Archive for the ‘music’ Tag

Bonsai music, the sound of sadness, and a killing via Twitter

Gentle readers: It’s been another busy month, including a trip to MIT for the Future of News and Civic Media Conference, where we showcased the first phase of MediaBugs and hung out with a bunch of interesting folks working on some intriguing cutting-edge projects.

In lieu of posting here since an early June dive into the Gulf calamity, I offer a third experimental installment of self-aggregated micro-blogging, which has proven a considerably easier way to riff while on the run. (Also see installments one and two.) Nicholas Carr may believe web links are rotting our brains, in which case I’ve already spoiled your screen, but I’m more with Steven Johnson on the “greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture” thing. Happy browsing.

*

Rolling Stone is “back on a roll.” And apparently not because of that booty-licious Lady Gaga cover. http://nyti.ms/dssVSY about 6 hour ago via web

#BP’s audacious new plan to drill, baby, drill off Alaska: http://nyti.ms/cQ6RVn Thu Jun 24 17:37:58 2010

embattled and/or bespectacled journos reportedly should not stir outcry about senseless murders in the leafy suburbs: http://bit.ly/9RBzFK Thu Jun 24 14:42:41 2010

A serious bonsai tree jam: http://j.mp/dubR2D Wed Jun 23 18:59:19 2010

ancient big weather and what may be the world’s largest dinosaur graveyard: http://bit.ly/bP2wZd Wed Jun 23 15:38:14 2010

The same intervals that express sadness in music also found in speech: http://ow.ly/21KDz Tue Jun 22 11:05:53 2010

Utah attorney general live tweets execution by firing squad: http://yhoo.it/bv3ol8 Fri Jun 18 12:20:12 2010

in Iraq, “the biggest campaign of dog execution ever.” And KBR is involved. http://bit.ly/azxcYc Fri Jun 18 08:37:46 2010

CNN “expert” says that Obama’s Gulf speech used, uh, too many words, or words w/too many letters, or… somethin’ http://bit.ly/cUfOZg #dumbcoverage Thu Jun 17 12:01:11 2010

what’s the carbon footprint of that thing you’re about to buy? Very cool project, Sourcemap, from CFCM at MIT http://bit.ly/zA1a4 #knc10 Wed Jun 16 15:36:58 2010

Tom Waits’ personal playlist: http://bit.ly/bMlZAp Wed Jun 16 15:29:46 2010

now that’s politics with brains! accusing your opponent of “waterboarding” the economy: http://politi.co/cTGh0a #WTF Mon Jun 14 12:49:57 2010

“We must save the oceans if we want to save mankind.” -Jacques Cousteau (born 100 yrs ago this Friday) #oilspill Wed Jun 9 14:42:11 2010

AP dateline: UNDER THE MURKY DEPTHS OF THE GULF OF MEXICO (reporter into “thickest patch of red oil I’ve ever seen”) http://yhoo.it/cfQfaH Wed Jun 9 09:38:34 2010

the catastrophe of oil-soaked birds, explained: http://bit.ly/doM9gd #BP #oilspill #alt-energy-now Tue Jun 8 11:32:34 2010

And the Best Album of 2010 goes to…

How uninspired, all the obligatory end-of-year rehash — the Best of 2009 This and the Top 10 Yada-yada of That. It’s all so… last year. But, the good news: This dog from the future just did a quick dash to December 2010, and I’ve brought back with me the easy winner for the Best Album of Next Year. It’s already here.

One of the benefits of having your own blog (aside from some capacity for time travel) is that you can favor whatever you want, with impunity. Even so, that the acclaimed psychedelic-country-folk-rock band I See Hawks in L.A. are good friends of mine has nothing to do with the fact that their forthcoming album, “Shoulda Been Gold,” takes the aforementioned honor. Hands down. It’s a dazzling collection from their deep trove of music produced and performed over the past decade — a greatest hits record, as they like to put it, that contains no hits. It comes out officially on January 26 from Collector’s Choice Music, but you can be one of the first to get a hold of it right now, right here.

And you most definitely should. The album contains 17 tracks of vivid aural history, its harmonies and insights drawn from an American decade of relative desolation. The Hawks are one of the great original bands you shoulda heard by now, if you haven’t already. Don’t just take my word for it, you can look ‘em up on The Google: There have been volumes of critical acclaim for their four albums dating back to 2000, from the Los Angeles Times to Spin to USA Today. (The latter notably sidestepped cliché in praising the band’s “versatility, variety and power” and “intriguing dystopian science-fictional bent in the lyrics” — that is, this ain’t your garden variety country-rock band, folks.) There are cult favorite non-hits here such as “Humboldt” and “Highway Down,” but I’m particularly partial to several of the new and newly released tunes, among them the plaintive yet incandescent title track “Shoulda Been Gold” and the Cajun-inflected twirler “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet.” You’ll definitely start your new year out happy if you get your hands on this stuff.

