Technology

The Power of Story in the Digital Age

Catherine Ramsdell
From the stop-motion animated film, The Sex Life of Robots, by Michael Sullivan

In an age where Twitter and Google seem to be taking over the world, how do people communicate information in a meaningful and memorable manner? They tell a story.

Several weeks ago in my Classics of Science Fiction course, I referenced the 1983 miniseries V. After I explained the basic plot, I paused and added, "I heard somewhere that someone was remaking it."

There was another pause, this one filled with the soft clicking of keys. In a moment, several students could tell me all about the new V miniseries. They could also tell me, should I forget, which book won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1978, who was the key grip for the film Children of Men, and what year the Joker premiered in the Batman comic series. All of this important information is just one Google search away.

Albert Einstein once said "Never memorize what you can look up in books." Of course, Einstein didn't have the Internet, a Blackberry, or an iPhone. Something tells me if he was alive today he would tell people "Never memorize what you can Google."

The question is-how long do people remember this Googled information? Because of the Internet and hand-held devices that make the Internet accessible from virtually anywhere, people have access to so much more information than they did in the dark ages (aka the 1980s). But is this access making people better informed and more knowledgeable? or is there just so much information out there that it all simply becomes incomprehensible? I argue it is the latter.

Book: Neuromancer

Author: William Gibson

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 2004-11

Length: 384 pages

Format: Hardcover

Price: $25.00

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/g/gibson-neuromancer-cover.jpgIt is a case of science fiction becoming fact. William Gibson's vision of cyberspace put forth so beautifully in Neuromancer has, at least in part, come true. Gibson coined the term cyberspace in Neuromancer, stating: "The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding."

"Constellations of data" sound so pretty, except these constellations aren't made of stars but of satellites. Thousands perhaps millions of satellites flickering in the sky, collecting information, and funneling it down to our computers where we Google, mine for data, and start del.icio.us pages to bring order to the chaos. People talk about feeling the effects of information overload -- but they insist on continuing to contribute to it.

True knowledge (especially if it has a strong historical component) is power, as the saying goes, but factual knowledge is now cheap and readily available to anyone with a modicum of literacy skills -- which makes facts, much like tuna fish and Ramen noodles, easy to overlook, particularly when facts merge into the factoids so readily accessed via hand-held devices. Factoids can be true but trivial facts, or factoids can be ideas that are generally believed to be true but in reality are actually not true.

Factoids (or urban legends) are nothing new. The term factoid has been around since the '60s, and many modern urban legends started to become popular in the '60s as well. However, the Internet, and specifically email, allows factoids, urban legends, and net hoaxes to multiply as quickly as the proverbial rabbit. Most people have probably received emails about dying children who need their help, department stores charging thousands of dollars for cookie recipes, or Snowball the Monster Cat. Most people are probably also guilty of passing at least some of these emails along to friends, who then pass them along to their friends. And on and on it goes.

Factoids have become so common that we now have websites, such as Snopes.com, to debunk factoids. On this site, people can learn, for example, that Hostess Twinkies don't last forever and that the Great Wall of China is not actually visible from the moon - assumed 'facts' in modern culture that never were factual.

Information overload, assumed 'facts', and shortened attention spans that like to receive information via 140 character Tweets have changed the ways people learn and process information. Simply giving a student a list of all the important dates in World War II and telling them to memorize this list doesn't work anymore. A student might be able to regurgitate this information on a test, but don't ask the student to recite this information a year later (unless you give them a chance to Google it first). In an age where Twitter and Google seem to be taking over the world, how do people communicate information in a meaningful and memorable manner? They tell a story.

For centuries, stories were the primary way of teaching and communicating important information - using historical fact, dramatic reinterpretation, and fictional example to convey the point of the story. Stories kept histories alive (oral storytelling) or explained how things came to be. The Christian Bible, Sufi parables, Native American folklore, and Zen parables all entertained - but also explained. Even children's stories taught moral lessons and illustrated cultural expectations.

Historically, stories have inspired, motivated, taught, and entertained. Consider an 11th-century Jewish Teaching Story Annette Simmons references in her book The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling:

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers' houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires.

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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

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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.

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