still a fraction of the numbers that iTunes gets and as of yet, Rock Band haven’t signed up as many bands as Guitar Hero has. As this NY Times article notes, Madden and Wii are also competitors in the video market, with Madden’s games also becoming a hot place for bands to promote and sell songs.

You’d think it’s all peaches and cream for Guitar Hero and the video game market but as this Variety article notes, sales are starting to flatten out for the market, which is no doubt a measure of the sinking economy plus the high price tag for these games.  Still, with artists like Aerosmith finding bigger sales and bucks with their Guitar Hero game than with their latest album, big labels have another reason to worry about this kind of competition.

ADDENDUM: As some commentators have indelicately noted, my own experience is limited with GH (played it once) and I should have noted that and not detailed it as I did in the 3rd paragraph.  I apologize for that.  I hope to at least stimulate some conversation about the popularity of these games and what the future holds for them.

by tjmHolden

26 Jan 2009

When people hear about my travel gig, their comments range from:

“oh that must be exciting, going this place and that place all the time, on a moment’s notice”


“don’t you just hate traveling? I mean never knowing where you are? And being away from all that’s familiar?”

Along the lines of the latter, I have encountered a few “don’t you get scared?” queries.

No kidding.

by Rob Horning

26 Jan 2009

The increased complexity of TV shows is sometimes offered as evidence of an increasing sophisticated audience who has come to appreciate greater complexity in their entertainment. Look at shows like Lost and The Sopranos with their ambiguity and their multiple, interweaving plot lines and so on. Presumably, the implication seems to be, people have adapted to the conventions of television and require greater amount of complexity to hold their now-mammoth capacity for attention, for holding complicated details suspended in their minds.

But this argument, as flattering as it is to us and despite how pleasant its justification of our couch-potatodom may be, doesn’t seem quite right. The shows aren’t more complex so much as they eschew unnecessary reiteration of what is going on and what the conflicts and tensions are supposed to be. In reminiscing with a friend about Twin Peaks we recalled how the integrity of the show was compromised by the efforts it had to make to bring in and acclimate new viewers who arrived at the show late—perhaps after the avalanche of hype that greeted its first few episodes. New shows don’t confront that problem. Writers and producers don’t have to worry about incorporating inane exposition (like you see on daily soaps—the convention that most makes them seem sort of dense to non-viewers) or introducing new plot lines to hook new viewers. They know that when people hear hype, they will start from the beginning, not tune in in medias res. The writers can therefore plot accordingly, comfortable in the knowledge that new and potentially confused viewers can (a) see episodes on demand or during one of HBO’s frequent re-runs, (b) catch up online, (c) rent the DVDs, which come out almost immediately after a season first airs, or (d) download episodes from pirate sites. Considering (c), it almost behooves producers to insist on a certain complexity that would require viewers to pony up for the DVDs.

So I would argue that the apparent increase in complexity in TV shows is a consequence of the new technologies in delivering content as opposed to the advancing tastes of the viewing public. Lost, for instance, would be unthinkable without those technologies. The audience would have necessarily dwindled as it went on (because new viewers would be hopelessly confused) or the show would have had to solve many more of its mysteries more expediently, to make space for entry points for latecomers. So lamentably, Twin Peaks was ahead of its time in this sense; if it were being made now, there probably wouldn’t have ever been that awful Miss Twin Peaks side plot.

//Mixed media

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

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

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