One of the most beautiful videos and songs of last year. Simple, but yet dreamy and powerful. Directed by the amazing Video Marsh.
Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category (feed)
Watching that train wreck of a Madonna show at the Super-Bowl half-time made me feel even more about how gullible most humans are. Are we really that easily dazzled with shiny costumes, props, and ultra-canned choreography? I mean, that spectacle was just ridiculous when we try to look at it from far away. There we had Madonna, dressed like a bastardized Roman-Egyptian clown, 50 more dancers supporting this well-organized stupidity, all running around like idiots and try to fit every dance move ever within 12 minutes. The show didn’t feel coherent, it had no big idea behind it, other than to impose onto the masses.
To be honest, I was going to write this blog post in early December, after we came back from the Google Android party. I stopped short of writing my rant back then, because it would have been ungrateful of me (there I was, invited and all paid-for, and I was complaining on top of all this). But I think it’s more disingenuous of me not talking about it. I never hold back my raw thoughts (sorry, but that’s my best feature along my naturally big boobs), so why would I do so now?
Basically, at that party we had acrobatics, we had some Brazilian dance performers, and finally, an ’80s cover band. I found the whole thing cheesy as hell. The acrobatics reminded me of the Medieval clowns putting their limbs in danger for our amusement (it felt degrading to me), the Brazilian dance performers were over the top (I don’t mind their dance, but I don’t get the whole costume thing), and the cover band was just ridiculous trying to imitate Madonna and other ’80s pop stars. Why in the love of God would I want to listen to re-chewed hits from the ’80s?
In retrospect, that night was just an expensive, but shallow spectacle. Some fancy/shiny things thrown at a few hundred engineers and their wives. And that’s what really bothered me: here we have some of the smartest, educated professionals in the world, all in one building, and they get thrown some burlesque-type bullshit? Where was the art? Where was the pushed envelop to tease their intellect? Where was the next step of entertainment? Definitely not in that building that night.
To be clear, I don’t mind a spectacle that actually has a soul. I spoke of Madonna earlier, but Madonna has had in the past simpler and more amazing choreography. When I watch the linked video I feel something, I connect with the song and its atmosphere. The whole thing is impressionistic. The devil is in the details, I guess. Instead, on Super-Bowl we got a 53-year old Madonna play-acting a fucking cheerleader.
I’d say that there are three kinds of performances: the spectacle one, the live music show one, and an actual artistic performance. I believe that each has its place, and each can be good or bad. For example, I’ve seen quite a few indie bands so far, some were good live, some were less good, and some were disastrous. I’m not talking about how well they played their instruments or how well they sang, but rather how well were able to take away their audience. I found The Soft Moon to be among the best live bands today.
Regarding artistic performances, I think few can do better than John Maus. The guy is the anti-spectacle spectacle, the anti-Madonna. There he goes on the stage with his running shoes, and jeans that usually fall off mid-performance when he forgets to wear a belt. He sings karaoke to his own songs (he has no backing band), with the vocal track intact, and he often stops the songs abruptly and moves on to the next one. But of course, that’s not the real treat in his performance. Instead, you get this intimidatingly tall guy screaming like a maniac in and out of the microphone, hitting his face and chest with his own fists, often blacking out his own eyes, pulling his own hair, and head-banging so hard like he’s drilling for oil. While I rather have him not abuse himself this way for the audience’s entertainment, his personal need to “appear”, or for art’s sake (it’s not a comfortable sight watching him hurt himself), he’s definitely unique. And fucking real.
For those who never heard of “Two Steps from Hell“, allow me to introduce them to you. They’re a music production company in Hollywood that employs some classicaly-trained musicians to write operatic music for movies — although their main market is writing music for… movie trailers. As a side job, they also release full-length albums with great success. Their two albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” are some of the most-sold among contemporary classical works.
Their music is interesting. If you take these songs individually, they sound pretty good. They are all very catchy, epic, and can make some people feel like they’re the intellectual ones in their bunch, listening to cooler music than Foo Fighters. But it’s an illusion.
