Archive for December, 2009

Animal Collective SUCKS

Animal Collective are a highly-experimental electro-rock band from Baltimore. This year, they made the No1 (or the top-5) on most music blog lists for “album of the year”. Online critics seem to love them, and they are the de-facto hipster band. Whatever Iron Maiden were for the metal-heads in the ’80s, Animal Collective are today for the hipster sub-[non]culture. This band has fanatics, not fans.

There is a place for experimental music in the world. But having blogs and magazines putting that kind of music in front of other, actually accessible music is beyond me. The AC music is nonsensical, random, songs never really develop, there are no hooks whatsoever, no real melodies, it’s unstructured, lyrics are difficult to understand, and it overall sounds like some kids are playing with their Casio keyboards they got as Christmas presents. Worst of all, blogs try to present AC as something they’re not: accessible.

In many ways, the whole situation reminds me of the Gentoo Linux sub-culture a few years ago: they will go around telling everyone how great Linux is, and especially how great Gentoo Linux is. And when someone would call them out for their elitist point of view, suggesting people move to an OS that simply is impossible to workaround properly, they’d attack you and tell you what a pedestrian PC user you are. Same with AC, if you tell these brainless hipsters that the bulk of AC’s music sucks, they’d tell you that “you don’t know music”, or that “you’re old”.

Official music video: Animal Collective in all their suckiness

Having said that, I do like a few of their songs. “Grass” has 4 stars in my iTunes library, and “My Girls” & “Summertime Clothes” have 3. But all the rest ranges from 1/5 to 2/5, meaning “terrible”. The bulk of their music is simply un-listenable, no matter how many times I listened to it. I did try to get into it because I thought I was actually missing something. But I don’t think I’m missing anything. It’s just annoying noise, from a band that the idiots at Pitchfork (both the editors and their readers) have made-up and idolized. Apparently, there are a lot of other people online who have expressed the same dismay as I have: the best write-up I found is this one, and here are a few more: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Under the exact same rejecting umbrella I also put the Dirty Projectors (DP), and Grizzly Bear (GB). In fact, I hate Dirty Projectors even more than Animal Collective, but at least they’re not making No1 on all these lists (they do make top-10 though), and AC & GB have managed to write a few good songs. Dirty Projectors have NONE. The XX are bullshitting us too this year with the same bass riff on all their songs.

Dirty Projectors: the only cool thing in the video is the llama

I have to admit that I bought Fever Ray’s album after reading about it at Pitchfork. I DID NOT like the music much after I previewed it on iTunes, but what makes the music bearable are her music videos which are way better than the music, but thankfully they go well together. But listening to her music alone I feel that I wasted $10. Anyways, still better than AC, GB, or DP.

Make no mistake, I like experimental bands. I like Cloud Cult, HEALTH and a few more. What I don’t like is “music” that I just can’t hold on to. I don’t like random shit. I have to have a point where the track grabs me and doesn’t change out of the blue in a state that I don’t recognize it anymore. Music for me is something that makes me feel good, that makes me feel high without having to take drugs. Unfortunately, according to some people online, in order to appreciate AC’s music you have to TAKE drugs, not the other way around. See, there’s a difference between pushing the envelope on existing conventions, and tearing down all conventions and sounding like the music was written by a non-human alien creature that has a completely different understanding of music or culture. And honestly, I don’t think that AC’s Baltimore is that different.

For me, the best album of the year was Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zero’s “Up from Below”. But I like stuff like Lady Gaga too. And of course, Blitzen Trapper. And Phoenix. Maylene & The Sons of Disaster. And why not, P!nk. In other words, I like everything from rock, to hard rock, to alt, to folk, and to mainstream pop. And good experimental stuff too. Just not too disconnected stuff that sound like I would be able to write myself in just under an hour by using a fucking Macbook.

In conclusion, I think people just take music magazines’ word too seriously and don’t think for themselves. I’m a stubborn person, and I don’t trust others easily. I definitely don’t trust Pitchfork, which seems to have its own agenda (but that’s another matter).

Just think for yourselves.

Update: An analysis of why I don’t like AnCo, DP, and GB. Explains a few things about my likes and dislikes.

Update 2: After a year, I’m more warmed up to Animal Collective, but I still can’t stomach Dirty Projectors.

