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by Rob Horning

20 Nov 2008

Via Barry Ritholtz comes this transcript of the keynote speech by Ian Rogers, who runs Topspin, an online music distributor, at the Northwest MusicTech Summit. He cites some interesting data with regard to the future of music: Media companies are making less money from music sales, but music consumers are as eager as ever to consume music.

Rogers argues that power in the music business has shifted to artists: “when I talk to managers and artists they feel it, they feel an ability to take their careers into their own hands, to redefine what success means for them, and that is the emergence of the new music business.” The redefinition of success seems to me the pivotal idea—the idea that success is less a matter of money than what it is to most working artists, to be able to make a living through their art and not have to treat it as a passionate hobby. The trouble begins when ambitions begin to exceed that horizon—art is denatured and brokers seize control. Right now, technology is disintermediating the brokers (from the A&R people down to the record-store clerks), which has given musicians across the board a chance to recalibrate their ambitions on a sustainable scale, rather than going into it for the stardom and the cash.

That’s not to say the essence of Rogers argument is an appeal to making art for art’s sake. His point is the new music industry promises to remunerate artists more directly, since there is next to no overhead with regard to production and distribution costs. “When your costs are low, your royalty rate high, and your channel direct, the marginal profitability from the artist’s perspective can be far different than in the old model, to be sure.” Key to the marketing plan Rogers outlines, though, is something I instinctively cringe at—price discrimination, or letting people decide what they will pay in return for the same product.

fundamentally I believe the model is shifting from mass-marketed (via radio and TV) and one-size-fits-all (one $15 CD suits fans of all levels of commitment) to a target-marketed approach where fans can self-select where they fit on the scale (when Trent [Reznor] offered Ghosts at five price points he was really asking, “How big a fan are you?”).

I don’t why this bothers me so much, since this is the essence of what’s probably the oldest form of commercial interaction, bartering. The idea that a fair price for a product is established and applied uniformly is a relatively new phenomenon, a response to the massive problems of information asymmetry that larger-scale production brings on. Still, the idea that someone else can get the same thing for cheaper fires my competitive spirit. It makes me feel like a chump. In other words, I won’t be on of the superfans volunteering to pay musicians as much as possible for their music so that I can prove my fidelity or earn their gratitude or whatever the rationale is. When I read about volunteer spenders, I end up thinking that those people are under the sway of some kind of irrational personality cult with regard to the artists they are supporting. Am I really supposed to believe that Trent Reznor gives a single shit about how big of a fan I might be? (Not a fan at all, for the record.) I suppose the idea is that you can prove to other fans that you are more in love with the leader by spending more, but that seems almost worse than the pre-digital star system in which we were told which mass artists were acceptable by A&R people, and at least had to be creative or much more dedicated if we wanted to manifest our superfandom. So when Rogers claims that consumers are “more satisfied” in today’s music market, I have to assume he means that we can let our money testify to our devotion—as opposed to the fact that anyone can get anything they want for free. But since I play music myself (in a total amateur way) I always want trends in the music business to lead away from creating more fans and toward creating more garage bands. I can’t tell if the game Rock Band is the beginning or the end of that dream.

by PopMatters Staff

20 Nov 2008

Check out the PopMatters tribute to the 40th anniversary of the White Album. Side Three songs highlighted below posted today.

Side Three


Paul McCartney
Birthday [Video]

 

Dirty Mac (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell)
Yer Blues [Video]

 

The Beatles Ensemble
Mother Nature’s Son [Video]

 

Anne Ducros
Sexy Sadie [Video]

 

U2
Helter Skelter [Video]

 

Paul McCartney
Helter Skelter [Video]

 

George Harrison
Long, Long, Long [Video]

by PopMatters Staff

20 Nov 2008

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Red, the movie based on the book by Jack Ketchum.

2. The fictional character most like you?
Carrie Bradshaw (from Sex and the City).

3. The greatest album, ever?
Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars

5. Your ideal brain food?
Chicken and hummus.

by Chris Gaerig

19 Nov 2008

Tetris is a difficult game to screw up. A certified classic, it’s gripping in its ease of play and demands thumb-numbing madness because of its no-two-snowflakes-are-alike conception and ever-increasing difficulty. There’s little that hasn’t already been written about or executed in the puzzler, which was originally released in 1985 and has seen countless new incarnations and spinoffs, and just when you think you’ve seen everything, the WiiWare-released Tetris Party finds a way to add more to the discussion.