These albums are a great example as to why most people today don’t listen to classical music: because it’s a language from another time. It does not mirror our modern life. Music has this magical ability to describe feelings that we might have hidden deep inside us about the world we live in. When we listen to a piece that well-describes our life today (musically, not lyrically), it can evoke certain feelings that otherwise remain indescribable.
And that’s the problem with “Two Steps from Hell”. These guys are good copy-cats of the golden age of Opera. They studied what modern people find cool about opera/classical music when they cursory listen to it, and then they compress these few elements together in 2:30 minute pieces. Each of these pieces are a copy of each other in reality. Listening to these albums offers absolutely no variety. It’s from one high note to another, resulting in a shallow result at the very end.
Don’t get me wrong. These musicians know how to write very catchy classical music, they’re unquestionably talented. They have an uncanny way of providing the goods, and duping the common listener into thinking that they’re listening amazing, modern classical music. But what they listen to instead is a smart algorithm, a recipe. Over and over again.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my desire to see a kind of truly modern electronic-based “classical” music. I provided some examples from artists that touch this hopefully-upcoming sub-genre, but I think I should provide one more example, which is a piece that’s closer to what “Two Steps from Hell” do (more operatic that is). This is what the talented musicians at “Two Steps from Hell” should be doing. THIS is the kind of “classical” music (witch-house in this case) that can work today (use headphones to spot the differences). THIS is modern classical music, and not a wanna-be. THIS speaks TODAY.
Almost exactly a year ago The Guardian wrote an article about “rock’n'roll” being dead. Today, they had a new article where they say that “indie rock” is dead, citing disappointing sale figures for the genre, and the fact that no new major stars are coming out of it. I will argue against this new article on two of its points, but first we need to understand what “indie rock” means. For the author of the article it encompasses anything that has guitars in it, and happens to be coming from an independent label.
The fact that no big arena stars are coming out from the indie scene is not a bad thing. The sales speak for themselves, the numbers are down for guitar-based music. And that’s for a multitude of reasons: Britpop-style or alternative-rock-style music had its time in the ’90s, and these days are now over. Another reason is that there are over 100,000 albums coming out every year, so sales are divided more now, rather than having a handful of embraced artists selling millions of records and then having the rest selling almost nothing. Being a musician is just a job now, only the best ones will be able to make a buck and go by. Don’t expect Hollywood villas, and Rolls Royce anymore. I’m personally content with that reality. It’s for the best, as we’re maturing as a society. More people are doing art, resulting in more radical art, and that art becomes less commercialized since it usually comes from musicians that don’t even have a label contract. My prediction is that as artists lose their “star” status, and as art becomes more democratized, more radical art emerges. The winners will be artistry itself, and our society as a whole.
Secondly, I don’t get what the big deal is about guitar music. Like all the other kinds of music or instruments, it had its time as a center-stage sound. It’s being in the fore-front for 50 years now. Whatever kind of melody/harmony a guitar can produce, it has already been done. There’s very little to explore, musically-speaking, via a guitar anymore. It’s time to move to naturally-impossible, more interesting sounds, sounds that can only be done via computers/synthesizers. This is not to say that guitar sounds don’t have to be used anymore. I mean, we still use pianos, or violins, or other older instruments to enrich our modern sound. But the difference is that these sounds are not at the center stage anymore, they’re there as part of the whole, they don’t overtake the whole arrangement.
I know that I will take shit for saying that stuff about guitars, but it’s only natural musical evolution. Times change, people change, music changes. It’s inevitable, and I have no recourse but to embrace that change. I personally find modern electronic music (e.g. Nightlands, Washed Out) way more engaging, unpredictable, and atmospheric than acts like Wilco, or The Black Keys. And even if you’re more into rock than electronic, the truly modern rock bands, like Phoenix or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, use the guitar as a secondary or equal element to synthesizers. That’s the way forward: No guitar, or a guitar that blends with modern instruments and doesn’t overpower.