Input method on a tablet

So many rumors about the Apple iSlate touchscreen tablet lately. I thought about it tonight, and I believe that the only way to make the default input method acceptable in such a large device (in landscape mode) is to create something like the following image (excuse the bad graphics please):

For the vertical mode the device might just have the right size (or not) to type with both thumbs without having to break the virtual keyboard in two. However, the “right size” can never be as good as adjusting the size of the virtual keyboard, since all people are different.

Santa Maffy – Lory the Dwarf

A great music video, shot with a naked Canon HV40. The director sent me an email saying “I agree with you, 35mm adapter is a useless thing, I sold it“. That’s right, it’s all about knowing how to shoot properly. The editing is particularly great on the video too.

A simple Twitter widget for Android

Developers often over-develop. A grand example for this are the various twitter widgets available presently for Android. They take a lot of space, and they show new tweets, plus they let you update your status. While this might sound to you like a good minimum functionality being offered, it’s in fact over the top.

Except the fact that they take lots of space on the desktop (usually 1/2 of the allowed desktop), showing new tweets by having to press the “next/previous” buttons to scroll in them, and then pressing two-three more clicks to update the status, it makes the whole thing *redundant*. It only takes a SINGLE click (via bookmark desktop link) to load the brand new (and very functional) mobile page of Twitter, which has full functionality, fits more posts per page, and it provides an input box right on the top of the page.

The HTC Hero widget is a bit better than the rest of the Android Twitter widgets since it allows for flicking through the tweets instead of previous/next buttons (they wrote their own code obviously, since Android doesn’t have flicking widget API support), but it still doesn’t offer @ mentions or DM info, it’s very slow to refresh for some reason after I request it to (it takes up to 1 minute here!), it doesn’t use the whole desktop full screen (so there’s lost real screen estate, limiting the amount of posts you can read on a single view), and besides, it’s only available on HTC Sense phones only.

HTC Hero’s huge, slow, and cumbersome Twitter widget:

Screenshot by MobilitySite

To make the long story short, all these people who have developed these complicated and convoluted twitter (and facebook) widgets, are on the wrong usability-wise. I’m sure consumers THINK that this is the functionality they want on their desktop, but in reality, it makes their workflow more difficult than it has to be. Android allows to put bookmark links on the desktop, so all they have to do is add the link to the Twitter’s mobile page. This is a way-faster and more efficient workflow than using twitter via a widget!

Make no mistake, I do want a Twitter widget, but this has to act ONLY as a (1×1 icon sized) notification widget, not as a full-featured client. Sure, Android already has a drop-down notification system, but a widget is more visual, and requires fewer clicks/flicks to get to. Here’s a rough idea of what I’m envisioning:

I can pay $100 (via Paypal) to any Android developer who can implement this (which is of course a symbolic amount rather than covering the true cost). It shouldn’t be ultra-difficult to develop it, it’s definitely much simpler than the rest of the Twitter widgets out there. Here are some pointers of how I wish this to be implemented:

1. Make the widget vector-based (or whatever scalable format Android supports). Basically, design the background graphic, the font size, and the font-spacing in a way that scales well from a 2.8″ 320×240 screen to a 4″+ 1280×720 screen.

2. Clicking the widget loads a pre-selected third party client. The settings of the widget should be a separate app appearing in the main Applications list. The UI for the prefs should look like the main settings of Android (various options on a black background). A few other widget developers that I know have taken this approach too rather than loading the prefs from within the widget itself (especially since we’re dealing with a 1×1-sized widget).

3. The prefs panel should include the following options one way or another:
a. Username/Pass login & logout buttons (secure login please)
b. Update interval
– 15 minutes
– 30 minutes
– 1 hour (default, less than that has battery life impact)
– 2 hours
– 8 hours
– 24 hours
c. Preferred client (to load on click)
– web site (default)
– Twidroid or Twidroid PRO (if installed)
– Seesmic (if installed)
– TwitterRide (if installed)
– Twit2go (if installed)
– Twoid (if installed)
– Twitta (if installed)
– web site (older, WAP site)
d. Refresh (forces a refresh, restarts the update countdown clock)
e. Reset tweets to 0 (in case we already read the tweets elsewhere)
f. About info

4. When you click the widget to load the preferred client, the widget’s timeline/mentions/DMs go down to 0, and the refresh countdown clock restarts.