Tetris Party‘s main selling point—besides the fact that it’s, ya know, Tetris—is its mass of new features, which includes a co-op mode, online battle, field climber, stage racer, and a fill-in-the-blanks-style puzzle. Many of these spinoffs are Wii-exclusive and haven’t been seen in the Tetris lexicon in the past. But for all of the ingenuity in these new formats, Tetris Party is worth little more than its already-proven foundation.

The most useful function of Tetris Party is the online play. An obvious addition to any game at this point, it was just the sort of thing that would’ve been forgotten, making this game almost completely useless. What’s most innovative about this mod, however—and this is true of the regular battle mode as well—is the addition of a Mario Kart-esque weapons system. By eliminating specific blocks, players are afforded a number of different weapons ranging from time attacks (stop the other players or make their pieces come extraordinarily fast), who-is-that-little-dude attacks (taken from the field climber mode), and attacks that allow you to utilize the Wii’s point-and-shoot controls.

Outside of the battle and traditional marathon modes, Tetris Party offers little in the way of enticing incentives. In stage racer, you’re given a single block that you have to navigate through a scrolling level, making sure you don’t fall too far behind. It’s a good idea but its execution becomes increasingly simplistic when you realize you can basically just mash the turn buttons until your piece craftily moves its way through the seemingly dead end puzzle.

Field climber features a tiny man that climbs up the blocks you’ve already placed, in order to make his way to the top of the screen. It’s an interesting idea, placing the focus on the negative space of Tetris rather than the space you fill, but it offers little in the way of replay value—once you meet your goal the first time, it’s not a very captivating play. The other negative-space-related mode is one in which you use custom pieces to fill such shapes as letters and apples.

The worst part about Tetris Party? 1,200 Wii points. For what you’re getting, it’s pretty hard to justify spending more than most Virtual Console/WiiWare games because ultimately, you’re just getting online Tetris in return. So if you’re a huge puzzle gaming fan or have just been jonesing for some new Tetris mods, this is right up your alley. If you’re like everyone else, however, Tetris Party is very hit or miss.

by Bill Gibron

19 Nov 2008

Blame Anne Rice. Blame her for being the literary stake in the original vampire’s heart. If it wasn’t for her spinster prose take on the entire horror fiction fallacy, we wouldn’t have to suffer through the post-modern monster mystique. And while you’re at it, blame Hollywood too. They’ve long since stopped making the undead bloodsucker anything but pseudo-sexy. And blame old world Goth classicism as well. Somewhere buried in between all the neck nibbling and wolf’s bane is an underdone allegory about repression, social taboos, and the busting of both. So perhaps old Nosferatu was never supposed to be anything other than a veiled metaphor. Fine. If that’s the case, however, then we should really blame the filmmakers who have no idea how to handle such symbolism.

Twilight is the latest example of this creative confusion. On the one hand, it is really nothing more than misplaced teen angst accented with occasional bows to literal inhuman guy/gal mood swings. It’s a misguided message movie in which displaced young women are told to stop worrying about peer pressure and, instead, hook up with the girly looking loner with the translucent skin and the kabuki façade. Simply because he craves what’s in your arteries doesn’t mean he can’t love what’s in your heart. In her four book (and counting) series, author Stephanie Meyer has made a killing out of retrofitting the old Stoker mythos for prissy post-modern tweens. That she could pick up a few nerd chicks and geek babes along the way says way too much about the over-romanticizing of the series’ dandy Dracula like leading man.

Sad thing is, at the core of Twilight is an interesting idea - the concept that kids, one isolated and alienated, the other immortal and prone to acts of fatalistic heroics, can come together to find soulmate sanctuary in the cutthroat Hell known as high school. But instead of embracing the darker side of this dynamic, Meyer (and now, her first movie directed by Thirteen‘s Catherine Hardwicke) does for the heart-dotted eyes in the mash note inside the well worn Hannah Montana trapper keeper what Rice did for unmarried career gals. Oddly enough, this past week saw the release of another pubescent inspired vampire film, one with many of the same Twilight traversed themes. But while everyone in Nicktoon nation will be lining up to see Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson bring the banal books and their YouTube world to life, Let the Right One In shows how a successful version of this same material could be handled.