As much as I’d like to sell my sci-fi script to Hollywood, at the same time I hate all the lawyering and politics behind it. I now read that Warner Bros will make its DVDs arrive even later on Netflix than usual, and that Apple, like Google & Amazon, is unable to secure deals for TV/movie content in any manner that makes financial sense. Big Content is trying to keep back progress as much as it can, by only licensing its property to traditional outlets.
There is only one solution for this chicken-and-egg TV problem: make your own content. And when you start winning, Hollywood will come and beg you to carry their content! Netflix is the first company to go this route by re-creating content: by shooting its own TV series. Google has already pledged $100mil via YouTube for original web TV series too. Apple hasn’t initiated anything of sorts so far, neither it’s in its style to do so.
There are three possibilities here:
1. These original series will only make a blip, and nothing really changes.
2. Big Content gets a clue and embraces the new mediums for lower licensing costs.
3. Studios abroad start creating Hollywood-worthy content, for cheaper, and initiate a cultural revolution that brings American media to its knees.
Of course, option #1 is the most likely one to happen unfortunately. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that if all three (Netflix, Apple, Google) come together to share costs, they can put $1 billion aside per year for the creation of TV series and movies. Content that would be shot and post-produced abroad, using mostly non-Union unknown American actors & writers/directors. Unlike media companies that are on the brink of financial disaster, these tech companies HAVE money to spend.
As I’ve written before, I truly believe that great quality television can be produced for $500,000 to $800,000 per episode, or even cheaper, when shooting abroad on a place like the Balkans, South America, or China. As for a full-length movie, with enough talent you can do miracles from anywhere $1mil to $3mil per movie. $1 billion dollars per year gives enough room for 50 twelve-episode-per-season TV series, and 250 movies (or 100 movies with higher budget). Such work would be free from MPAA and FCC regulations too, allowing for free expression and radical ideas in the work, something that’s missing from networked TV series and movies today in the US. Not to mention that duration of an one-hour TV show can go back at 55 mins, instead of the laughable 42 minutes we get today (a few location/user-specific ads can run at the beginning of the show, but not during). And there won’t be any reason for streaming IP restriction for any country! As long as a show is released, everyone with a smart TV everywhere in the world gets it!
Such a large amount of on-demand products is enough to bring people to these new “smart” TV devices, they are enough to make the viewers “cut the cord“. In the beginning, they will be few doing so, but as the numbers will grow, the cable TV industry will start to crumble, because their sourcing media companies still operate with huge budgets that are unsustainable, while at the same time their customers would wither away. Those who will still remain subscribed would mainly be sports viewers, but if in year 2012 you’re still avid fan of professional sports, in my mind, you’re entertainment-retarded (hate away).
Bottom line is that content is king. And I believe that Apple/Google/Amazon/Netflix can go for such a pact together. But they have to be united for this to work. Hollywood would have no alternative but to join away eventually. There would be 3-5 years of adjustment for everyone, and a few flying lawsuits of course, but eventually, content must be freed one way or another. If common sense doesn’t work with Big Content, if enough money on the table doesn’t work either, then competition WILL work. Have the motherfucking sharks in Hollywood die off of a streaming starvation.
The text below was meant as a comment reply to my friend Glenn, but I think the subject warrants its own blog post:
Art becomes problematic when money is the object, because in order to make money, the artist must “comply” with the mainstream pop culture & limits of the time. Wild experimentation would result in a financial disaster, so no risks are taken. But it’s that experimentation that propels both art & our world forward. See, if you do pop music exactly because it’s easily consumable, and because you want to make a buck, then no, what you do, is not art. It’s a product.
My previous article was meant to go against the powerful mechanisms of capital and power in particular, who would manufacture “art” in order to sell to the masses, rather than because it’s good art. Just today I was reading this, where 6 media giants (in cahoots), get to decide 90% of the entertainment that gets served to the population. This is not just money we’re talking about here, but it’s POWER. When you control that much of the art people use, then you control these people, plain and simple.
