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by Jason Gross

6 Oct 2008

With the economy in such a mess, it’s hard to concentrate on music news but a couple of things to note.  In what has to be the most passed-around link I’ve seen in a while, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley throws his support behind Senator Obama, speaking very plainly and clearing about real issues, rather than the sickening attack ads that another senator is filling the airwaves with.

Also, as a sign of the times, Gawker is cutting staff and cutting back on its program to pay bloggers for page views.  I don’t like to report any publication, online or offline, is cutting staff (except Fox News) but the part about bonuses is noteworthy as that was seen as what might have been an important model for bloggers and companies to use as a guideline.  This pay scheme may still become something of a standard but this setback definitely puts a crimp in the idea and will no doubt send many other pubs scrambling for other solutions about how to stay afloat.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout-out to a brainy site called Music Think Tank which is “where the music industry thinks out loud.”  Not that they have a monopoly on that (even without this blog, PopMatters does that pretty well) but it’s always comforting to find online destinations like this.  I don’t always agree with their prognostications but they get high marks for thinking out loud and tossing out ideas.  Spend some time there and you’ll be glad you did.

by Lara Killian

6 Oct 2008

Currently I’m about halfway through a book that ranks fairly high on the environmentally conscious scale. It’s printed on paper made from 100% recycled paper, and certified chlorine-free. The text was printed using soy-based inks and the book jacket with vegetable-based inks. And that’s not the most important part of the environmental impact of this book.

No, this is not some tree-hugging manual about how to live off the grid and harvest the fleece from your sheep so you can eventually knit sweaters out of handspun yarn. The book is Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution (2008) and it’s (gasp!) a management text.


So far I’ve learned that it takes 200 liters of water to grow the resources to produce one liter of Coke. Read that sentence again if you have to. As for coffee, 140 liters are needed to end up with a single cup. Shock factor aside, the book elaborates on some of the unconventional partnerships that are being forged in the name of innovation with regard to preserving the environment, and cutting back on the human footprint. Coke teamed up with the World Wildlife Federation in 2007 in an effort to better manage their water supply, with a goal of not taking more water out of the system than they replenish.

The managers of the corporations and organizations of tomorrow need to have a thorough understanding of the impact that the growing population of the planet is having on its irreplaceable resources. Not only that, however, they need to think creatively to help establish jobs and industries that work to rebuild the environment and replenish vanishing resources. Because we will never get ourselves out of this mess if we can’t figure out how to make the bottom line worth everyone’s while. Senge and his co-authors have some excellent case studies and strategies for crafting a workable future where the environment benefits and managers can be proud of how they grow their business.

by Rory O'Connor

6 Oct 2008

Leaning heavily on their most recent record—Made in the Dark provided the bulk of the evening’s material save for about four or five songs—Hot Chip wasted little time getting the audience moving on the first date of its two night stand at Chicago’s Metro.

On record, Hot Chip can be a little elusive to pin down, bouncing around from quirky electro to a more serious pop friendly sound. Tracing their development in the studio finds a band perpetually evolving and polishing their sound, but it offers little in the way of clues pointing towards a particular musical direction. The latest album is, of course, no exception. Made in the Dark transitions from a front end filled with electro and—at times almost bombastic—dance music only to give way to a few ballads that close out the album. While this can leave some listeners a little bit confused, the objective at a Hot Chip live show is much more direct and primitive – they are here to entertain. 

Hot Chip’s live show is high energy and almost aggressive in its approach. On stage the band’s instrumentation becomes more pronounced and takes a front seat, both figuratively and literally, as it is guitarist Al Doyle standing stage front for most of the set. Tracks like “Over and Over” and “Ready for the Floor” (during the latter some oversized balloons were released from the ceiling) are already a perfect fit to the flow of the evening, while a slower, more melodic track like “And I was a Boy from School” gets an up-tempo makeover that allows it to blend in seamlessly. As with their latest album, the band did put their foot on the brakes, though, rolling out “In the Privacy of Your Love” towards the latter part of the show. And while it didn’t quite fit in with the up-tempo tracks that preceded it, the meditative track added a little depth to this dance-saturated evening.

by Rob Horning

6 Oct 2008

PSFK linked to this essay from Design Week by Ben Terrett about creating “unproduct,” which seems to mean consumer goods that are more idea than substance.

A concept I have been thinking a lot about recently is ‘unproduct’. Originally coined by the designer Matt Jones and built upon by the strategist Russell Davies, among others, unproduct is basically maximum idea, minimum stuff. It is an idea that offers some suggestions as to how brands and designers could help combat climate change. You get more value, but you produce less stuff.

