This Pixel Has Nothing to Do With a Chromebook

So I’m not a dancer in the same way I’m not a airline pilot. I figure there are some professions best left to people who know what the hell they’re doing. I can dance in such a way that I can move my body in a manner that matches the underlying rhythm of a song. Thing is, I really love to watch dancers. From graceful ballet to B boys and girls, poppin’ and lockin’ to Broadway and ballroom. There’s something almost hypnotic about a good dancer.

Now, combine that with my love of technology and you have something that’s a guaranteed win. Pixel is a combination of digital projection and dance. Watching dancers interact with their environment has always been part of the show, but what happens when the environment itself is interactive?

Japan’s Net Cafe Residents

There’s a sadness in Japan in that land, property, housing, apartments, and almost everything else is expensive. The average cost of an apartment is over ¥2,500 per square meter. (Just over $20 per square meter.) Given an average Tokyo apartment, if such a thing exists, rent can vary from ¥39,000 to ¥125,000 or $321 to $1,028. That may not sound bad until you realize that the size of the apartment is about the size of a room in the average American house.

Rent, food, the cost of living, it all adds up… except when it doesn’t. Many temp workers won’t make enough to afford renting an apartment of their own. Sometimes they’ll get a roomate.

And sometimes they’ll find refuge at an Internet cafe. where they can rent a computer space and live in it. We’re talking about an area smaller than a walk in closet. That’s their home, where they can sleep, eat, watch television, get online, and, hopefully, leave behind.

Va Va La Voog

Back in the halcyon days of the Internet there was this phenomenon based around live streaming your life… one photo at a time. Before broadband was ubiquitous and before streaming video was something you could do at the click of the mouse, there were people who hooked up webcams in their houses, apartments, and domiciles and simply let you look at them. You’d see them doing mundane things like folding laundry. You might catch them masturbating. It wasn’t even a sex show, as you see with today’s cam girl. No, it was just that, at that moment, the person was a little horny and needed some me-time.

JenniCam was a prime example of this, but there were others. One of my favourites to peek in on was Ana Voog, the woman behind AnaCam. The biggest difference between Ana and Jenni is, while Jenni could be seen as a technological concept artist, Ana Voog is a technological performance artist. So her cameras were always a little more interesting to me in that sense, because Jenni was there to be seen while Ana was interested in putting on a bit of a show.

Ana Voog, a woman of letters.
Ana Voog, a woman of letters.

Ana is also a helluva talented musician and I rediscovered her work a couple weeks back when, for no discernible reason, her website popped into my brain. She’s got a wonderful style with a playful, yet almost haunting voice. Back then, you could buy tracks from her site, which was a novelty in itself. Now, you can listen to her on YouTube and other places around the Net. Dig on both of these tracks, especially Telepathic You, a song I’ve found to be incredibly catchy.

Les Jumelles (The Twins) and Cyberpunk Art

I only recently learned of this short work directed by Joseph Kosinski. While it’s an ad for Nike shoes, which is fine, it’s also a helluva cyberpunk universe he creates in just over two minutes. Information walls, minimalist design, and compelling music by TRS-80, this is one of the best ads I’ve ever seen.

And keep in mind that’s coming from someone who fucking hates advertising.

Kosinski has a lot of cred when it comes to depicting the future, too. Besides this awesome bit, he’s also the director of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. After watching this, it’s easy to see how he got those jobs.

This Is One of the Greatest Things I’ve Ever Seen

As things go, I love the music of Ennio Morricone. In the realm of cinematic music, his music is iconic to me as the music of John Williams or Danny Elfman. Every cinema fan knows when a John Williams song kicks in things are about to get epic.

Just as any fan of spaghetti westerns knows that things are going to get extremely interesting when a Morricone tune rises from the soundtrack.

This is a group of Australians who created an orchestra dedicated to the music of Ennio Morricone and the spaghetti westerns he scored. In other words, here are some Australians paying homage to an Italian who created music for movies about the United States. It’s a truly international affair.

