Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

26 Jan 2009

PSFK linked to this post by Russell Davies, in which he explains his strategy to make himself actually pay attention to what he listens to:

unless I trick myself into paying attention to music that I either just revert to tried and trusted favourites or let all sorts of new stuff drift by me an in ambient haze. Not really listening.
So I thought I’d try a 26 week experiment; listening to a new letter every week. Just to see what I notice. This is week A.
Projects for paying attention to attention. Those seem interesting now.

I’m sympathetic to the desperate feeling of being overwhelmed by all the music that’s accessible to us, but I’m not sure that setting up arbitrary limits is the best solution. Ideally, there would be something at least semi-organic about how we pursue pleasure and pay attention. Is that the impasse we have reached, where we have to force ourselves to pay attention to the things we intended to do for fun? Maybe the “ambient haze” he worries about is actually preferable—the best we can do nowadays. (And maybe that explains why people like Animal Collective—and it’s even in the A’s!)

That said, my arbitrary listening approach has to do with waging a campaign to play every song I have on my iPod at least once. It’s a Sisyphean task and a bit joyless too. It certainly isn’t what I want music in my life for—to be the arbitrary yardstick for how much entertainment-industry product I’ve compelled myself to consume.

Anyway, this makes me wonder if we really have in fact entered into the so-called attention economy—the idea that our most precious currency is the attention we pay to something, since so much is freely offered and the competition amongst marketers for our eyeballs has never been fiercer. We do have a limited amount of time in which to concentrate our attention on things, but these limitations have not translated into a clear hierarchy of where to focus. Instead, we seem more bewildered than ever by all the possibilities, and we become more and more whimsical without necessarily wanting to. The need to pay attention to attention suggests that our culture has been too successful in promoting distractions; it may be that we can no longer tell distractions apart from things we want to be interested in. Distraction has become the common denominator of all leisure experiences; the only alternative is basically work, socially constructed as joyless.

(Bonus: My 15-song all-A playlist, judging by iTunes play count:
1. Abba, “Bang-a-boomerang”
2. AC/DC, “Dog Eat Dog”
3. Addrisi Brothers, “Time to Love”
4. Al Kooper, “Be Yourself (Be Real)”
5. Andrew Bird, “Fake Palindromes”
6. Alice Cooper, “Under My Wheels”
7. the Arrows, “Toughen Up”
8. Allman Brothers, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ “
9. Asha Bhosle, “Ankhen Meri Maikhana”
10. Andy Kim, “Shoot ‘em Up Baby”
11. Angry Samoans, “Lights Out”
12. The Association, “It’ll Take a Little Time”
13. Aerovons, “World of You”
14. A.C. Newman, “Battle for Straight Time”
15. Allen Toussaint, “Electricity”)

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.

//Mixed media

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// Re:Print

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