Books

Re: Digital: Thomas Pynchon (and Others) Succumb to E-Readers

Man reading an ebook in a park. Photo from Shutterstock.com

Stories are composed on Twitter, fan fiction can become literature, libraries are accessible around the world, and reader’s can explore classics on their Ipad. As literary holdouts come to accept digital reality, it's important to remember that the audiobook did not kill the paperback, and that new mediums don’t always replace the old ones.

Penguin Press has recently announced that the works of celebrated novelist Thomas Pynchon are now available for download for the first time as e-books. For years the author, whose works, like Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day, have long been daunting yet satisfying reads for fans of literary fiction, has been an opponent of the digital revolution in publishing. The New York Times’ Julie Bosman, reported that the move “…is another step toward the ubiquity of the e-book, even for authors who stubbornly resisted,” in a 12 June 2012 article that speculated that the change of heart could have been prompted by the simple desire to get more readers.

As many media outlets have noted following Penguin’s announcement, Pynchon is not the only high profile author to resist the move towards digital content. Famed children’s book author Judy Bloom held out for many years before finally deciding to allow some of her classics like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret and Freckle Juice to be available in a digital format. The late Ray Bradbury, another opponent of the rise of the e-book who once famously stated that e-books “smell like burnt fuel”, decided shortly before his death to allow his dystopian masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, to be digitized.

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories of a paper lover who has come to embrace the possibilities of a digital world is Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. For years, Rowling opposed allowing her books to be made available in e-format, citing concerns over piracy and an enduring affection for paper and print. Then in 2011, the author who famously wrote all seven of the Harry Potter books freehand, not only relented but seemed to embrace the digital world.

She created the website Pottermore, which allows muggles from all over the world to download their beloved Harry Potter books – most notably in the open source EPUB format – and to explore other avenues of Rowling’s world through expanded content and interactive features. Not only did this represent a shift in the writer’s tastes concerning e-books, but it also represented a potential new business model for a creator to generate continued excitement and engagement with a popular product in a more direct fashion.

Rowling, while clearly the most successful, was not the first author to explore the possibilities for creativity presented by new media. Many creators have realized that new technologies are not just new avenues to sell books, but also allow for new means of expression now that their ideas have are no longer bound to the printed page. The noted comic book creator and scholar Scott McCloud, whose book Understanding Comics is still a must-read for fans of the medium, has been creating digital comics for years, as have other famous comic book people such as Warren Ellis and Mark Waid, to name but a few. Darcey Streike, author of such brooding and melancholic books as Suicide Blonde and Jesus Saves, dabbled in mixed media and digital fiction through her online project, blindspot.

Yet, perhaps the most popular author to have enthusiastically embraced new media is the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King. King has long been a defender of digital publishing and has never been against releasing his work in a variety of different formats. His short story, “UR”, about a man with an e-reader that has access to works from alternate Earths, was originally released for the Kindle only. His has written for television and comics, and has allowed his previous works to be adapted for both mediums. Additionally, King has been a fan audiobooks and has even read several of his titles for readers who prefer listening his hefty tomes instead of lugging them around.

For the past few years, King taken this dynamism to new levels with his online project, Discordia, which is described as “an online interactive experience based on the Dark Tower series.” Fans of King’s masterwork can explore in greater detail a peripheral, yet important, aspect of the Dark Tower mythology and the battle between the forces of good and of the evil Crimson King. The story – whose second chapter is due out sometime in late 2012 – is told through a mixture of text, music, and flash animation to create and unique and multifaceted user experience.

Other creators have realized that the online world is not just a way to merge media and generate content in different and original forms, but it'ss also a way of altering the entire creative process and the way ideas are generated. In 2010, Science Fiction all-stars Greg Bear and Neil Stephenson – along with a few other writers – created The Mongoliad. The project, which was hailed as a potential business model for social reading, was a serialized story taking place in 1241 as the Mongols ravaged Europe. As each chapter was released, fans were able to comment, contribute, and add their own voices to the story and the user-generated wiki that was created, which was accessible through the website and various applications.

This not only represented a new way of generating content through a collaborative-process involving both writers and fans, but also was a potential new revenue stream for creators who no longer communicated with their readers through a printed intermediary but instead sought a more direct access. The website was a tiered subscription based service where users had to pay to access all the content and contribute their own thoughts. The Mongoliad has since been collected and made available in print, digital, and audio formats but the authors point out that these editions are not the definitive versions of the story and the creative elaboration amongst fans still continues.

All of these experiments and innovations are emblematic of the possibilities for creativity provided in the digital era. While some of these phenomena, like Pottermore, are more supplements to traditional books, others like Discordia or The Mongoliad represent newer forms of synthetic media in execution, creation, and distribution. While some may balk at certain creators' forgoing their beloved codex for some strange mixed-media database, others will applaud the new ways to explore and expand the arts.

We now live in a time where stories are composed on Twitter, fan fiction can become literature, libraries are accessible from across the world, and reader’s can explore T. S. Elliot’s The Wasteland as an app on their Ipad. And as more holdouts like Pynchon and Bloom slowly come around to the new digital reality, it's important to remember that the audiobook did not kill the paperback and that new mediums don’t always replace the old ones. As Stephen King himself wrote in a column for Entertainment Weekly following the release of the Kindle, “I've argued all my life that the story means more than the delivery systems involved…”

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image