The spirit of Haida Gwaii

In late August I returned to the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, a place whose ancient, complex culture and astonishing natural beauty are inextricable. Earlier this week, in the village of Old Massett, the renowned Haida artist Robert Davidson hosted an epic two-day celebration commemorating the totem pole he carved here 40 years ago. The pole was raised in the village on August 22, 1969, replanting a vital Haida tradition that had nearly disappeared by the end of the 19th century. It was a privilege and joy to attend the festivities and to participate in documenting them. Here are a few images I captured (please do not reproduce them without permission), though they only begin to suggest the layers of landscape, art and ceremony that were on display.

The many performers included singers, drummers and dancers from Skidegate:
MF-Skidegate1


Spruce-root woven and painted hats filled the community hall:
MF-octopusdesign


The Tsimshian group Git-hoan, or People of the Salmon, were among the guests invited to perform:
MF-GIt-hoan


Eagle Transformation Mask, carved by Robert Davidson and danced publicly for the first time by the Rainbow Creek Dancers:
MF-RDeagle1

MF-RDeagle2


Robert Davidson’s 40-foot Bear Mother pole (partial view), raised in Old Massett in August 1969:
MF-RDtotem


Despite devastation from decades of industrial logging, some majestic old trees still stand on Haida Gwaii. (Thanks to the tireless efforts of local advocates and defenders, the land increasingly has come under protection in recent years.) The temperate rain forests are home to towering cedar, hemlock and spruce:
MF-tree1

MF-trees2


Along the banks of the Yakoun River, near where K’iid K’iyaas, the legendary Golden Spruce stood until its untimely demise in 1997. Every year the salmon come back to this essential river artery of Haida Gwaii. At least for now.
LF-Yakoun2

Desperate for some digital magic

It seems quite odd at this late date that Damon Darlin thinks serendipity has been lost in the digital deluge of the Internet. In a column in the Sunday Times, Darlin acknowledged that “we’ve gained so much” in the way of information and entertainment. “But we’ve lost something as well,” he says: “the fortunate discovery of something we never knew we wanted to find. In other words, the digital age is stamping out serendipity.”

Huh? When was the last time you went online and didn’t end up encountering things unexpected and interesting?

JamesYangforDarlinNYTDarlin laments what he sees as the fading possibility of perusing friends’ book shelves and CD and video collections in search of new discoveries, with those goodies increasingly obscured inside laptops, iPods and Kindles. It’s a strange line of reasoning to resuscitate, one long ago dispatched by Web thinkers, including author/blogger Steven Johnson three years ago. Back then, was the diminishing use of libraries as engines of discovery something to mourn?

“I find vastly more weird, unplanned stuff online than I ever did browsing the stacks as a grad student,” Johnson wrote in May 2006. “Browsing the stacks is one of the most overrated and abused examples in the canon of things-we-used-to-do-that-were-so-much-better. (I love the whole idea of pulling down a book because you like the ‘binding.’) Thanks to the connective nature of hypertext, and the blogosphere’s exploratory hunger for finding new stuff, the web is the greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture.”

Darlin’s loss-of-serendipity riff is akin to one that pops up regularly among those warning about the extinction of newsprint. If you’re getting all of your news online, the argument goes, you’ll be deprived of stumbling across a cool story inside those oversized inky pages, one that you might not otherwise ever read.

I still enjoy the ritual of immersing in the Sunday paper to which Darlin contributes, and I usually find interesting stuff in it to soak up, some of it even unexpected. But the fact is, that kind of fortunate discovery happens about a bazillion times more often in the digital realm. As Johnson also wrote:

I read regularly about 20 different blogs or other filters, and each day through them I’m exposed to literally hundreds of articles and clips and conversations and songs and parodies that I had no idea about when I woke up that morning. Many of them I just skim over, but invariably a handful of them will send me off on some crazy expedition from site to site, ushered along with the help of other bloggers, Google, del.icio.us, wikipedia, etc. I’m constantly stumbling across random things online that make me think: what is the deal with that anyway? And then an hour later, I’m thinking: how did I get here? I can’t tell you how many ideas that eventually made it into published books and articles of mine began with that kind of unexpected online encounter.