5. If there’s a Twitter API that tells you when was the last time Twitter was accessed with any client, take that into account when downloading & counting the widget’s new tweets.

6. The widget should be free to download via Market worldwide, and open source (same license as Android itself). The widget should not ask for more system permissions than it actually needs to operate. Host it at Google’s code depot, and make an effort to get it included by default on Android by following their code guidelines (it’s a long shot, but you never know).

7. Keep it lean. You don’t need to download the actual messages for example, only get the unread numbers. Test well for memory leaks, crashes, CPU/battery probs, or breakage with new Android/Twitter API versions. Be responsive to bug reports. No new functionality is needed, except maybe adding new twitter clients in the supported list. Only do that for major & popular apps, so the app might not need updating more than once or twice a year overall after it’s deemed “stable” — which is a pretty good deal maintenance-wise.

So, any takers? Please email me if you’re interested, before you start working on it.

Update: Android developer Stu King will start working on it Jan 1st. Thanks!

Introducing Silver Swans

I shot an interview video yesterday at the Dolores Park for the Bay Area’s new band sensation, Silver Swans, and The OWL Magazine. You can read the accompanying article at the OWL here. Camera info below.

This was my first video with the Canon 5D MkII, even if I had the camera for a while now. It came out good, even if I shot everything in “auto” (hence the small aperture under the harsh light, and no shallow DoF). The handheld park shots were shot with the Canon SX200 IS.

The interesting thing was that SX200 IS’ “flat” look was flatter than 5D’s. Even with me shooting flat with the 5D, Cineform removing some additional contrast, I still had to bring contrast to -12 to get the flat look of SX200’s (which is the look I want, and the look that RED One & film cameras have too). This is something for Canon to fix IMO. The “flat” look of the 5D/7D is not as flat as it should have been. The $300 Canon SX200 IS can look less video-y than these multi-thousand dollar cameras.

An addendum to my previous post

I found two interesting comments on Slashdot about the Vimeo/EMI situation.

The first comment, by Bedroll:

“As the trend towards Internet Television strengthens the monopolies of the content industry weaken. Quality user generated content is a direct competitor to professionally generated content. The content industry has a long history of using the legal system to ensure that they squash the competition.”

The second comment, by Tepples, brushes off on the fact that many musical compositions are similar, even if not on purpose, and so even by using royalty-free music, ASCAP could fight a potential free media revolution:

“[…] ASCAP will be able to dig up something non-free that was written in the past 95 years and happens to sound like the freely-licensed music, making the free license invalid.”

And this is so true: this year alone there were 100,000 album releases. About 1 million songs. Per year. Which makes it utterly impossible to not be songs out there with the same riffs/melodies. Which makes every musician, or user, potentially liable, especially when the copyright has been extended so far back.

What really made me cry last night though (for real), was reading an excerpt from Larry Lessig’s “Free Culture” book. Please do a search on this page, and start reading from the point that reads “Edwin Howard Armstrong is one of America’s forgotten inventor geniuses“, up to “then stepped out of a thirteenth story window to his death“. This bit shows how new things are shot down by established corporations, and how they use the lawmaking system and the government to do their bidding, and then passing their doings as “normal”. It’s a very good parallelism example for the internet age.

Oh, and I really dislike it when people say “but, that’s the law”, when that copyright law was lobbied by corporations, so it’s not how that law should have been in the first place. The law is the law, and I always try to not break it, but at some point you gotta open your eyes too. Otherwise, you allow the system to fuck you in the ass. And if you don’t have respect for yourself today and you allow the fucking to take place, at least have respect for the children of tomorrow, and fight for a more fair law.

I don’t feel safe even using Creative Commons music anymore for my video projects. There’s nothing stopping ASCAP suing me for a CC song that has a melody similar to a 1960s song that I never heard before. And in this country, everyone is suing every one else for no reason most of the time. Too many lawyers probably, gotta do something with ’em.

I personally feel very pressured in the last few months, on all fronts. From the various creepy small laws that I read on the news (“shave your lawn or go to jail” type of crap), to FTC’s new blogging rules, to warrant-less wiretapping, to religious nuts, the never-ending wars, to the continuous stifling of culture and art. I feel that previously established liberties are now getting repressed, one at a time, slowly but surely. And in my own country, Greece, things are getting worse too.

