4/30/2008 4:13:00 PM
What could be harder than taking your guitar or sax out on the street and trying to get people to listen?
Writing in Miami New Times, Arielle Castillo offers one fairly persuasive answer: doing the same thing with an upright piano.
Image by Jean-Etienne Poirrier, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/29/2008 5:30:41 PM
22-year-old, Vancouver-based artist Melanie Coles has constructed a 2,300-square-foot Waldo, which is now secured on a rooftop in her hometown, waiting to be detected by Google Earth’s satellites. Coles made the Waldo—with a little help from some friends—as a graduation project for the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The school has a knack for nurturing inventive thinking; we reported on another graduate’s clever Urban Binning Unit in our July-August 2006 issue.
Speaking recently to NPR, Coles drew a parallel between moving her generation’s hunt for Waldo from the printed page to the Internet and “what’s happening with magazines and TV and radio all going online.” She also tied the Waldo to ancient traditions of constructing earthly monuments only visible from the sky.
Images by Carolyn Coles, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/29/2008 3:05:55 PM
It’s ironic that we at Utne Reader have decided to give indie champ Paste magazine a shout-out this week. Because Paste Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson had the same idea in the magazine’s May issue, offering his hip music mag a well-deserved pat on the back in recognition of 10 years spent bringing great music to its readers. Who cares that the hand doing the patting is Jackson’s own? The issue is exemplary of what Paste does best, offering a good balance of album reviews of new artists and old favorites, a roundup of musicians’ tributes to (and diatribes against) their mothers in honor of Mothers Day, and a hilarious two-page spread celebrating the 100th birthday of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There’s even the much-loved accordion appreciation article.
The feature articles are excellent as well. The best is an essay by Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Paste sent Gibbard to a cabin in Big Sur—the same cabin to which he’d retreated to write the songs on the band’s latest album, Narrow Stairs, and also where Jack Kerouac wrote Big Sur—to “meditate on life, art and solitude.” Sometimes first-person thought experiments work, and sometimes they flop. In this case, Gibbard offers a very personal, not-quite-sentimental vision of Big Sur, Kerouac, and his own life in a truly enjoyable essay.
Paste brings together the best elements of the mainstream and indie music press, offering sharply written reviews (not exactly a mainstay in the underground music scene) of bands that go unwritten about in most big music glossies.
4/29/2008 4:28:43 AM
I couldn’t resist visiting Alec Soth’s photography exhibit in Paris’s Jeu de Paume museum this week to see how he would present my fellow Minnesotans to an art-inundated Parisian audience. Soth stuck to his usual silent juxtapositions to show Midwesterners in all our frumpy, snow-covered simplicity.
Soth’s exhibit would be a little bit of home, I mistakenly reasoned. Instead, the exhibit drew from four photo series and was “home” only if you consider the geographical bounds for a Minnesota artist to be the limits of the United States (Minnesota, Niagara Falls, and along the Mississippi River) and then stretch the boundary a bit further to accommodate the birthplace of Soth’s adopted daughter (Bogota, Colombia).
The last room held photos from a series titled “Paris, Minnesota,” which Soth did for the 2007 fashion season (January through March.) I forced myself to look at the pictures before the title plaques and guess which photos were from Paris and which from Minnesota. Soth didn’t play any tricks. The shots of a star-studded dinner, suited men, and a dog so valuable it had its own bodyguard were, predictably, taken in Paris. The Minnesota photos were equally unsurprising: an ice skater, a girl in a ski cap, and a parka-clad woman clutching a Coco Chanel bag, posed in front of a strip mall.
At first, I was disappointed Soth didn’t defy convention and take, say, photos of hipsters in Minneapolis and Paris to show their interchangeability. Soth could have upset every smug Frenchman’s assumption that we Americans live in a cultural backwater. Then I calmed down. Mocking Minnesotans is a classic—not to mention lucrative—strategy for native artists from Garrison Keillor to the Coen brothers. Besides, the original audience for the photos was not buying fashion magazines for stereotype-challenging images. And I can always comfort myself with the fact that Paris boutiques sell Red Wing boots and Minnetonka moccasins. If the clientele only realized.
4/29/2008 4:19:22 AM
It seems I’m not the only person who found the exhibition “The Parisians Under the Occupation,” showing in Paris’s Historical Library, to be unsettling. The mayor’s top aide for cultural affairs, reports the International Herald Tribune, said the photography display made him want to vomit.
Photographer André Zucca, working for the German propaganda magazine Signals, makes Paris’s occupation seem like little more than an inconvenience, with swastikas and unfashionably mustached German military men marring otherwise predictably Parisian scenes. The photos showed crowds sitting at outdoor cafes watching passers-by; fashion shoots proceeded in parks. Even fuel shortages were handled stylishly. Cyclists trailing “velo-taxis” transported passengers around town, a style mimicked today by the eco-chic Urban Cabs.
