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Wednesday, Mar 14, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Arcade Fire —"Black Mirror"
From Neon Bible on Merge


Listen to “Black Mirror”

The Arcade Fire spent most of 2006 holed up in a small church in a small town outside of Montreal. They were recording their second album Neon Bible. It was a slow year, mostly.


Air—"Once Upon a Time" From Pocket Symphony on Astralwerks Listen to “Once Upon a Time”

Now entering the 10th year of a highly illustrious career that has seen the band grow in stature to become one of the most instantly recognizable names in music, Parisian duo Air (Nicolas Godin and JB Dunckel) return with Pocket Symphony, a career masterpiece and their most seductive and accomplished work to date. Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin are modernists. Air embrace the new. Their music is intellectually stimulating yet intuitively simple; elegiac and triumphal; beyond pop and yet resolutely of it, too.


My Brightest Diamond —"Golden Star (Remix by Alias)"
From Tear It Dowm on Asthmatic Kitty


Listen to “Golden Star”

My Brightest Diamond‘s Shara Worden has decided to set loose her bobby pins and let her hair fly on the ambient dance floor. Her latest semi-collaboration with 13 different remixers, entitled Tear It Down, reworks songs from the highly acclaimed album, Bring Me the Workhorse,  featuring tracks by Alias, Lusine, Murcof, Stakka and Gold Chains. Oh, it’s international too! With diplomatic representatives from Belgium, France, Mexico, The UK and America (East and West Coasts baby!), the remixes range from drum-n-bass, to glitchy, ambient, minimalism, and get-your-booty-on-the-dance-floor club music.


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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2007

There’s a song I have played to death over the years. Still do. One by John Martyn, about “a man in the station/he’s takin’ the next train home”. Actually, Martyn has a couple of versions of it: the original, with his distinctive acoustic six-string, played like it’s a percussive instrument, backed by a slow-burn jazz combo that makes its points with a Gretsch guitar with most of the treble removed, a Fender Rhodes sounding haunting and subdued to start—beginning like the one in John Klemmer’s “Touch”—but then becoming pulsing and insistent—ending like Billy Preston’s work at the close of “Let It Be”. All this held together by a heavy vise of bass and drums. The other version is much more up-beat, Martyn’s voice sounding much less like before, when it seemed to have captured a dude struggling up the back slope of a cocaine ride run its course.


Still, both commendable efforts, worthy of your time.



This time ‘round, though . . . this time when I actually am in the station, I actually encounter a man in the station . . .  and this time, it is all quite different.


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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2007

Are movie stars really artists? The Industry seldom subordinates commerce for the sake of craft. In the medium of the moving image, it’s difficult for both the filmmakers and audience not to get caught up in precisely that - image. Physical beauty is magnified, charm and style is worshiped from a distance. But how much of the star’s appeal is really related to talent?


Similar to the situation in Hollywood, what separated Indian movie stars from serious actors was theatrical training. The Indian drama is a nexus of ancient Vedic sagas, medieval Persian tragedies, and contemporary morality plays. The “true artists” of the ‘40s and ‘50s toted their stage makeup, personal dressers, and could speak in flawless Urdu diction so Persianized you could weave carpets out of it. The actors who make up this list include the great traditionalists and the bold innovators. All fall subject to duty of Bollywood commercialism, the occasional fluff movie, the gratuitous publicity campaigns and commercials - who in show business doesn’t nowadays? But watch them closely and you’ll see the kind of unflinching concentration and inwardness that comes with the best of screen acting.


Prithviraj Kapoor, the looming patriarch of the Kapoor performing dynasty, was the first popular star to have an “art” appeal. A longtime thespian, he took to cinema in the late ‘40s and his career was marked by a string of historical hits, playing larger-than-life figures such as Alexander the Great and The Mughal Emperor Akbar. Always placing his love of classical theatre before the commercialization of cinema, Prithiviraj set the standard for acting in period films, as well as the quality of the way those films were made. In the ‘60s, Prithviraj’s son Shashi Kapoor carried on his father’s theatrical tradition. He played the introspective leading man in early Merchant-Ivory movies, the anguished professor in The Householder, the self-involved playboy in Shakespeare Wallah and the frustrated movie star in Bombay Talkies. In an industry where movies are made quickly, cheaply and in bulk, both Prithviraj and Shashi Kapoor held out for the cerebral parts, often incurring the disdain of the seasoned producers who ran Bollywood. But their movies are all some of the most well-crafted in all of Indian cinema, and the father and son team star make a stunning pair of thespians.


