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Techno-bio update

I’ve gotten a bit behind in my posts for this blog, even though I’ve had a lot of ideas!  There are two reasons for this.  The first is the insanity of the last week before break, with midterms and suchlike.  The second reason is more interesting: a lot of my internet time has been devoted to my other blog, which I just started using (“writing for”? “posting on”? not sure of the proper verbiage here) again.  This music-centric blog, which can be found HERE, is one that I created over the summer because I thought, hey, it’s the summer, why not give this blogging thing a try.  After spending quite a while picking the right platform/theme/personal design, I stuck with it for about two weeks (when I used to play The Sims, I enjoyed designing the house WAY more than trying to maintain my whiny little avatars’ shitty lives).  There were some weird issues with my embeddable audio player, and more importantly, I thought to myself, “wait, why do I have a blog?  What’s the point, exactly?”

The posting just felt a bit obligatory.  But now I’ve had a bit of a change of mindset, and I think it has a lot to do with this class.  About a week ago, I started posting on the Ashtray Says blog again (a date which roughly coincides with my silence on this blog), and I’ve been really enjoying it.  Perhaps this class has turned me on a bit to the “value” of blogging (something I’m not quite sure of myself, yet), but I think it has more to do with some sort of vague value I’ve picked up in our class about using the internet with…intention, I suppose.  In a way that feels beneficial and not frivolous?  Perhaps this will make more sense as I continue.

Several factors converged in my decision to start blogging on The Ashtray Says again.  First of all, I had been meaning to write a review for Titus Andronicus’ new album The Monitor for a while, just to try my hand at writing a longish album review, something I haven’t done much of.  If not post it on my blog, what the hell was I going to do with it?  Post it as a Facebook note, I suppose, which has sort of been my lame excuse for blogging in the past few months when I’ve wanted to post music-related lists.  Also, a few of the internships I was applying for want to see writing samples, and they wanted at least one to be on a blog.

Then, just as I was finishing the Titus Andronicus review, a serendipitous thing happened: my Arts editors at the Campus asked if I had a record review they could use, because the column “For the Record”, usually covered by two guys, needed a review for this week.  Then I thought, I write blog-appropriate articles for the Campus pretty often, why not have those in a consolidated place like my blog?  (I have no idea the legality of this with a free newspaper like the Campus…)  Then I thought, well hey, by that token, I do mini reviews of new albums for WRMC all the time, why not have some record of those as well?  Then there’s this idea of just having some sort of canonical (ish?) record of the music/culture/internet stuff that interests me, all in one place.  When I actually think about it, it’s pretty silly, because it’s not really a record of all the things I consume at all, but….well, you get the idea.

So far, these are all self-centered reasons: having my thoughts and writings on culture consolidated in one place so that I can look at them all.  Plus, there’s that Sims-house-designing pleasure of making them look nice.  But there’s publishing/distribution reasons as well.  A lot of the time lately, I’ll hear a great new song or see a video I like, and I spend a lot of time doing some combination of: sending them to individuals via facebook or email, posting them as facebook statuses or tweets, and telling people verbally/showing them in person.  This brings me to my favorite discovery about wordpress: automatic publishing to facebook and twitter!  Now, whenever I post on The Ashtray Says, a facebook link and a tweet are automatically generated.  I apologize in advance for this…

This saves me some time, I think?  And it creates a better chance of someone reading the posts I make, even if these people are only directly connected to me via twitter or facebook.  This has also led me to discover the awesome “blog stats” section that our ridiculously, hilariously limited MIDDBLOGZ don’t have.  I can see patterns of how my posting and publishing correspond with the number of views on my blog, down to how many views each specific post has received and how people linked to it.  I won’t get into it too much, but one cool thing happened when I made my new posts just an hour or so ago.  Within minutes of me posting, 14 people had visited my new posts (not a bad number for such a short time on my measly little blog).  I figured these stemmed from the facebook/twitter auto updates, but they had all originated from a site called “alphainventions.com”, which is some weird site that cycles through recent wordpress posts in an almost chatroulette-like level of rapidity.  Since that initial flurry (again, about an hour ago), my blog has received no more visits.  Thought that was kind of interesting.

Suppose I should tie this back to our class.  My reasons for explaining all this crap: 1) there was a direct, seemingly significant connection between this new habit and my lack of blogs for “Cap’n Toren’s blah blah”.  2) Because I think my decision to start blogging again has very much to do with the internet-stuff we’ve done for this class, and my decision to link The Ashtray Says, facebook, and twitter together has to do with something I’ve learned in this class as well.  Something like…thinking of the internet as a tool, and trying to use that tool intelligently.  I feel I’ve created something that is very enjoyable for me and has a tangible, if not immediately practical, output.