I would have thought little of the light treatment of Paris in wartime had I not visited St. Petersburg’s Blockade Museum in January, a sober treatment of how the city’s residents suffered during a 900-day blockade during World War II. Viewing the French photos after the Blockade Museum made it seem as though the Parisians had lived in perpetual spring while the Soviets suffered. In St. Petersburg, tour guides read aloud a young boy’s journal, which reported his family catching a cat one day and devouring it the next. A photo showed a factory producing squirrel cutlets. People ate glue.
Meanwhile, Parisians spent the war years snacking on cherries and sorting through cartloads of fresh radishes and onions, according to Zucca’s photos. To combat such misperceptions, viewers now receive a French-language warning leaflet to contextualize the photos, translated in part in the Herald Tribune. “What Andre Zucca portrays for us is a casual, even carefree Paris,” it reads. “He has opted for a vision that does not show—or hardly shows—the reality of occupation and its tragic aspects: waiting lines in front of food shops, rounding up of Jews, posters announcing executions.” I hope the exhibit curators will translate the warning into other languages; otherwise, tourists might not realize the partial treatment the exhibit provides as they rush through the requisite Paris sights. Visitors seeking a more serious portrayal of World War II–era France will have to rely on other Paris museums like its Holocaust Museum and the Museum of the History of Paris (Musée Carnavalet), or moving memorials to the deported at the Pére-Lachaise Cemetery.
4/24/2008 2:57:57 PM
The IFC and Nerve have released their list of the 50 greatest comedy sketches of all time. Monty Python makes a strong showing, with such classic sketches as the Dead Parrot sketch and the Spanish Inquisition. So do the Kids in the Hall (with the “I'm crushing your head” sketch) and the State. And no, my productivity is not dead. It’s resting.
4/24/2008 11:19:45 AM
If I had a certificate for the best web page I’ve seen all day, it would go to the Plug, commemorating their awards for the best things they’ve seen all day. They handed out certificates for “the best smoke break” won by “barber shop guy,” and best fish won by “the small yellow fish.”
For more fun on the Plug website, make sure to visit the “Stranger Photos Have Happened” page, filled with photos from a disposable camera left with a note on a public park bench.
4/21/2008 3:00:53 PM
It’s difficult to capture the attention of a New Yorker. Artist Joshua Allen Harris has found a way, not only to make people stop and look, but also laugh out loud, and that’s good for everybody. His adorable inflatable creatures harness the power of the burst of air that accompanies a subway car’s passing, creating a wonderful, herky-jerky effect that gives the creatures their personalities. Best of all, in their deflated state, they look exactly like trash caught in the grates. As is often the case, things are more than they seem.
(Thanks, Wooster Collective.)
Here are two videos of Joshua Allen Harris’ work:
4/18/2008 4:50:56 PM
Once relegated mainly to artists’ sketchbooks and doodle pads, hand-rendered type has rejoined the mainstream. The idiosyncratic styles provide a welcome change to the monotony of overused digital typefaces. The book Hand Job by Michael Perry features excellent examples of hand-drawn type from a variety of artists, ranging from relatively unknowns to the legendary Stefan Sagmeister. Reading it brought back memories of my elementary school love for bubble letters, and the burnouts at my high school who would endlessly copy the Van Halen and Def Leppard logos on their notebooks.
From graffiti-tag style, to ornate 3D letterforms filled with elaborate scenes and characters, to willow-thin letterforms made from one continuous stroke, the book provides plenty of inspiration for design. It may even inspire you to pick up a felt-tipped pen yourself.
4/18/2008 2:07:37 PM
With the current vinyl and plush toy phenomenon in full force, someone had to step up and be the movement’s official photographer. Enter Brian McCarty. His photos of toys breathe an incredible amount of life into seemingly inanimate objects, presenting them in an almost cinematic and usually hilarious manner. See his work here, or go behind the scenes and see his latest images here.
4/17/2008 12:54:34 PM
The latest issue of the bimonthly arts magazine Stop Smiling, dedicated entirely to jazz, is a veritable odyssey through space and time, bringing the reader from New York City’s 52nd Street to Storyville, New Orleans; cruising through the Roaring ’20s to the New Millennium; each leg of the journey accompanied by Nina Simone’s volatile tenor and the wailing trumpet of Miles Davis.