If anyone really paid a price for their nonconformist vision, it was actor/director Guru Dutt. Dutt was Indian’s first auteur, a great creative control freak like Orson Welles whose involvement in every aspect of the picture satisfied his unyielding perfectionism. His 1959 film, Kaagaz ke Phool (Paper Flowers) was, like Citizen Kane was for Welles, both his swansong and his undoing. The film was an autobiographical look at the power of the movie industry and the precariousness of celebrity in a world where illusion and fantasy mean everything. It was a startlingly frank look at the life of movie stars and directors, and its two protagonists, the anguished married director (Dutt) and his ingénue (Waheeda Rahman), shocked audiences because of their depiction as adulterous, but sympathetic characters. The film flopped, leaving Dutt devastated.  He did go on to make a few more movies, notably the romantic fairy-tale Chaudvin ka Chand (Full Moon) and the epic Brideshead Revisited-style family saga Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (Master, Wife, and Servant). But years of alcohol and drug addiction caught up with him and in 1964 he died of an overdose at the age of 39. Dutt’s premature death is heartbreaking to cinephiles; one can only imagine what else he might have made had he lived longer.


Shabana Azmi is the only woman in this group for the simple reason that out of all the actresses that have graced the screen in Indian cinema, she is the only one who never once acted for the camera. She has always believed in the quality of the material and the strength of her performance rather than relying on her physical appearance alone. Like Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda, Azmi is willing to take risks at the expense of her career and her choice of roles challenge the conventional stereotypes of Indian women: the resilient, daydreaming seamstress in Muzzaffir Ali’s postmodern Cinderalla story, Anjuman (The Congregation), the bored trophy wife growing into her own sense of self after divorce in Arth (Value) and her most complex role, the quietly suffering wife trapped in a stifling arranged marriage who turns to her daughter-in-law for affection and ultimately, physical love in Deepa Mehta’s Fire.  Azmi values the impact she can make as a celebrity in challenging the complacencies of her audience, and her films show us the real India, the hypocrisies underneath the gold and glittering lights.


Every once in a while a movie star makes a complete transformation in his screen personality. Aamir Khan went from the teen playboy of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s specializing in bubblegum romances to a brooding, thought-provoking actor. It’s like Zach Morris evolving into Ralph Fiennes. But even more than a gifted actor, Khan is a born impresario, bringing talented actors, directors, cinematographers and composers together to create some of the best films to come out of India in the last ten years. Lagaan, the rousing cricket epic of poor villagers vs. arrogant British aristocrats, signaled the birth of the new Aamir Khan and was India’s first massive cross-over hit. Khan’s subsequent films, The Rising and Rang de Basanti, are deeply patriotic studies of the loss of heritage due to colonial oppression, bereavement, and the hope of reconciliation. As he grows older, Khan seems to be verging into Warren Beatty territory - incessant political commentary. But the quality of his acting is far superior to his contemporaries and, along his gift for making great movies, come together into something to be admired and enjoyed.


Contrary to public opinion, many Indian actors are fairly intellectual. They’re well read, believe in the power and truth of narrative, and want desperately to do bold and innovative films. But then, somewhere along the line, their vanity overtakes them. They become preoccupied with the flattering camera angles and what their fans want, and then they become just another movie star. All the stars detailed here have resisted their vanity. That’s not to say they don’t have any because all actors do, but that they’ve put it aside for the sake of the story and the character. And if that’s not what real acting is all about I don’t know what is.




Shashi Kapoor, in Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, early ‘70s



Prithviraj Kapoor, in Mughal-E-Azam, ‘60s



Guru Dutt, in Kaagaz ke Phool, late ‘50s



Shabana Azmi, in Ankur, early ‘70s



Aamir Khan, in Sarfarosh, early ‘90s


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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

National Geographic Digital Media announces the release of the exclusive, digital-only GeoRemixed: Big Beats for a Small Planet through WorldMusic.NationalGeographic.com. The 13-song collection of previously unreleased tracks and remixes showcases sampled, dubbed-out, bass-thumping beats ranging from Gypsy brass to Maasai rap and Ethiopian hybrids, from Latino-Jewish rhymes to Mediterranean-meets-Caribbean surf rock and Brazilian hip hop. Since its launch last summer, MP3 Web site WorldMusic.NationalGeographic.com has emphasized the diversity of world music, inviting a plethora of hybrids and modern departures from tradition. 