I think I could delve deeper here, but I’d better go to bed now, because I’m getting up and going to Boston and Providence for most of the week tomorrow morning.  In the spirit of “Disconnected” (that’s what it was called, right?), I’ll be refraining from texting this week….more on that in a later post.  I leave you with a ballin remix video that my brother just showed me.  It mashes up clips of John Locke to fit the lyrics of “Like a Boss”, the Lonely Island song originally paired with an Andy Samberg digital short on SNL.  The last minute kinda sucks, but a lot of the middle section is real clever.  I’ll probably post it on my other blog later….or something.  I’m still figuring out just what to do with all my favorite bits of culture….so many options.  GO INTERNET.

my review of “Nobody”

Last Sunday, a film written & directed by Rob Perez ’95 (screenwriter – 40 Days and 40 Nights) called nobody (no caps intentional) screened in Dana to a small audience consisting mostly of Screenwriting II students required to go for class.  I attended in order to write up a review for the Campus, and here’s the link to that review.  Thought I’m not a fan of the headline my editors made up or the artificial paragraph breaks they introduced when they transferred it to the web, I am pretty proud of the article.  I don’t think I’ve ever written anything so negative, but it sure was a blast to channel my negative feelings while watching the film into some sort of definitive product.  Perhaps there’s a pathetic small-time newspaper power trip aspect to it as well…I’ll let you decide.

But I wanted to write a brief post about something in my review that I was reminded of in class.   Here’s a brief excerpt:

Maybe ‘Nobody’ is in on its own joke, I pondered, when one of the über-critical art school students prophetically utters that a piece is ‘so derivative it’s not even derivative.’ If such a feat is possible, ‘Nobody’ accomplishes it, for it is unique in the totality of its unoriginality.

I was reminded of this during our discussion of “originality” vs. “derivativeness” or whatever you’d like to call it.  I think what Lethem’s article does is remind us that our negative connotations around the word “derivative” are perhaps a bit unfair. nobody, on the other hand, offers a vision of derivation at it’s worst.  Even though Lethem’s article is derived entirely from the words of others, it is still synthesized into a remarkably coherent piece of work and driven by a spirit of artistic invention.  nobody wears it’s precedents right on its sleeve, but the preexisting elements feel blandly slapped together with little sense of inventiveness, bravery, or artistic spirit.  The stock art-school types that serve as characters are probably the best example of this: they are not invested with anything except the broadest stereotypes, leading them to seem like caricatures.  There are myriad other problems with the movie (it’s a seriously unfunny comedy, for one), but this issue pertaining to our class discussion certainly was one of the problems.

a whole buncha stuff

Figured I’d post links to/embed a bunch of videos that I thought of during our discussion in class yesterday.  It’s a pretty random bundle, but they’re all quite funny or interesting or weird.  So check them out, w/ a little blurb about each, after the jump. For some reason I’m having troubles with embedding video, and it should be super simple so I can’t fathom the reasons for that. So I’m just gonna do the links, and maybe go back and embed later when I figure out what the ()#@*% is wrong.

Click here to read more

“found” // The Books

During my reading of Lessig’s Remix (a fantastic read), I thought it would be nice to take a moment about an interesting little musical duo called The Books.  They’ve recorded several albums that typically combine electronically-manipulated guitar, cello/violin, and bass with obscure, quirky “found sound”.  My guess is that no one’s getting on their case about the sound they use; I think most of it comes from such obscure sources (academic lectures, home videos, random street recordings) that the originators of the recordings probably don’t have any idea that their audio is being used; nor would they care if they did know.  So this doesn’t exactly pertain to Lessig’s discussion of copyright law, but I find their music fascinating for they way they create a touching semblance of “real life” from collages of bizarre, scattershot audio.  Sometimes these bits are funny and a little bit shocking, as in the case of the clip that begins their song “Motherless Bastard”.  This byte was allegedly captured accidentally by one of the musicians as he was trying to record ambient sounds of crowds and water at an aquarium.  What he got instead was this exchange (not staged) between a father and his child (gender unclear):

Child: Mommy, Daddy!  Mommy, Daddy.  Mom? Dad?

Father: You have no mother or father.

Child: Yeah I do!

Father: No, they left.  They went somewhere else.

Child: No, they didn’t, you are!  I do!