That’s why I mostly listen to bedroom pop these days. 90% of my music experience is music written by young people in their bedrooms, who give their music for free (usually, but not always), and self-publish mostly via Bandcamp. These artists don’t even offer a picture of their faces to accompany their albums or their Tumblr blogs, while these one-man projects are usually hidden behind a pseudonym. In other words, this is 100% antithetic to what mainstream show business are. Plus, this kind of “chillwave” music speaks to me volumes about our situation today, about how we feel, or how we want to feel, rather than a sterile Katy Perry or a Lady Gaga song would ever be able to do so.
Regarding video we are still in the dawn of true indie video. Good cameras have just become to become affordable. For video, it’s like we live in 2003, in terms of computer music tool availability. Consider that chillwave took off in 2009. So by 2018 or so, I think we should be having amazing short films or other artistic videos, mostly for free on Vimeo. Sure, we already do have some (e.g. Matthew Brown’s work), just not as many.
I mean, just like with bedroom pop, I expect that artistic indie video will go to a different direction, to a new dawn of cinematic experience where the aesthetics, senses and emotions get 10x higher than in a normal narrative movie — for those who can “decode” the style. Chillwave was never about competing with mainstream pop, instead the Internet-sprouted genre was surprisingly current, and much more emotional: I listen to “Skin” by FiveNG for example, and I get transcended like I’m on a voodoo ritual. I listen to Washed Out’s “You & I“, and I get so fucking horny, that no other music ever managed to do so. I listen to “New Theory” by Washed Out, and my eyes fill up with tears with nostalgia about a place and time that was, but never really was. No other kind of mainstream music, ever, was able to do this to me. Maybe it helps that I’m a synesthete, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because I give music a chance to open up to me. But since this hasn’t happen with any other genre or mainstream art before, I do give the credit for these high emotions and thoughts they inflict on me to the very fact that bedroom pop was created by real humans for a multiplicity of reasons (but all these reasons were pure), and not by an established capital power encouraging the masses to simply consume and obey.
To make it more visual: mainstream pop is like eating donuts. Full of corn syrup and wheat flour, among other additives, fried in PUFA oil. You eat some, your insulin spikes, and an hour later you need more because that’s what sugar does to you! You end up fat, sick, and dead inside. You become a slave of the system, of a chain of events that only stop when you die. True music instead is like eating a steak with a mix of veggies as a side. It’s a less interesting proposition at first, but it provides true nutrition, and after a while, this “real food” is the only food you eat, but you don’t necessarily “crave”, because craving itself is a symptom of the metabolic syndrome.
So similarly to music, I don’t expect this new kind of video art to try and compete with Avatar or Star Wars, but instead, be truly different. We live in the dawn of a new kind of filmmaking, which is truly impressionistic in nature. The people who will have their brains and eyes open, will feast on it. The rest, they can stay slaves of the powers of capital, who mostly serve pedestrian love war-stories. Good luck to them.
If you were to ask me which is my favorite contemporary music work (album) of all time I’d have a hard time answering. The first thing that would sprout to mind would either be Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or Madonna’s “Madonna”. Surely enough these are classic pop albums, but I can’t say that they fill up my music sensibilities in this day and age.
The first thing I’m looking on a piece of music is atmosphere. I need it to make me feel a particular way, I care not about lyrics taking that role — in fact I’d like the human voice to be used as an blended or reverbed “instrument”, and only appear sparingly. Melody and harmony are important too, but not as much as the emotional imprint that the music is supposed to generate via its atmosphere. Finally, I really don’t care if the singer can actually sing, or if the band can play their instruments perfectly or not. As long as they can manage their way around, it’s good enough.
As for the actual kind of music I want to listen to, I don’t think it exists yet. I believe that musically we currently are in the early years of the genre I long for. And what’s that genre?
Think of Beethoven, Handel, Bach, Dvořák, Wagner, Verdi, and Mozart. Now mix in there some M83, Soft Moon, John Maus, Washed Out, Austra, Beat Connection, and Caribou. There you have it, “electro-classical”, or something like that.