Once again based on a novel (this one by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist), we are introduced to a young boy named Oskar. Highly imaginative and given over to flights of frightening fancy, his mother domineers while his absentee father provides the kind of well meaning mixed signals that totally confuse the 12 year old. Picked on mercilessly by a group of bullies at school, the pale youth dreams of killing his tormentors, spending long hours in the Stockholm snowdrifts pretending to avenge his pride with a large pocket knife. Into his life comes Eli, an enigmatic kid who is similar in age and stature, but far more wise as to the ways of the world. She lives with a quiet, unassuming man, and more or less keeps to herself.

At first, Eli tells Oskar that they cannot be friends. Even as they meet late at night on the frozen apartment complex playground, there is a strange, stand-offish quality to their budding connection. Sensing something deeper, Oskar falls for his new acquaintance, and soon Eli expresses a kinship with this nice, if needy, companion. Of course, everything changes when we learn the truth about the newcomer. She is a vampire, using the old man as a kind of rations-retrieving Renfield. He kills people and drains their blood so that Eli may live. Naturally, such inhuman acts can’t go on forever unnoticed, and when the sleepy little burg discovers a killer in their midst, Eli’s cover is threatened. So is the friendship between the two lost children.

From its sensational, almost stark style to its decision to illustrate supernatural elements in the most realistic and unassuming way possible, Let the Right One In runs rings around Twilight‘s proposed meditation on the fear and possible perils of growing up. Both poster boy Edward Cullen and young little Eli are never-changing answers to disaffected juvenile prayers. Twilight‘s Bella needs someone to save her from her sense of longing and loss of strong family ties. Oskar wants a superhero, a champion to inflict the pain he can’t. In both films, adults are viewed as ineffectual doubters, maturing past the point of caring about kids, their real problems, and the true terrors they face every day. Eli is Oskar’s salvation, showing him a possible way he may never have dreamed of before while explaining the consequences. Edward, on the other hand, is the answer to every lonely gal paranormal prayers, complete with dreamboat eyes. 

But where Let the Right One In excels (and Twilight fails, miserably one might add) is in the accentuation of danger. Nowhere in this Lifetime-lite examination of love with a proper neckbiter is there ever a hint of growing dread. Since we know the series goes on for another three books, it’s a safe assumption that Bella and Edward will live on, even if along the way there are hints that our heroine would prefer an existence on the other side of the supernatural plane, so to speak. Let the Right One In never forgets it’s a horror film. It offers scenes of unsettlingly terror, as when Eli goes out “hunting” on her own, or during a disturbing cat attack, and the finale featuring Oskar’s stand-off against his tormentors is a classic of creepy understatement.

But of course, the Swedish scary movie doesn’t have a massive marketing campaign behind it, dozens of chick-lit driven fans foaming at a chance to see their favorite literary characters come to flat, dimensionless life - and more importantly, a studio savoring the possibility of another three films (and even more, if you consider backstory providing prequels) in a poised to be very profitable franchise. Of course, this doesn’t mean Twilight‘s commercial potential reflects its artistic achievements. In fact, for every dollar the movie will probably make, another percentage point of entertainment value and true aesthetic grace can be removed for the overall evaluation.

That’s because we no longer accept our vampires as monsters. We want them to be tragic, tenuous idols desperate to give up their wicked ways to return to normalcy and life among the rabble. Thanks to the onslaught of comic book movies in the last few years, a character like Dracula mandates a make-over to resonate with contemporary crowds. And with women making up a sizeable part of the paying audience, tossing in a little sizzle isn’t out of the question. Hey, Tim Burton’s been talking up a possible big screen Dark Shadows with everyone’s favorite leading man who looks like a leading lady Johnny Depp. Even Let the Right One In is being poised for the inevitable American remake, probably with more pre-teen anguish and less vein draining. 

And so the famed lothario of the living dead continues to be compartmentalized and clipped, turned into a symbol of unrequited love in a doomed, dour reflection of lust unbridled. As Ms. Meyer continues to profit off her reinterpretation of the genre (no stakes through the heart, missing mirror reflections, or “children of the night” in this version of the vamp), there will be filmmakers like Tomas Alfredson unafraid to truly take some cinematic risks. Let the Right One In succeeds because it’s not opposed to making its icon evil again. Ever since a certain reborn Catholic claimed Nosferatu as her own, the fanged fiend of our childhood nightmares has been remade into something akin to fantasy fodder. Now, how frightening is that?

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