Father [seems to be on the verge of laughter]: I’m not, I don’t know you.

Child [downtrodden]: Dad…

Father: Don’t touch me, don’t call me that in public. [end of clip; music begins]

While this is certainly not normal fatherly behavior, and you could look at it as incredibly cruel, the sense I get is of an exasperated father acting a bit bizarre after a long day.  But regardless, I get this feeling from knowing that it’s just something that happened, recorded completely accidentally, and the worked into the fabric of this album (called Thought for Food, by the way.  Their second release is called The Lemon of Pink).

I think the feeling I get from these bits of found content, a feeling that is hard to pin down but certainly strong, is best captured when watching these two fantastic videos for their songs “Take Time” and “Classy Penguin”.  They are also composed entirely (or almost) of found footage.  “Classy Penguin” consists mostly of family home videos of kids at various stages of childhood, and towards the end they grow so brief and abstract (a blurry shot of icicles hanging off the roof; a closeup of a microwave’s LCD clock) that on their own, they would be meaningless.  But woven into this tapestry of random snippets from the lives of hundreds of families, they take on an astounding poignancy and truth–they even feel as if they could have come right out of my own childhood.  Do watch the videos, linked below:

“Take Time”

“Classy Penguin”

DJ Shadow

After publishing that last post, I realized that I’ve left this track, which I originally posted as a test during class, on my blog for a while.  At first I meant to delete it, but then Hunter commented on it, so I thought, what the hey, it’s fine where it is.  But the crazy (prophetic?) thing is that it’s by DJ Shadow, from his album Endtroducing, which received a lot of attention when it was released (in 1994, I believe) for being constructed ENTIRELY OF SAMPLES!  It’s also just really, really good, but now that it’s very much on topic, I suggest you give it a listen and see what you think.

“The Ecstacy of Influence”

I’m brimming with things to say after reading Jonathan Lethem’s engrossing article on the long history of “plagarism” in art; the problem is deciding how to concisely say what I want to say.  (And brevity is not my strong suit, if you all haven’t noticed.) I think what Lethem has done successfully here is transport us, for a moment, beyond our “THIS IS THE AGE OF CONVERGENCE” mania to show us that what we face today is merely a new (if profound) iteration of the issues in the lifetime of this thing we call “intellectual property”.  In taking this widescreen view of the topic, he’s bridged a lot of ideas that had existed separately in my mind, and reminded me of the importance of the issue by showing that it applies to many more artists than, say, Girl Talk.  As in, this idea of “collage” or “pastiche” or “co-optation” or “plagarism” or “influence” or whatever you want to call it–this is an issue of vital importance for any artist.

But while keeping an eye on the universal, Lethem manages to speak very insightfully about the new tangles that arose with Modernism in the 20th century and, later, with our current digital age.  Of modernism and postmodernism, he says, “the notes [Eliot] so carefully added to The Waste Land can be read as a symptom of modernism’s contamination anxiety. Taken from this angle, what exactly is postmodernism, except modernism without the anxiety?”  I could quote his little bits of wisdom all day, but what really resonates with me is that he expresses his feelings about our current copyright system (“Contemporary copyright, trademark, and patent law is presently corrupted.”), but does so in a very even handed way, making sure not to stray towards the sort of anarchistic/idealistic “everything free, for everybody!” talk that often surfaces in this discussion.

Personally, I can be susceptible to that sort of talk, probably because I’m constantly looking for a way to justify my illegal media-consumption habits.  So when an artist I like makes some sort of “fuck the man! download our music for free” statement, I eat that right up, even if that means ignoring statements to the contrary by other artists that I like.  There are countless examples of this that I could talk about, but I’ll keep it brief.  The story of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve, and the controversy with the legal arm of The Rolling Stones, Inc. surrounding that song is quite interesting, and can be read in brief on the wikipedia page for the song.

But perhaps the most widely-discussed case in recent memory is Radiohead’s “pay-what-you-want” digital self-release of their most recent album, In Rainbows.  The first wave of response was “yeah, screw the record companies, radiohead is leading the charge into the future of music distribution!”  Then the backlash: the vast majority of musical groups/artists can not make this model sustainable, and it was actually harmful for Radiohead to set this as the new, “ethical” way to distribute music.  This was probably not Radiohead’s intent–the reaction to their choice merely created this stigma.  Whether or not they went on record stating this, I do not know, but being the thoughtful, honest, all-around good guys that they are, I’m guessing they weren’t trying to put other artists in a dangerous position.