What I envision is a gapless record, over 45 mins, starting with an ethereal atmosphere, then getting more intense, complex and poppy, then dark, heavy & gloomy, and ending by dialing back down to the ethereal mode. It would basically be a symphony with operatic elements, utilizing synthesizers (and classical instruments when needed), but within the scope of modern electronic music: edgy (listen to “Jamelia” below for a sample). Overall it should sound like an “epic” but twisted sci-fi movie soundtrack.
In the past 3-4 years we had new bands “retro-fying” the ’60s (surf-rock), ’70s (e.g. Blitzen Trapper), and ’80s (new wave/chillwave), but how about re-imagining the classical era in a more modern setting? How about we go further than these 3-minute songs that are usually pretty standard in construction, on a strict periodic rhythm? What if what we’re missing today is the EPIC-ness of it all? Is it a sign of our times that we aren’t dreaming big, or feeling big? Is this because of socio-political reasons, repressing us and making us feel “full” on a 3-minute “cute” pop song? We need to strive for more, to keep pushing the boundaries! I truly think it’s time for our music to reflect the progressive part of our generation. The people who want free healthcare. Who want no wars. Who do want to go to Mars and dream of becoming astronauts. Who instead are striving for the greatness of our species. This can only be mirrored by music via such a kind of genre that marries the Old Works with the new tools and ideas.
Stream the following tracks below, to feel what *I kind of* envision:
- Washed Out – “Feel it All Around”
- M83 – “Moonchild”
- M83 – “Fields, Shorelines & Hunters”
- M83 – “*”
- Caribou – “Jamelia” (M83 above & this probably come closest to my vision the most)
- Soft Moon – (everything on their catalog: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- John Maus – “Keep Pushing On”
- John Maus – “We can breakthrough”
- Austra – “The Beat and the Pulse”
- Beat Connection – “Theme from Yours Truly”
- Washed Out – “New Theory”
From all the current popular artists, I believe that the only ones who could achieve such a record are either M83, John Maus, or Caribou. M83 have practical experience by being close to the genre, while John Maus has the necessary academic & classical knowledge to achieve something like it, if he decides to go for a more involved production. Caribou on the other hand (PhD in Math), has already written a song that comes closest to my vision, the genius “Jamelia”. Or maybe they could all collaborate…
My favorite music videos of the year, the ones I had on “repeat” all year on my Roku’s Vimeo TV app, from artistic, filmmaking, editing, and “fits the music” points of view.
1. The Soft Moon – “Into The Depths”
Director: Will Joines
Cinematographer: Zoë White
Editor: Sowjanya Kudva
Exhilarating, while reaching at the darkest parts of ourselves. This video is the only window I have to “understand” people who enjoy hurting themselves by one way or another. The fear and angst are undisputedly there, but ultimately they can’t run away from the thrills of self-harming.
2. Craft Spells – “After The Moment”
Director, Cinematographer, Editor: Tyler T Williams
A mind-bending story/puzzle, edited in a very modern style. I find this video both simple at first sight, but pretty complex after you try to take it apart in your head to examine how it was edited together. The atmosphere is just so spot-on.
3. Caribou – “Jamelia”
Director: Video Marsh
Cinematographer, editor: Nic Brown
Contemporary filmmaking, right there, yo! To some people this very fade look and at-first incoherent pictures might be a turn off. But the music has such a high, reaching the highs of classical music, that the video properly stands up to the challenge presented by the music. This is a video I think I could never make. It takes a different kind of thought, one that I admire, but I admit that I don’t possess. Yes, there’s a story in there, watch!
4. Rendezvous – “The Murf”
Animator, director: Scott Benson
This is my favorite animation, probably ever. The music video is really a sci-fi short story, spanning millions of years. Very cool to watch, far-reaching, funny at times too.
5. Danger Beach – “Apache”
Director: Ned Wenlock
Animator: Rodney Selby
My second most favorite animation ever. The music is simple but addictive, and the animation is very cute, fitting perfectly to the music. Pretty complex to make it, I imagine.