“Musical cultures have been cross-pollinating since the earliest days of trade and border-crossing,” says WorldMusic.NationalGeographic.com editor Tom Pryor, who formerly edited the hip hop and world music sections at CD Now. “It would be a misrepresentation only to present recordings that preserve or recreate the world’s musical traditions. Traditions are always evolving.  GeoRemixed is a window into how hip hop and electronica are getting remixed into a spectrum of music across the globe.”- National Geographic Digital Media


Samples from GeoRemixed:


Slavic Soul Party
Teknochek Remix [RealAudio]


O.M.F.O.
Kozaks Hi Fi [RealAudio]


Xplastaz
Cheza (Kid Sundance Remix) [RealAudio]


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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2007

This week’s Economist has a special Technology Quarterly section, which is, as is typical of such packages, full of generally optimistic accounts of how various technological breakthroughs will inevitably make everything better: “Geoengineering” will solve global warming, trees will be bioengineered to supply a sustainable fuel source, solar power is within reach, computer processing power will help eliminate crime and terror and the semantic Web will make our lives run on automatic pilot. The futurist bias means there’s not usually much column space given in these things to the way technology can be leveraged against ordinary citizens (as Julian Sanchez describes in this recent Reason article about pinpoint searches) to intrude into our lives in unforeseen and undesired ways and force upon us choices that we’d rather not have. I know that for some it’s an absurdity to assert the very possibility of an undesirable choice: all choices are good, they’d argue, because choices extend individuality. But to give an example of a choice I don’t want that may be coming, the section reports on a firm called Attention Trust that plans to allow you to sell your web-generated browsing data to advertisers interested in one demographic or another that you fit into. The idea here is that since other firms profit from selling your personal data, why shouldn’t you? (Self-exploitation, like undesirable choice, is an oxymoron. The Economist refers to it unironically as “grassroots self-marketing”.) Seth Goldstein, Attention Trust’s founder, points out that “attention is a valuable resource” and he wants to provide a means by which we can sell the traces of it to advertisers, who will process it to target us more effectively. Then we’ll be seeing what we want without perhaps even realizing its been sponsored, it will so seamlessly accord with what our gestating desires are—just-in-time advertising, right there to steer us as it occurs to us (a truth latent in our sold data, when cross-checked with those like us) that we want something. If we sell enough of our preferences, we’ll let advertisers perfectly target our well-crafted niche of one.


In the context of the Internet, where distribution costs are close to zero, production (usually cultural production—uploading photos, tagging film clips, blogging, etc.) is often undertaken for nothing but attention, making it the coin of the virtual realm. Goldstein wants us to think less of being producers in that way, trying to earn attention, and more of being brokers, selling it off, rather than giving it away, as we do now to things that merely interest us. We shouldn’t waste our attention this way; we should capitalize on it, instrumentalize it so that we can earn money rather than merely be engaged and enthused with what the Internet (and life, for that matter) can offer us. Proponents of Attention Trust would likely argue that you can do both; you can both pay attention and sell it. But it seems to me consciousness of the latter will begin to affect the choices that go into the former, circumscribing them. So the additional choice of self-marketing ultimately comes at the expense of other choices, which are now sullied and burdened with commercial considerations.


It seems that the very possibility of selling attention will inevitably make it seem incontestably right that one should do this, rendering irrelevant whether or not anyone should be doing this and whether we should be trying instead to develop technology to make our web lives more private, make anonymity more reliable. Instead of developing our abilities to sell ourselves, couldn’t we be more concerned with undoing the custom of our being sold?


This pragmatic question occurred to me as well: What happens if everyone stopped trading their attention for the entertainment products that ads are usually attached to and held out for a more direct deal? Who will fund those entertainments? Will user-generated content fill the gap? Or will the web denude itself of entertaining things, leaving us with no web histories to sell?


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