Thursday, December 23, 2010


It has been far, far too long...

Finally on break now from school, so I'm eating up all the intellectual goodness that the internet has to offer while I have the time.

I've been reading some O'Shaughnessy; at least from his famous Ode:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by the lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams....

(please check out the full poem, which won't copy for some reason)

Like many others, I was turned onto the Ode from Willy Wonka. His clever response is high-brow artillery to put naysayers in their place; more than that, though, it is an appeal to the limitless human imagination, and to the children who will "teach us your songs new numbers."

I'm on the verge of turning this into a "videogames-are-the-film-of-our-generation" rant... I shall resist (that's better left to the pros anyway).

But I will say this: time will tell if I turn out to be a "mover" or "shaker" myself. But I'm going to keep dreaming in 32 bits, and I'm not going to waste my time reminiscing about some golden age while I could be "afar with the dawning, and the suns that are not yet high."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner

Berlin is quite the historical hot spot. The city throughout the 20th century was almost a microcosm of Europe - the destruction, division, reconstruction, and eventual fall of Communism all came to a head in this city (not to mention the rise of techno and round-the-clock raves...). To say that Berlin has a few scars would be a gross understatement.

Coming from Copenhagen, Berlin isn't exactly the most welcoming place. When I checked into the hostel, the conversation with the attendent went a little like this:

Me: Hello!

Guy: (no answer -just looks at me for a while)

Guy: Is that it? You just came to say hello? Or you want something else? Mind reading doesn't start until tomorrow.

(Turns out that he manages the New York hardcore band Agnostic Front - not representative of all Berlin residents)

Over the week I hit up a number of the touristy spots, as well as some of the not-so-touristy-but-kinda-badass ones. A wonderland of a place called Kunsthaus Tacheles falls into the latter category.

Tacheles was about a block from my hostel, Instantly recognizable from the large "How Long is Now?" mural on the side. The building is a partially bombed-out structure that the East Germans never bothered or couldn't afford to rebuild after the war. For artists looking for studio space with little (or nonexistent) rent, it was a perfect place to set up shop.

Today it's still a thriving community. Graffiti covers every square inch - every wall, banister, window... the building has about as much paint in it as it does concrete. This makes quite an interesting backdrop for displaying work, especially if it's as complex as Alexander Rodin who was having a gallery showing on the top floor (really great work - check out his stuff).

But all is not well in the happy land of Tacheles. The powers that be want to shut it down and put up some apartments. This cannot be! Support Tacheles! Join the fight and stop the dreded powers of gentrification before it is too late!

Monday, September 20, 2010

CPH in spraypaint

I'm pretty behind with this blog - spent most of my time in architecture world while I was in Berlin. My apologies for the delay.

Copenhagen's street art scene is very prolific. Most of the city is tagged - these aren't very interesting in and of themselves (unless you're really into tags... I am not).

The most interesting work can be found on the number of permission walls scattered throughout the city. There's one section of land by the port that is best described as an open-air grafitti art gallery.

The plot is about 150m x 300m (500 x 1000 ft) - all enclosed by walls; all covered by pieces. The centerpiece could be called "evolution" - a huuuuge mural stretching across the long wall. It starts on one side with the big bang and chronicles the history of the planet through the ice age.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Copenhagen Architecture

Just a brief rundown of some buildings that I checked out during my time in Copenhagen. There isn't a "general" age for the buildings - many are from the 1700s or earlier, but cycles of building booms, including the recent surge in the early 2000's, give the cityscape an interesting heterogenity.

The (almost) ubiquitous 6-storey building height makes for a rather underwhelming skyline for someone used to the tall buildings of Chicago. After a week, though, I much prefer the shorter building height; It seems to keep the city on a more human. The skyscrapers in downtown Chicago can seem monolithic, almost Orwellian.

Copenhagen's short stature makes some for some spectacular views from the corkscrew spire on top of the Church of Our Savior. Getting up there was an adventure in itself - the old carrilon bells and timber beams were tricky to navigate, and the stairs were definitely not designed for two-way traffic. The view from the top is definitely worth it, though

Copenhagen has a fair share of buildings by architecture "names," and in recent times has attracted international attention. Pritzker winners like Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster have buildings in Copenhagen, and Jean-Nouvel contributed to the recently completed Danish Radio Concert Hall (a joint project designed with Vilhelm Lauritzen, Dissing+Weitling, Gottlieb & Palludan and Nobel Arkitekter).

The hall, on approach, is very unassuming. The design is very rectilinear, almost like a large cube. As you get closer to the semi-transparent exterior, you begin to see the expressionistic, geometric concert hall; it appears as though a giant meteor is resting in the enclosure. The effect is even more striking when you enter: the main performance hall is a seperate structure, suspended above the reception area.