Woodkid – “Iron”
Director: Yoann “Woodkid” Lemoine
Cinematographer: Mathieu Plainfosse
This is the most “epic” video of all this last year. Woodkid is also a TV commercials filmmaker himself, but he kept his best video for one of his own songs. The video looks a lot like beautiful still frames of a fashion magazine, but it’s kind of lacking substance when watched on repeat. This is the reason that it’s not on the top-5.
Florence + The Machine’s new album “Ceremonials” seems to be the album of the year for most listeners. I’ve never seen so much positive feedback on any album before on iTunes. There were only very few negative reviews, while about 99% of the reviews giving the album a 5/5 rating. This was astonishing actually, truly something I haven’t seen before for any album.
But personally, I can’t stomach Florence and her “music”. She irks me to no end. And here’s why: she just doesn’t stop fucking singing (or shouting). She sings from one end to the other, about 95% of the duration of each song! She overpowers everything, there is absolutely no “music” to speak of in there. She just takes over, in a selfish, self-important role somehow, telling us “how it is”, leaving nothing to our imagination. There is no ambiance, there’s no atmosphere. There’s just Florence. The music that exists in the album is just background noise, just so Florence doesn’t appear acapella. It’s even mixed very low!
Make no mistake, Florence can write very nice hooks, in a way that other musicians simply can’t, no matter how hard they try. I do not question her talent to write great melodies and harmonies! But having easy-listening music is not the end all. You need a proper production too, a production which brings a balance between the voice, and the music. Such balance does not exist in Florence’s albums, especially in the second one. In a very surprising twist for me, Pitchfork had the exact same complain about Florence’s album, when awarded it with a 6/10.
But as I wrote in the beginning, people apparently love the style. Which to me is very disappointing, because this shows that most people today are sheep. They prefer to listen to a kind of music that’s hollow and straight to their faces. I can’t see much difference between Florence’s music and than saying “please government, give me more restrictive laws, I love those, because they tell me exactly what to do, what not to do, and how to think“. Maybe I’m overreaching here, but that’s how I feel about Florence’s (and Gaga’s, and Rihanna’s, and any other’s plain pop act’s) listeners: they want to be told how to think and feel. It’s like there’s no imagination or creativity left in these people’s brains anymore! They leach upon Florence’s instead. It’s the “easy” way out of art.
As I’ve written in the past, all this is why I stopped listening to mainstream pop and moved to what it’s now called “indie alternative”. Because alternative, puts way fewer limits to the listener. As a synesthete, I need to be able to build on top of a musical piece, I need to bring myself into it, and fill in the gaps that the artist left intentionally for me. This way, I become one with the work, in a personal and unique manner. Washed Out’s first EP in 2009 for example, was perfect for my needs. One of the most perfect music I ever heard (didn’t quite like as much his new album though).
Anyway, this kind of indie, alternative psych music I prefer is a lot like taking a philosophy test at school. There are questions, and there are hints in the questions, but there are no answers, you will have to squeeze your brain and provide these. But with mainstream pop, the test itself is a multiple-choice one, with the “right” answers already checked in! In other words, the music I prefer is READ-WRITE, while mainstream pop is READ-ONLY.
With Florence, I can’t do read-write. Florence occupies all the space. To like her music I must become her blind follower while she must become my priestess. And I’m not the kind of person who follows others blindly in any way. If anything, I’m known to have strong opinions and hold on to them. I try to progress myself through art and other means, but I can’t follow a fucking cult. That might be a kind of art, but it’s not my kind of art.
Here’s the trailer for “Like Crazy“, a movie shot with the Canon 7D for just $250k, sold to Paramount for wide distribution in the theaters. Two-three known actors also in it (most would remember Anton Yeltsin as “Checov” in the new Star Trek movie). It would be interesting to go see this at the theater, if not just to check out how dSLR footage scales out in a gigantic screen, but the movie is great beyond its technical standpoints: it won the prize for best dramatic feature at Sundance.