This seems like an argument for more commercial control of intellectual property, with the logic being that the more capital is tied up in virtual things, the less environmental damage will be wrought in supplying the economy with physical goods. Or in other words, we should pay to participate in brands rather than accumulate goods.

Could brands be adequate consolation for not having actual material goods? Could they be something we could claim a kind of ersatz ownership of to satisfy our innate desire to possess things while our physical stock actually dwindles? It seems plausible, I guess, but would require an exacerbation of identity politics, as we would become far more invested in the symbolism of goods rather than the usefulness we derive from them, since the physical use would be gone and the social-symbolic use would be all there is.

Terrett, who seems primarily interested in making better signage, argues that adding information to existing goods enhances their value and thereby precludes the need to manufacture replacements. This in turn “slows down consumerism”:

One important factor in unproduct is data. Because software is now everywhere, you can add and collect data easily and often. We have long realised that adding data to things often makes them more valuable; for example, the way houses become more expensive with added history - from ‘this used to be a fruit warehouse’ to those ceramic blue plaques. Those little bits of data are increasing the value without creating new stuff, keeping the wheels of capitalism turning while slowing down the treadmill of consumerism.

I tend to draw the opposite conclusion about the proliferation of data. I think it works to allow us to consume more quickly, and therefore consume more in a limited amount of time. In our individual lives, we may be aware of environmental limitations to our consumption in an abstract way, but the limit we understand deeply and intimately and react to almost instinctually is the time constraint. We know that there is lots of stuff out there (thanks to marketing’s ubiquity and the penetration of entertainment with salesmanship) but we don’t have the time to take advantage of it all. But consuming it vicariously through its metadata—coming to an understanding of it, processing it, whatever you want to call it—allows us to move on more rapidly to the next thing. Signage potentially cannibalizes on the intrinsic worth of the thing, encouraging us to skim over what is being signed.

But the strategy Terrett advocates also evokes a different problem—if the data applied to already existing goods works to make them appear unique, these goods become positional goods—goods whose scarcity is irremediable and whose function is generally to exacerbate class differences. The houses with added history do indeed become more expensive, but no utility is added to the economy along with this enhanced value—houses are worth more, but no more people are housed. Capitalism would be working to distribute more of the stuff available to fewer people (by means of data manipulation), as it will have ceased to make new stuff.

by Mike Schiller

6 Oct 2008

It seems so long ago that LucasArts was known for anything other than their Star Wars games.  Once upon a time, it may actually have been known more for its classic point ‘n click adventure games than the prize license it wields.  Maniac Mansion, its sequel Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road...these are games that LucasArts built its non-Star Wars reputation on.  Lately, it’s been…well, pretty much nothing.  Nothing, that is, until tomorrow.

Now, we have Fracture, LucasArts’ foray into the world of new-IP first-person shooting.  As with any new IP in this genre that’s not exactly hurting for games, there’s a hook: namely, that one of your guns can raise and lower the surrounding terrain.  Look, this is like playing Populous as one of the people on the ground.  Potentially, this could be (pardon my gushing) AWESOME.  Raise the ground to provide yourself with some cover, reach previously unreachable platforms, really confuse some poor sap who happens to be standing on a hill…the possibilities are tremendous.  This is the sort of mechanic that tends to only reach its potential when the sequel (or the sequel to the sequel) hits, but the idea of this one sounds great.

If you can defeat your enemies by creating impromptu ponds underneath them and drowning them, I’m so there.

I talked last week about having a hard time letting go of my old devotion to Sonic the Hedgehog, and this week features another of my old standbys that I have a hard time letting go of: Crash Bandicoot.  Granted, the last couple of Crash games have been just fine, honestly, but they’re not as absorbing and certainly not as novel as the original PlayStation versions of the games.  Part of that might have something to do with the fact that Crash, as a character, was designed with the limits of the PlayStation in mind; a large part of Crash’s character design was around creating a character using polygons that looked like he was actually made up of a bunch of polygons.  Crash has always looked a little awkward, but it was perfectly natural on the PlayStation.  The current generation of systems hasn’t quite figured out how to render the bandicoot such that he looks natural in HD.  Maybe Mind Over Mutant can figure out the secret.

This year’s editions of EA and 2K’s competing NBA franchises come out this week too, and hey!  There’s an Etch-a-Sketch game of some sort coming out for the PC, too.  Who wants to bet they get sued because someone shakes the microprocessor clean out of their laptop just trying to clean the screen?

What are you looking at this week?  What did I miss?  Scope out the full release list and a trailer for Fracture after the jump!

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