Music Monday – Pop Goes Plastic With FEMM

I’ve often compared pop music to professional wrestling. There’s a gimmick to almost every successful act in the last twenty years of pop, if not longer. Some people are party animals. Others are innocent little ones who sing about love. Others are barely contained sex demons. In other words, they’re playing a role. If you think their on-stage persona is what they’re like in real life, then I bet you think that pro-wrestling is real.

With the complaints that pop music is so contrived and so manufactured and so plastic in nature, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that an act appeared that takes the plastic nature to a whole new level.  FEMM, aka Far East Mention Mannequins, are SW-000000 and MS-000000, aka RiRi and LuLa respectively. They are two Japanese women who pretend to be mannequins, perhaps in the style of Mannequin, and kick out the catchy pop tunes.

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Music Monday – Pawws, for Reflection

The problem with pop music is, well, pop music itself. Pop music is meant to be something for the populace. People think that the “pop” music means popular as in “lots of people like it.” That’s not quite the case. It’s popular in that it’s aimed at a large section of the populace. They’re supposed to like it because they’re the target market, not because the song is particularly good anywhere else.

The thing is, popular music can be excellent if it’s given the chance. May I turn your attention to the PopTron station on Soma FM? Good stuff over there, man.

Good stuff right here, too, in the form of Lucy Taylor’s music project, Pawws. Pawws is tackling one of the most reviled eras in pop music, turning it on its head, and throwing it back at you with beauty and a cup of awesome. Her song Sugar invokes memories of roller disco, Studio 54, and a time when we were all duped into thinking leisure suits were sexy.

Leisure suits were never sexy, but Pawws is. She’s got it going with a disco vibe and a modern twist that I absolutely adore. Give her a shot.

Music Monday – Yes, I Like Yanni

A while back I had a lengthy conversation with some co-workers about a bunch of stuff and my taste in music came up. I explained that I love Vangelis and Yanni and instrumental artists along with the mystic vocals one hears in Enya or Jade Redd. Basically, I like dreamlike music quite a lot, including ambient. One of my co-workers jokingly said “The only thing I’ve found I can make fun of you for is the fact that you like Yanni.”

Well, yeah.

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Music Monday – Two Shadows

I find it interesting and enlightening when a musician works with two different singers on the same song. All too often we hear a song done by a particular singer and it becomes “their song.” Anyone else singing the song after that is “covering” their song. That’s not an unfair assessment, but what if the musician at the heart of the song isn’t actually the singer?

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Music Monday — Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Kira Kira Killer is a newer tune from J-Pop sweetheart Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, someone I’ve written about before here on the blog and it’s one of those music videos that makes you think.

Think about what? The symbolism within it, or the differences between Japanese culture and America? What’s with the person in the weird wardrobe and the staff?

Well, no. Though the person with the odd wardrobe (who isn’t Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) is representative of a priest that seems to be an amalgam of multiple religions. There are Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist influences in that costume so I suppose we could opine on its portrayal of religion as an authoritarian master, holding the people in the palm of its hand. This is further supported by her visions of a spinning Yin Yang, interlocking white and grey Magen David stars, topped with prayer beads and crosses.

The only turtle ever to feature on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.
The only turtle ever to feature on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

There’s also a nod to the Discworld novels where you have a more or less flat world perched atop elephants with the whole thing riding on the back of a turtle. We’ll pass on all of that and get straight to the thing I think about.

Virtual reality technology needs to go mainstream so I can inhabit this video. It’d be far better than drugs.

Seriously, flying through a virtual tunnel on a jet powered hoverboard with an amalgamated priest while the bounciest, happiest song ever plays in your ears? You might get that kind of trip with LSD or DMT, but if you could get it with a set of VR goggles and headphones?

Sign me up.

Music Monday – Live in the Studio

I have a confession to make. I don’t like going to concerts all that much. Music, for me, is a personal thing. It’s quite literally a drug because of the chemical reactions it releases in my body. I hallucinate, I’m “not there,” and after a really good song is over I want more. Now then, I can tell you from experience that I’m not very good at being drunk, nor am I good at being high, So when we talk about the powerful drug that is music, I just don’t want to be in a crowded auditorium when I’m having that experience.