But I guess I’ll cap this off for now…I’m sure I’ll blog on this topic more in the next few days, because there really is quite a bit to talk about.  I’ll leave you with one of Lethem’s closing paragraphs which I particularly liked:

“Despite hand-wringing at each technological turn—radio, the Internet—the future will be much like the past. Artists will sell some things but also give some things away. Change may be troubling for those who crave less ambiguity, but the life of an artist has never been filled with certainty.”

**So far, the key theme in this class seems to be that there’s WAY more gray area than you might think in all areas of media studies, if you take the time to consider all sides of an issue.  It can get overwhelming at times (how can I ever really understand any of these media if they’re all so friggin complicated?!?), but my eyes are open, and I’m just taking in as much as I can.

Chat Roulette

I thought that video was quite charming…and I’m glad he took the time to break down what would actually happen if he replaced himself with a cute girl.  I had those suspicions myself, even after my relatively limited experiences w/ CR these past few weeks (which have mostly occurred on weekend nights when my friend who discovers/enjoys things like Chat Roulette is around).

I’m not really sure how I feel about Chat Roulette at this point; all I have to go on is a strong feeling in my gut that says “NO”.  This is the instinctual aversion I have to Chat Roulette whenever it is flooding those myriad leering faces into the room for split-seconds at a time.  Perhaps I would feel differently if I saw any practical/productive use for the program.  But I don’t, and so I would hesitate to call it a “media tool”.  The maker of that video makes some cutesy point that Chat Roulette brings us all around the world in a matter of seconds, but it doesn’t, really; it brings us for a brief second into many bland, dimly-let rooms and gives us a momentary glimpse of some blurry face that we will never see again.  So in the end, I think it’s a fun thrill, but I assume it’s going to fade as quickly as it appeared.

If one were to examine my blog/twitter activity over the last, say, 24 hours, one would notice that all of it occured in the last, say, half an hour (except for one tweet of the amazing new OK Go video).  This is partially because I’ve been pretty busy all day and haven’t been near my computer.  But there’s something else going on…I’ve had time to check my email and my facebook and a couple of other sites at least once over the course of the day.  I had to hear about that music video somehow!

What’s going on here is that my time spent filling our online requirements for this class is still just that…time explicitly set aside for doing what I feel I should rightfully do to feel like I’m adequately participating in this class.  It’s set apart from other activities just like reading an article or writing a short essay is–and I don’t think is how this aspect of our class should work.  I was hoping that tweeting, blogging, and commenting would become part of my daily rhythm, and especially that my ideas for blog posts would flow rapidly and possess an casual air that my current attitude in writing this post certainly lacks.

But I don’t think this is completely my fault, nor can it be blamed on any individual in the class.  I think the…blooming, if you will, of our blog community into somewhere that we flock to and check up on regularly would be an organic process that’s a bit hard to explain.  Shirky discusses, early in his book, the widely-acknowledged phenomenon that group behaviors are complex and cannot be explained as the sum of the behaviors of many individuals.  And I’m trying to find some explanation in Shirky why blogging still feels (to all nine of us, I think it’s safe to assume) like an obligation (blogligation?).  I mean, it is an obligation.  But still.  I have this vision of a class blog filled with all sorts of impassioned conversation; I think I remember Jason mentioning that the Wire class’ blog came the closest to this, because the Wire is so %&*~@($ing good that it inspires that kind of passion.  In our little blogborhood (ugh…though maybe a better term for our little community), I’ve been trying to comment on people’s posts, but it feels like a bit of a fruitless task, and I feel like I’ve been dragging my feet every time because: 1. there is little chance of that comment inspiring further discussion, and 2. my posts have been commented on twice, both times by prof. Mittell.

I think Shirky’s “Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production” chapter–which mostly focuses on Wikipedia and how it functions quite differently from a traditional, capitalist and/or hierarchical organization–holds maybe the closest thing to an answer.  And I think it has something to do with the way people contributing to any given website are a small percentage of those even visiting that site, and that group is in turn a tiny fraction of all web traffic, and they go where they go on the web because those are places catering to their very specific interests.  Shirky mentions the fact that in order to voluntarily make time for a new activity, one must find that new activity more interesting or fulfilling than something else that already occupies a portion of their waking hours.  And media studies interests me quite a bit, so I’ve tried to absorb information on the topic in the past, but I didn’t, say, visit any blogs focused explicitly on media criticism.  So perhaps, as a group, we simply all haven’t made that shift in priorities that would allow our blogmunity (blogdom? blogitory?) to truly flourish.  It’s not something you can force……but I think we’re getting incrementally better at it.

