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by Jason Gross

6 Sep 2008

I was wondering just that when I was watching this wonderful video of Herbert von Karajan conducting Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony from 1966.  It’s not just Karajan’s intensity much less the intensity of the orchestra that makes this a great video but also the way that the orchestra and Karajan are shot, especially the close-up’s of the string and horn sections at various points. 

Unfortunately, there’s nothing from the YouTube posting to tell us any information about the director much less which orchestra we’re watching.  Through a little online detective work, I was able to track down the full version of the video at Google.  There we learn that we’re watching the Berlin Philharmonic and the person who captured all of this is none other than director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who has given the world the classic film Wages of Fear (later remade as Sorcerer) some thirteen years before this performance.  The Google video entry doesn’t even note this though- we only know it because that info happens to be included at the beginning of the full-length video.

So what about the dozens or 100’s (or thousands) of other videos that we’ve watched and enjoyed at YouTube?  Depending on who’s uploading the video, the information can be pretty spotty, usually just a short description of what we’re watching.  The professionals or amateurs who actually make the videos are usually unknown and that’s pretty sad.  We love these videos not just for the characters and action in them but how it’s all staged.  Even when it’s just some spontaneous, unscripted action, someone was still there with a camera to capture it and they ought to get some credit and glory out of it. 

Don’t get me wrong- it’s great to have this treasure trove of videos available, especially for free, but the people behind these mini-masterpieces deserve some recognition.

by John Bohannon

6 Sep 2008

To be honest, I still have doubts about Metallica’s upcoming Death Magnetic. Yes, I’m waiting patiently to pull the wrapper off and reveal my middle school years within the grooves of a beautiful piece of wax. I want so badly, as I’m sure the remains of the fans that stuck with Metallica do as well (those that are still wrapped up in Napster need not comment), to make this record the soundtrack to everything mundane in my existence. Didn’t we all pull out Kill Em’ All and Ride the Lightning and pretended we ruled the world for an hour of mayhem?

If not, you never understood Metallica and the nostalgia and power their significant recordings (which is debatable, I’ll let you pick) meant to people. But, as we can see, from the likes of “The Day That Never Comes”, we are prepared for a revival. But in order for this revival to take place, one must have faith in Metallica. Frankly, I’ve heard countless examples across the Net of people doing nothing but “expecting the worst”. Well, chances are you’ve moved on and this record isn’t for you. When I had the honor of seeing the band for the first time this summer—I realized this was no joke. Not to any of those fans, or not to me. There were songs I hadn’t heard in years but still remembered every word and every feeling that went along with them. That’s a band with staying power.

After first listen of the new single, “The Day That Never Comes”—the doubt crept in… until the clock struck 2:50 when Lars and Kirk provided a transition into which the next six minutes built into classic Metallica mayhem. But this isn’t exactly old Metallica. This is a new Metallica playing with a youthful revivalism that struck their aging bones. The epic solos, the guitar trade-offs, the driving beat, it’s all there. It’s all fresh. It’s all Metallica.

by Bill Gibron

6 Sep 2008

The notion of returning to your roots is at the core of every life crisis. Getting back to the comfort of the past, to the people who supposedly know you best and longest suggests a security that, sadly, is just not there. No, going back home in an attempt to find the same old acceptance, happiness, personal insight, and situational ease proves the oft cited maxim against the possibility of doing same. In Troubadours, a rousing indie effort focusing on this very subject, we learn that connectivity and the friendships forged in same can be just as destructive as the traumas tricking you into taking the trip back.

Art Stone left his father’s farm with big, broad shouldered dreams. But all Chicago provided was a series of dead end opportunities and a broken heart. When he catches his girlfriend in bed with another man, he finally slips into depression. At the behest of his buddy, he heads back to his parent’s property, eager to work the land and basically find himself. But Art soon runs into his old gang, a group of farm hands and menial laborers who use the world around them as an excuse to get drunk, get rowdy, and get in trouble. With his heavily religious relatives looking down their nose at him, and a new girl turning his head, Art must decide what’s important - a return trip to the city to seek his fortune, or the role of tripwire troubadour in a one horse town.