Also, you motherfuckers who push and shove and then sing along with the artist, and you’re only three flats off key? Fuck you. I didn’t come to listen to your drunk/high/both ass sing my favourite tunes off key. There are buskers in the city who are more than capable of providing me that service for free.

Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of sessions that recorded “live in the studio.” It’s the perfect medium for feeding my addiction. I get to hear my favourite music live, but without the screaming, shouting, smell of pot, beer spilled on me, and all the stuff that tends to happen at concerts. There are no lavish sets, no light-shows, and nothing extraneous. It’s very intimate, very close. The music is live, completely, but it’s right there. If I were in studio, I could reach out and touch the music.

Many times you get the artist to do acoustic sets which can be incredibly special. For example, I recently learned about the Australian group Boy & Bear through their song Southern Sun.

The catch is, I heard it on whatever Sirius/XM calls their “coffee shop” channel where they play a lot of acoustic stuff. So my first exposure didn’t sound like the (admittedly awesome) electric version. It sounded like this:

Damn.

Another facet of my love for the live in the studio style is how the musicians will try different things when they don’t have to concern themselves with set design, theatre, and pleasing a massive crowd. Those who don’t write music might not be aware of how many iterations a song will go through. Lyrics get changed, switched, and music gets tightened, loosened, or completely rewritten. Naturally a musician might have another way to do a song that they love, but it just didn’t make the album.

Dig on Haim here. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Haim.  Falling happens to be one of their best songs so far and god knows I’ve listened to it a few (hundred) times. So when Danielle suddenly launches into a lengthened second verse? That’s pretty awesome right there.

The World’s Smartest Accordion

I can play damn near anything with a keyboard. Pianos, organs, melodicas, harpsichords, keytars, celestes, digital keyboards, synths, and whatever. If you play it via black and white keys, I can play it.

Except the accordion.

Don’t get me wrong, I can get the basics of a song out of the damn thing, but it’s like walking and chewing gum. Trying to keep both hands going, in time, with a rhythm, keeping a melody, all the while pumping the bellows in a manner to keep the air flowing in a controlled manner? Nope. I’d be better off trying to play bagpipes, because there’s less to do.

It’s funny how the Web can take you down little rabbit holes and tangents. A few days back, I was searching for something about Weird Al Yankovic and came across this video. It’s a demo and promo for the Roland FR-8x-V, an accordion that’s more like a digital keyboard than the thing you’d listen to in an Italian bistro. Apparently, Weird Al himself uses this accordion on stage and in production and it’s not hard to see why. The host, and performer, is wonderful and she’s a fantastic musician and she’ll guide you through this things many features.

First, it’s an accordion. Second, it’s actually four accordions because it’s a French, Italian, Jazz, and Cajun accordion. I’m sure that, in a pinch, it’ll do German just as well and thus it could be considered five accordions. It’s got a slew of voices so it’s also a piano, bass guitar, orchestra, steel drum, and more. You can even use it Zen Drum-like and have percussion going on one hand while you play the melody on the other. It has MIDI hookups, on-board sequencing, the ability to load new voices from the Roland Library, and of course you can plug it into an amp or theatre PA system.

I mean, I’m not even a huge fan of accordion music, but I have to say, I’m impressed. This thing has every single feature my keyboards do, including a couple extras since they’re specific to an accordion.

Accordions grew up, joined the digital world, and actually became kinda awesome. Who knew?

And if that doesn’t trip your trigger, here’s a pair of twins (for twins tend to come in pairs) singing a German ditty, playing accordions, and rollerblading. I don’t even know where to go with that. Had it been me, I’d have skated out, made the first turn and ate most of that accordion along with some of the floor as I went sliding under some table, leaving a blood trail behind me littered with the wreckage of a once perfectly good accordion.