The magazine exhorts us to “start appreciating America’s greatest art form.” And it’s hard not to when grazing through the sections dedicated to classic jazz cover art, a famous 60-year-old vibraphonist with a death-defying passion for speedboats, and the top five jazz discs worth pilfering from author John Corbett’s album collection. The issue can be nostalgia-inducing, even to the casual fan. There are interviews with jazz luminaries from bygone eras—Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis—and a section dedicated to Eric Dolphy where musicians and historians pay homage to the extraordinary reedman. But more than anything, the issue is a testament to jazz’s place not only as an influential historical artifact, but as a still-thriving form of music in its own right.
4/15/2008 10:30:33 AM
The benefit of coming late to the online graphic novel Freak Angels, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Paul Duffield, is that you can consume all of the first nine riveting, violent, and very sexy episodes in one sitting. And once you’re hooked, that’s exactly what you’ll want to do. The profanity-laden weekly comic feels like Heroes, if David Mamet took over writing the show’s dialogue. But if you do go on a Freak Angels bender, know this: After you’ve whizzed through the first nine installments, you’ll have to wait a week between episodes just like the rest of us.
4/11/2008 3:21:51 PM
Orchestral conductors are responsible for keeping two different large, often unruly groups of people in line--the orchestra and the audience. A perfect performance can be ruined by a cell phone, an unstifled cough, or ill-timed applause.
Writing in the Threepenny Review, Wendy Lesser describes observing Simon Rattle leading the Berlin Philharmonic in a rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. Along with adjusting the group's sound for an unfamiliar space, Rattle warns the players of the relative rudeness of New York audiences. During the performance, a loudly coughing audience member throws the orchestra off, and Rattle, between movements, kindly but firmly explains to the audience how important it is to avoid such disruptions. Later, Lesser admires Rattle's warmth and ease with a schoolchildren's dance ensemble and with their parents, many of them fish out of water at a classical performance. Conducting, it turns out, requires not only tremendous musicianship and leadership but also great diplomacy and grace.
- Steve Thorngate
Image by Monika Rittershaus, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/11/2008 2:40:31 PM
magazine is not for amateurs. There’s no doubt that the enthusiasm for funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop displayed by the magazine’s writers can be infectious, but the articles aren’t written with lay-listeners in mind. They’re for music aficionados, scrounging through old vinyl collections in search of forgotten musical gems.
Current TV is airing a five-minute video about Wax Poetics that you can watch below. Rob Harvilla, the music editor of the Village Voice, also profiled the magazine for the March–April issue of Utne Reader as a part of a package called “For the Love of Music.”
4/9/2008 4:14:25 PM
If your idea of ultimate genital danger is a pair of zip-fly jeans and a burned-out light bulb, you haven’t seen the movie trailer for Teeth. The film, which is the subject of a great analysis by Nerve, tells the tale of a high school student with a unique anatomical feature and her unfortunate bedmates. Nerve contextualizes the film by exploring the history of vagina dentata mythology, from the demon Asmodeus of Judeo-Christian legend to toothed vaginas in Native American parables.
4/9/2008 2:26:08 PM
So-called indie music loves to flash that glittery “outsider” label, but when you play the music of someone like Sufjan Stevens in the car and realize that your mom and your 5-year-old alike are tapping their toes, something seems amiss.
“Indie rock and adult contemporary have for the last few years, been publicly and happily holding each other’s hand,” writes Greg Burgett for the New York Press. “The indie kids … on their way to their 10 a.m. start times, their casual Mondays-through-Fridays, their five-dollar-a-day coffee habits … assembled a so-appropriate soundtrack … that keeps their cred intact, their superiors pacified (even at audible-over-the-cubicles volume) and their New Yorker reading appropriately soundtracked.”
While there’s always going to be someone screaming for the music to be louder, noisier and more difficult, Burgett has some fun throwing bombs at bland music and those young professionals who wear it like a leather wrist strap.
4/8/2008 11:06:35 AM
What is it about women and their facial expressions that inspire such iconic portraiture? Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile is a riddle so intriguing it has become an obsession among art historians—and the subject of numerous crappy movies. Then there’s Frida Kahlo’s impressive stare (complemented by her freewheeling eyebrows), which is explored in a recent article in the Smart Set. The uncompromising severity of “The Look,” present in all of Kahlo’s self-portraits, becomes all the more curious when compared to the photographs of the painter, which, writes Morgan Meis, show her in “much softer, or more playful, or openly seductive” poses.
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
, Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust.
4/4/2008 3:53:28 PM
A tension constricted the sold-out crowd at Minneapolis' Triple Rock Social Club last night as they nervously anticipated the arrival of the New York-based band Vampire Weekend. Dominated by college-aged males with the tails of their button-down shirts peeking out from below their sweaters, the crowd wasn’t just waiting to see the band. They were waiting to see the next big thing. The feeling jittering through the room could best be described as “hype.”