I kind of feel like leaving civilization and go live in the mountains. With as little influence and dependence from the outside world as possible. Get a few goats, possibly a mule too, and give the rest of the world the finger. I just HATE the way this whole world is ran. I’m disappointed, and I see nothing good in it. The few good bits in it, are just that: too few. Too bad that JBQ doesn’t want to join me.

EMI sues Vimeo; Eugenia Stops Buying RIAA Music

We’re audiophiles in this home. This year we spent about $1800 is music purchases. More than anyone we know.

About 40% of all the iTunes/CD purchases were for acts signed to major labels. The rest 60% was all indie.

I hereby make it my resolution for the new year to never buy RIAA/majors’ music ever again. Even if I like some of their songs so much that it makes me cry.

The last straw for all this was learning that EMI sued Vimeo the other day. They claim that Vimeo endorses users to lip dub and that this is copyright infringement. This whole thing is obviously a sham, and just pathetic. Even the Rolling Stone commented that this lawsuit comes out strangely after Vevo going live.

For some of the lip dub videos on Vimeo might be on the fence if they’re eligible under fair use or not, but some are so creative that no matter if a closed minded judge deem them in the future as non-fair use, in my mind they are. These videos do serve as a great advertisement for the labels, but they don’t see it this way.

Most of the music I bought this year it was because it was originally free out there. I downloaded the legally free mp3s, and if I liked what I heard, I’d go to iTunes to sample the rest of the band’s music. And if I liked what I heard, I bought the album. Many times I’ve heard a song on Youtube or Vimeo, asked what it was, and then bought it too (e.g. Feist’s “One Evening”). Instead, the majors (and RIAA), have become over-protective about the whole thing somehow, and they prefer to go to court. I really don’t see the point of all that.

Sometimes I wonder if what they’re trying to do is simply to have restrictions apply to ALL (including indie artists), just so THEY can promote their artists via TV/radio as they always have. You see, the internet PR companies have no power over TV/radio/mags, but they have the internet. The majors on the other hand, they are mighty-powerful on TV/radio/mags, but are only equal in the Internet PR game. If the majors can kill part of the internet hype machine by making video sites add more and more restrictions, then their songs will get more recognized/hyped via the traditional media rather than the Internet. So all these lawsuits against people, youtube, vimeo, might be just a strategic way to kill the indies! Destroy the competition by simply destroying THEIR TOOLS (aka the Internet way of doing things).

Rest assured, I’m not against the notion of copyright. What I’m against is the lawmaker’s abusing of that notion to make copyright laws worse and worse as the time goes by. Originally, copyright was meant to last 25 years. Now, with amendments on the law, we’re looking in to a century (in EU too). And the fair use allotments are simply too limited. They were written before the age of Youtube. Instead of the lawmakers taking these changes into mind to change the law, they make the law even more draconian, paying lip service to RIAA. The new international treaty that the media companies are cooking up for all countries is definitely not going to be pretty either.

As a media creator, I have already moved to Creative Commons for my music needs for 2 years now. I don’t touch non-CC music for my video projects.

As a media consumer, December 2009 is the time where I stop buying the major’s music. And if an indie label gets on the same tune as RIAA, I’d ban it too.

I ask all of you to think about this. If you read comments online, many say that “RIAA and the majors will fall soon”, but this is NOT TRUE. The only way to have them fall is if we don’t buy their products. These guys are not going anywhere if they still have money in their pockets.

The Gandhi way, is the ONLY way.

Update: An update to this article can be found here.

My favorite bands this year

Discovering new artists has been my hobby this year — even replacing videography as my #1 interest. Here are the artists I discovered this year, and I believe that they are the best of the best newcomers. Regarding Blitzen Trapper and Portugal. The Man, I knew about them since 2007, but it was only this year that I actually got into them for good.

Find legal, free mp3s in the links provided.

[I like the three first just the same]

1. Blitzen Trapper
1. Cloud Cult
1. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

4. Paper Route
5. Malbec
6. Seabird
8. Living Things
9. Cage the Elephant
10. Portugal. The Man

Right now, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are on a constant rotation. I try to get into other music in my 39 GB iTunes library, but I keep going back to them. Their album is one of the best in our decade, in my opinion.

My favorite song of theirs, the “Desert Song“, is one of my all time favorites too. Very avant-garde. The video too. If these guys had proper PR behind them, this song would have been a classic already.