So, I guess the best way to close (if you’ve read this whole thing, or at least skipped to the last paragraph) would be to say, please comment!  Let’s have our first real online conversation right here!  Tell me if you think I’m talking out of my ass, if you think you’ve thought of a better tie to Shirky than I have, or if you have an idea for some way to more thoroughly blend, right here in our blogship (these get worse and worse…), the personal/fun with the academic.

Wikipedia adventures

Last semester, I took the film dept’s “Authorship & Cinema” course on David Lynch with Ted Perry, and I remember vaguely thinking that his wikipedia page was somewhat messy for such a noteworthy director.  Upon returning to the page, I thought the organizational structure had improved some since I last visited, so I stuck to simply improving sentence structure and word choice and other such things.  The few times I have taken the time to do higher-level structural work on a wikipedia article has been when the articles were so godawfully written or woefully incomplete that just looking at them made me kind of angry.  This was not the case w/ the Lynch article, and I did not feel so confident that my ways of changing the organization of the article would be better than the ones in place, so I let them be, performing only more minor edits (which is still an important part of the wikipedia system).

Here’s a link to good ol Davey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lynch

The part of this little adventure that was much more eye-opening was my visit to the article’s “discussion” page, a part of wikipedia I don’t visit too often.  Normally, I would expect a place on the internet where users can freely say what they want in a forum setting to consist mostly of random, directionless hate and/or total non-sequiturs and/or porn, even in a corner of the internet as sequestered as the talk page for David Lynch’s wikipedia article.  This is simply what I’ve seen in the past, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the comment sections for youtube videos contain more concentrated hate than any other location in the universe, physical or virtual.

But users remarkably adhered to the suggestions at the top of the talk page: “be polite”, “assume good faith”, “avoid personal attacks”, and “be welcoming”.  There was one WTF moment, under the heading “Badger?”:

“Is David Lynch a Badger? Last time I checked he seemed human and if he isn’t human he is most assuredly not very badger like. Or am I missing something and badger has some other meaning. ARavagedIsland (talk) 22:10, 12 July 2009 (UTC)”

But mostly the comments were respectful and intelligent.  I suppose Shirky’s notion that it takes more work to harm wikipedia than it would take to undo this harm applies here.  I also learned that this article had been nominated for featured article-dom a few years ago, and got to see why it had not been named one, as well as gaining some other insights into how that process works (and as I mentioned in class, I think the featured article process is one of the most important parts of wikipedia, as it acts as sort of a guiding light for all articles).  Finally, I saw that it was part of several “wikiprojects”–efforts to create, for instance, “an encyclopedic guide to comics on wikipedia” (a project to which Lynch’s article is only tangentially related, earning it “C-class, Low-importance” status).  Seeing the myriad organizational structures that have all organically arisen to improve wikipedia is quite inspiring.

Lastly, I’d like to recommend people visit some of wikipedia’s about-wikipedia pages, as they can be enlightening and also quite funny.  Here are a few good ones:


Wikipedia: Unusual Articles (incredible time-waster)

And here’s one of wikipedia’s many great lists, this one about “cryptids”, or animals whose existence has been posited but not proven.  Another fantastic time-waster.  List of cryptids

Podcast: “The Hater”

I intend to keep looking around for entertaining new podcasts to look at as models as we move into our next project, but this week, I took our prompt as an excuse to look into a podcast I’ve been meaning to check out for a while: “The Hater”, produced by AV Club contributor Amelie Gilette and posted on the AV Club website. The Hater also consists of a blog fed through avclub.com, and it’s quite hilarious; in the snarky world of AV Club’s culture reporting, Gilette seems to be the snarkiest of all.

This certainly extended to her podcast, which were almost too snarky for my taste.  Each week, she invites a guest (usually another AV/Onion staffer) and they basically shit on celebrities and silly symptoms of commercialism for 15 minutes.  It’s quite funny, but it doesn’t amount to much…it’s not really so different from conversations I might have with my friends, except these people are very practiced at having these sorts of conversations and are therefore extra good at making fun of silly things that come out of Hollywood.  Nevertheless, it was a pleasant diversion, with a lot of lines that got me LOLING, so to speak (e.g. Amelie on the Comedy Central roast of Joan Rivers: “Basically every joke was a variation on one of three themes: 1. Joan Rivers is old.  2. Her vagina: also old.  3. She has had lots of surgery that makes her crazy in the face.”)  Quite funny, but I think I’ll post about a more substantive podcast in the future.

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