The big challenge these days seems to be figuring out how to better handle the fire hose of content flow. It can indeed be frustratingly easy to forget what you set out for in the first place, to get lost down the endless digital byways. (Hah — how, exactly, did you end up here?) Yet, whatever nostalgia aside, when it comes to print vs. digital (or albums vs. iTunes, etc.), I don’t think we’re facing a zero-sum equation.

Moonwalk for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The embattled Iranian regime couldn’t have dreamed up a better reprieve from scrutiny than the worldwide media frenzy over Michael Jackson’s death, only just getting underway.

How much Jackson coverage will be too much? (Whatever that is, we’re likely to find out.) His death is tragic but unsurprising given his condition in recent years. A great sadness for his family, friends and fans — and arguably a great relief, as the world can finally stop fixating on the downtempo horror show of misery and self-mutilation, and instead remember Jackson for the extraordinary music and artistry he gave, particularly in his earlier days.

youngMJ

Indeed, the postmortem coverage will be ceaseless for days to come, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sham of a reelection and attendant brutality recedes from the headlines. But what continues unfolding in Iran remains worthy of top billing. Prospects for the beginnings of rapprochement with the Obama administration now appear to be on ice. The regime is claiming the election was fraud-free. (The voting populations of various Iranian towns must have swelled overnight.) Clerics close to Ayatollah Khamenei are calling for dissidents to be punished ruthlessly and savagely. Veteran journalists anticipate that the country’s media lockdown will continue for a long time. (NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel: “We’re openly being called the instigators of a revolt.” More details here on the media crackdown.)

mahmoud_ahmadinejadDecentralized digital communications may become ever more critical to publicizing what’s transpiring inside Iran. As of Friday afternoon Michael Jackson commanded the top three slots for Twitter hashtags (#MJ’s; #RIP Mj; #michaeljackson), but Iran was still trending at fifth and sixth (#Iran; #iranelection). Also of note: The UK blogger whose Iran cyberwar guide mysteriously vanished last week is back online and has a second installment, an interesting rundown for tech and politics junkies alike. Meanwhile, this recently posted mash-up evokes the strange confluence of the historical moment, setting images from the Iranian election upheaval (some of them graphically disturbing) to Jackson’s controversial song “They Don’t Care About Us.”

Against the gratuitous cheeseburger

I’m a fan of cheeseburgers. I’m also a fan of the singer Neko Case. I haven’t the faintest idea, however, as to how the two are connected.

And yet, here they are, dished up together in the lead paragraph of a long profile of Case published in Sunday’s Times Magazine:

“I wish I had a tremolo,” Neko Case said. She looked at the Samburger she was wolfing down — Samburgers and Zinburgers being the specialties of a restaurant called Zinburger, in downtown Tucson, where Case lives, for now. With their maple bacon, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing, Samburgers are a cardiothoracic surgeon’s dream. Case had been talking about singers whose music and voices she admired — Iris DeMent and Roy Orbison prominent among them. She now banged her hand on the table, flounced her bright-red hair, leaned over and said, “I want a tremolo!” Then she looked up and laughed at herself.

Why do so many journalists insist on reporting what their subjects (or they themselves) were eating at the time of an interview? What do such cheeseburgers, delectable as they sound, have to do with the price of peanuts in Paducah? (Note that the reference to cardiothoracic surgery lends no real relevance to the cheeseburger, as the article gives no reason to think Case has suffered physical impediments to her singing.) What follows is a serviceable if somewhat overwrought 4,300-word portrait of the indie rock vocalist from the Pacific Northwest.

The above cheeseburger moment exemplifies one of the laziest tics in journalism, about as ubiquitous as In-N-Out Burger is along the California interstate. This may seem an esoteric criticism of the writer-editor sort, but I bring it up foremost in defense of the attentive reader. Describe to me the details of a cheeseburger, particularly at the outset, and I’m inclined to think that’s one rather important cheeseburger. Until I’m left only half-wondering, “Can I get some fries with that?”

innout2

Veteran journalist and author Sam Freedman contends with the problem in his incisive book, Letters to a Young Journalist. If an article begins with an appropriate anecdotal scene, he writes, it should lead inexorably into the broader themes and content. “I’ve read far too many leads over the years that described someone sitting back in a chair and taking a pensive drag on a cigarette. That scene only matters if you’re writing about lung cancer or tobacco litigation.”

Great journalism can be drizzled with evocative details. But its essence is still focused and lean. It gets to the point. Anything else in the mix is just indulgent calories, perhaps tasteful only to the person who served them up.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.