Caprica, a review

SyFy Channel put up on their web site an extended-cut version of Caprica’s 2-hour pilot, for free. I’ve watched the teaser scenes the channel put up early this year, and I didn’t like it back then. It really felt like a boring soap opera. And in fact, there was a huge online backlash from people feeling exactly like I was.

Having watched the actual pilot though, I can conclude only two things: either we were all wrong, or in the 9 months following the teasers SyFy re-shot part of the pilot to make the show more sci-fi than it originally was meant to be. Apparently, that’s what happened: they added/changed scenes based on feedback from the DVD version that was released a few months ago.

The story is taking place 50+ years before the annihilation of the 12 colonies by the Cylons. It shows the first baby steps of Cylons, how they were created and why. Most importantly, it will show how Cylons will get to acquire their artificial intelligence, and how this will end to the first Cylon war.

What I liked:

– The pacing was good.
– The characters were interesting and were evolving well.
– The CGI were good.
– The story was moving from tech to soap and back to tech with a good pace.
– Learning and seeing more about the rest of the Colonies was a nice touch.

What I did not like:

– The technology shown was uneven. We see a USB key (yes, actual USB), 2008 model cars, and… coin-operated park meters (that looked very old even for our own standards), while at the same time they have very advanced virtual reality systems, robots, and even spaceships. Overall, it’s a ’50s noir era for fashion, but with 2000s and futuristic tech. I personally find it laughable, cheap, and a cop out.

– This really pissed me off: [Spoiler] When the daughter’s data were corrupted inside the Cylon, we are given the impression that the father lost the data. Which is not freaking possible, since there is this thing called BACKUP. Digital data that can be copied once, can also be copied unlimited times. So when the father shouted “nooooo…”, like he lost his daughter’s data, that was completely unrealistic. It was disrespectful to my intelligence.

– The Cylon’s voice is robotic, while even a Powerbook at 500 Mhz can re-create the human voice. In fact, their house robot had a human voice. There was no reason for the Cylon to have a robotic voice, other than for being faithful to the original series.

– That God/Gods shit is all over the pilot, and I don’t like religious themes in my sci-fi. It’s like adding mustard in my soup. Having said that, the show does deal with a theme that will become more prevalent for us too, in this century: God, human’s desire to imitate him via science, and the polarization that this will create.

– The audio in the external scenes is bad (seriously vocodized too in order to cut out noise). The show needs a better sound guy.

Despite all that though, the pilot is definitely watchable. It could be better if SyFy had more money in order to expand the Colonies worlds.

Rating: 7/10

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

I first learned about Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros during this past summer, via their legal & free mp3 downloads, and their DayTrotter session. I liked the songs a lot, but I didn’t think much of the band. I didn’t check them further on iTunes.

Tonight, the RCRD.BL net-label offered one more free & legal mp3 download from the band’s debut album, which I downloaded and listened. Well, that song was… different. It had an epic feel in it. Half of it was in Spanish too. So I decided to check these guys out a bit more. I smelled there was more to them than I originally thought. And surely there was:

Official music video of “Home”

– This is a 12-piece band (sometimes more)!
– They seem to be hippies, and they tour the US in their white school bus.
– Edward Sharpe is a pseudonym for Alex Ebert, who used to be the singer of Ima Robot, a… power-pop band.

Needless to say that the Magnetic Zeros music has absolutely nothing to do with cheesy power-pop. A lot of it is reminiscent of the ’60s rock, but other parts remind me of Arcade Fire, or alt.folk. And by having such a large band, they have a very rich sound, with many different instruments used (trumpet, accordion etc).

However, there’s something very interesting about this band. See, the front-man Alex Ebert wants to do a musical based on his music. So far 2 out of the 12 parts of his feature-length musical project has been shot and released to the public. When all are completed they will tell a story. So far, the videos look great! Worth a look for sure!

Desert Song, Part 1/12 (shot with a Canon 5D MkII)

Kisses Over Babylon, Part 2/12 (shot with a RED One)

That’s one band and album you don’t want to miss out. If they don’t run out of money and are able to complete their 12-part story, it would become one amazing piece of art. Something that people would refer as a “classic” in the years to come.

If only I knew of all this just a week earlier, so I wouldn’t have to miss their San Francisco show last Saturday.