The brainchild of three outsider filmmakers - Tom Galassi, Tom Synder, and Adam Galassi - and tinged with the kind of kooky experimentalism that both electrifies and irritates, Troubadours (new to DVD from Facets Video) takes its sweet time telling a rather intriguing tale. It wants to explore how post-modern machismo has been mitigated, Fight Club style, by a society that stresses getting in touch with your feelings and a more therapeutic way of dealing with decisions. Within this collection of types - the radical, the flag waver, the nonconformist, the raging conservative - we see snippets of the way the world works circa 2008. Amidst the pain of misspent youth and a growing need for maturity, our hero stumbles bravely along, looking to understand himself by coming to terms with the people who played a part in his formation.

As Art, Tom Galassi gives the kind of performance that seems almost invisible at first. He is all reaction, letting others speak for him or even suggest a psychological path to explore. His responses color in the character nuances, allowing silence and stillness to speak volumes. Similarly, the way in which he interacts with his pals provides equally important insights. We can see how Chad’s confrontational stance protects him from outside criticism, while the fate of others rests firmly in their lost boys grasp. There is a clear undercurrent of arrested adolescence here, of boys being boys for no good goddamn reason, and when the filmmakers let the festivities go on too long, Troubadours stumbles. When they keep it to conversations, the movie often amazes.

There is also a nice use of local color here, the Southern Illinois farmland providing a nice bit of forgotten Americana. Equally effective are the insert shots of the landscape, the unique approach to capturing the countryside - almost piecemeal, if you like - giving the film a wonderful somnambulistic edge. The music also aids in creating atmosphere, though the reliance on shoe-gazing groups like My Morning Jacket and Devil in a Woodpile frequently feel like outtakes from 1994. As directors, the two Galassis and Synder tend toward intimate set-ups and random quick cuts. The upside to such a presentation is that the film feels true and very authentic. The downside is that we often experience a kind of creative whiplash. There are definitely times when it’s tough to get our bearings.

Another aspect that may cause some concern is the obvious decision to rely on improv to flesh out many of the scenes. As part of the DVD package, we are privy to outtakes and deleted scenes which show how frequently off base this material became. Still, these added features do expand the viewing experience, especially when the subject of the music comes up. Perhaps the only thing missing here is a full length audio commentary. Tom has a unique past (he was part of a regional company of the Blue Man Group), and many of his costars come from similarly interesting backgrounds. Besides, their narrator presence during the film could help explains some of the narrative hiccups and the use of certain symbols (the ringing cellphone, the monkey mask).

Still, in a genre which typically renders itself stagnant by an overreliance on self-indulgent and absorbed strategies, the open ended and loose feel of Troubadours definitely wins us over. By the time we realize we’ve just witnessed another manboy making up his mind about life, we are awash in a sea of good feelings and genuine emotion. There will be some who find this well meaning meandering to be more or less an unfocused experiment in homespun hedonism, but that’s part of Troubadours’ charm. While it may be impossible to return to your past, a fine cinematic experience out of the attempt is obviously possible. The Galassis and Synder understand this all too well.

by Jason Gross

5 Sep 2008

Not surprisingly, no one at the RIAA wanted to get interviewed for a Wired story that shows what a miserable failure their download lawsuit program has been so far.  Basically, the labels have poured millions of dollars of legal fees into this fiasco and the end result so far has been relatively meager settlements which don’t recoup their costs and only serve to try to scare off other downloaders who don’t used label-approved sites.  That tactic hasn’t worked either as this type of downloading is actually increasing.  And of the money from the settlements that the RIAA gets, none of it goes to the artists whose songs are involved in the case.  These highly questionable lawsuits (which as the article notes may backfire when some major decisions come down soon) no doubt fuel the impression that these labels are evil and don’t deserve the business of the public.  All of which means that the end result is that they’re not curbing anything.  And yet another chapter in the pathetic suicide of the majors is written…

by Rob Horning

5 Sep 2008

Rob Walker links to this long, compelling post by Rhodri Marsden about the difficulty musicians have in making money. Marsden paints a picture of the misery of pre-internet record distribution, when warehousing middlemen absorbed the brute facts of consumer indifference, to contrast that with the current state of affairs, in which the internet lets bands track their own sales metrics. That blessed space of ignorance of the marketplace, which once bred fantasies of stardom, is now gone.