“By now everyone is familiar with the hype cycle,” the editors write in the post-hipster thought journal, n+1 (article not available online). It begins with early adopters latching on to a new or undervalued band, author, or artist before the general populous catches on. This phase of the hype cycle is exemplified by the sentiment, “I was listening to Fraz Liszt before Pitchfork ever even mentioned them,” write the editors of n+1. The initial excitement inevitably leads to a backlash, where the art is stamped with the label of overrated. The next step is the “backlash-to-the-backlash” eloquently expressed by n+1 as “Why’s everybody hatin’ on the [insert band here].”
Vampire Weekend is undoubtedly a beneficiary and victim of this fickle hype cycle. Formed barely two years ago in a Columbia dorm room, the African-influenced pop group now holds the dubious honor of being “the first band ever to be shot for a Spin cover before they'd even released an album,” the magazine's Andy Greenwald wrote proudly. The quartet went from playing sparse crowds, as seen in the August 2007 photo on the right, to being one of the most-talked about bands in music today.
I experienced the backlash before the show began, when a bartender at the venue down the street told me, “Vampire Weekend? They’re overrated.” He had seen them at South by Southwest in Austin and didn’t feel their performance had lived up to the hype. Step three of the cycle came midway through the show, when a friend of mine said, “I’m definitely part of the backlash-to-the-backlash. I mean, they’re so cute!”
Google searches for “Vampire Weekend” over time. Source: Google Trends.
Of course, popularity doesn’t translate to musical prowess, but I doubt that anyone in the crowd was disappointed by the band’s performance last night. Everyone knew what they were getting into. The guys played every song on their self-titled, 34.2-minute album almost exactly as they had recorded it in the studio. Lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig worked hard to capture the vocal octave jumps originally recorded, as he banged out the pop guitar riffs the crowd knew and loved. For good measure, the band played one new song that was nearly as catchy as the rest of their repertoire.
Then, minutes before the end of the show, the band announced that they had run out of music. And who can blame them? Two years is not a lot of time to come up with new material. Koenig explained that they were working on a cover of Tom Petty’s "American Girl," but the song wasn't quite ready. After that, they played the final song on the album, politely said thank you, and left the stage with no encore.
Images by Anna Harris and Derek Webber, licensed under Creative Commons.
You can hear the song "Mansard Roof" by Vampire Weekend below.
4/1/2008 8:53:35 AM
Rotten Tomatoes is a movie review aggregator that scores films on a “freshness” scale of 0 to 100 percent. In some cases, as with the recent cinematic catastrophe Meet the Spartans (2 percent freshness), the reviews showcase more comedic ability than the film itself. I’ve compiled some review highlights into a greatest hits recap. Enjoy:
Meet the Spartans isn’t a real movie, so this isn’t a real review, either.1
Yes, crotch-flashing celebutantes and macho gladiator epics are rife for spoofing. It’s just too bad the job has been entrusted to Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the witless, Dumpster-diving duo who wouldn’t know satire if it puked on their faces.2 When the comedy revolution comes, Friedberg and Seltzer will be the first ones shot.3 The filmmakers have one basic joke—that there’s something a little bit gay about all these buff Spartans—and they work it into the ground, trotting out every dumb homosexual panic joke in recorded history.4
This thing is so utterly lackluster, so without spirit or humor or energy of any kind, that the characters have to tell you what the joke is.
“Oh, look!” they say. “It’s Paris Hilton!” Like that.5
What’s the point of making a parody that’s dumber than the stuff it parodies?6 For example, the film starts with an old man examining an infant while a narrator tells us that in ancient Sparta all the babies were carefully checked for defects. This is a fine setup for a lot of potentially funny sight gags: What might this baby’s “defect” be? Then comes the reveal: It’s a baby Shrek. Why? Because Shrek the Third was recently a popular movie. The baby Shrek says something with a Scottish accent and then pukes all over the old man. Why? Because puke is funny. Aren’t you laughing just thinking about it?7
It’s so bad even Carmen Electra should be embarrassed.8 Electra proves herself a national treasure as our highest-priced whore.9
In their deeply ingrained tradition of something less than mediocrity, Friedberg and Seltzer make their annual locustlike descent on theaters leaving a trail of ruthlessly murdered brain cells in their wake.10
It’s not even a movie. It’s just a thing.11 I’m moving to Europe.12
(Sources: 1. Sun Media; 2. Detroit News; 3. EricDSnider.com; 4. Mountain Xpress; 5. Sun Media; 6. Newsday; 7. EricDSnider.com; 8. Detroit News; 9. Village Voice; 10. Mountain Xpress; 11. Mountain Xpress; 12. Village Voice)
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