Now that we’re put in touch directly with our audience and that distributors can be completely removed from the equation, and replaced by MP3 aggregators who (a) don’t need warehousing space for your MP3s, (b) will put them into a range of online stores for a flat fee and, crucially, (c) don’t care whether you’re brilliant or whether you’re bloody awful, we have exactly the same problem selling the music as the distributors had. Just because the songs are available to buy, doesn’t mean we can sell them—in the same way that (and excuse the often-used analogy) installing a landline doesn’t mean that the phone is going to ring. And we can’t blame the distributors any more. The only people that are left to blame are ourselves. And that hurts.
It hurts because web technology lets us see exactly how many people are listening to our music. We can see the MySpace hit counters spin round, with the total number of listeners for each track. Our stats pages on our blogs show us how people arrived at our page, which country they’re from, even which web browser they’re using. We’ve got information about the reach of our music that we couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago, and it tells us that thousands upon thousands of people have their ears open, and they’re listening. But, by and large, and with a few exceptions, we can’t fucking sell music to them. And we’re starting to obsess about it. We can’t stand the fact that we have 2,739 friends on MySpace, several of whom have posted highly encouraging messages such as “thnx 4 the add”, and yet none of them are prepared to dig in their pocket, or Paypal account, and just send us a few quid – despite the fact that we’ve poured our heart, our soul and our cash into the whole endeavour.

So lots of people may be listening, but these listeners, when consuming music on the internet, are not shoppers. They are not in a mode where they are browsing for something to spend money on. Instead, they are paying for the music by paying attention, and that’s all they are willing to give, and really, that should be enough, considering all the competition for it.

As Marsden points out, despite the hype about the long tail and Web 2.0, the internet doesn’t give musicians new ways to make money. It creates conditions in which musicians are paid instead in a different currency, recognition, and whether or not this has any value depends on the context one’s working in. If you need to sell music to feed yourself and pay rent, you are not cheered by the number of views your song’s video has received. But if you are making money through some other job and make music for a feeling of cultural participation, the clicks count.

In the unlikely event of anyone wanting my advice, it would be to stop worrying about selling recordings. Just give them away. Let them go. Put them online for free, and tell people that they’re there. And if, against the odds, you’ve been given some cash, you’ve managed to release an album commercially, and you see that someone has posted it on a blog for readers to download – for god’s sake don’t get angry. Don’t see it as being down £20. See it as being up 20 listeners. Yes, your music might conceivably have been stolen, but there are no police. So get used to it. And now you’re freed of this burden, pursue all the other things that you want from being in a band – writing songs, rehearsing, doing gigs, building relationships with other bands, going on wallet-busting tours, receiving unmemorable blowjobs. Because seriously, you’re almost more likely to get a blowjob after a gig than sell an MP3. And remember – just because music doesn’t make you money, certainly does NOT mean that it’s worth nothing.

The point is that the intense commercialism of our society prompts us to measure the worth of things by their saleability, by their price tag, and it encourages us to regard the value of our effort as residing in a paycheck rather than in the work itself. But making art is its own reward; it’s a considerable luxury to be able to have the time to do it at all. It’s extremely unsympathetic when artists then complain that the people who spend their own precious time acknowledging other people’s art (instead of, say, making some of their own) are somehow ingrates because they won’t pay for the chance. Popular music, a social art whose power rests in its ability to be shared, ultimately doesn’t lend itself well to becoming intellectual property.

//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.

READ the article