I was lucky enough to see a concert in the hall - Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto and Strauss Ein Heldenleben. The acoustics of the hall were somewhat finicky. The brass and low strings projected very well, but the piano sounded a little washed-out and I could hardly hear the concert master's solo in the Strauss. The all-around seating of the audience made the hall seem empty somehow, but the interior design, with its undulating, wood-grained walls and fragmented balconies, more than compesates for the off-putting audience dispersion.

Denmark, named Monocle's Best Design City in 2008, has its share of world-class architects. B.I.G. is one of my local favorites. I snuck into their office - it was like peeking in on Santa's workshop, filled with models of all shapes, colors and sizes, busy little elves (interns) clicking away on computers and cutting with exactos...

If only I had brought my portfolio. Ah well - someday...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Copenhagen - All Fun and Games

I mentioned Limbo a few weeks earlier. The game was released recently to (surprise, surprise) widespread critical acclaim.

I checked out Playdead's website - apparently, they are just a km away from where I'm staying with my cousin. I dropped them a line, and hopefully they will be okay with a visitor.

Further internet investigation (thank you, Indiegames Blog) turned me onto the Copenhagen Games Collective. The group is a consortium of designers and academics who are all pushing the envelope in terms of accessible, avant garde, and intelligent video game experiences.

Work includes such gems as B.U.T.T.O.N. (Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now), which requires an XBox, four people and a large, open room with a table, and the extremely awkward Dark Room Sex Game - a combination social experiment/party game which forces players to look at each other (NOT at the TV screen) and play off of.... um.... "audio cues" in order to find a "mutual rhythm."

I want in on that - where's my Wii?

In addition, the group comes up with non-video games, including the aptly titled debate game Fuck You, It's Art, and publishes scholarly work and research.

Keep it coming, Copenhagen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Danes and bikes

Copenhagen is quite an amazing city. I'm one step away from moving here permanently.

One of the most striking differences from American cities, besides the old buildings and funny-sounding street names, are the ubiquitous bicycle lanes. I have never seen so many cyclist-commuters in my life. Every day is like a Critical Mass demo; of course, a Mass ride would be completely unnecessary in a city which has had bicycle lanes for 100 years.

It all started back in 1910 when the first leisure cycle paths were created. Cycling became a mode of transport starting in WWII, when gasoline was rationed. My cousin told me a story of an assassination that occured in a local bar during that era.

The getaway vehicle of choice? Bicycle. Apparently, even hitmen couldn't get around the petrol ration.

Today, it's likely the most bicycle friendly city in the world - something like 40% of the population cycles to work/school regularly. The bike lanes are smooth, wide, and isolated from both cars and pedestrians. The city works continuously to improve and expand on the lanes; part of this effort includes a current "Spread Good Cycling Karma" campaign. "Karma Cyclists" will station themselves at intersections during rush hour and provide some advice and humor for commuters.

I ran into one such group during rushhour - a team of helmet wearing, Pinnochio-nosed Cykarmalists led a consort of 40-odd cyclists in a rendition of J. Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz," with the bikers using their bells to chime in on high notes.

Good Karma indeed. Mayor Daley, take notes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jet Lagging

Just arrived in Copenhagen after a long day of travelling. I'll be posting some European-flavored stuff on this blog over the next couple of weeks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Told Tray-Sure

So Percussion and Matmos: Treasure State
Cantaloupe Music 2010

These guys get it.

So Percussion and Matmos teamed up for their last album, which I have finally come to hear in it's entirety. SoPerc are part of the new breed - 21st century classical music at it's finest, driving another nail in the coffin of the art/pop music schism. They're in good company too; Nico Muhly, the Bedroom Community Label, Eighth Blackbird, Kronos Quartet, Third Coast Percussion Quartet, the Bad Plus and Bang on a Can are stateside allies in the dual front against auto-tunage and elitism alike.

So's bio says it best: "Edgy (at least in the sense that little other music sounds like this) and ancient (in that people have been hitting objects for eons), perhaps it doesn't need to be defined after all."

Western percussion has evolved as an experimental craft - we work on our sounds with the same intensity with which violinists work on tone. With percussion, however, there are no "good" or "bad" sounds - there is only what is right for the job. All sounds can be music, and our instruments are defined by context. We're in the business of sound collecting, sometimes taken to an absurd level. The generation of Edgar Varese and Henri Posseur took experimentation to an extreme - suddenly orchestral works called for airplane propellers, and musique concrete pieces were created from recordings of trains. Despite the public's feeling of alienation, these mad sonic scientists were central cultivators of a richly expanded palette of sounds, as well as a newfound appreciation for the wielders of these noises, whistles, sirens, tin cans and wind machines - us guys in the back.

Matmos is right at home here. The experimental-electronic music duo has cultivated the same appreciation for sound in the abstract, taking noises out of context and recombining fragments into musical work. So P. is no stranger to the realm of electronic music - the reserved, atmospheric "Amid The Noise" made ample use of computer-generated noises and processed instrument sounds - and the Matmos collaboration forms a seamlessly cohesive unit.

There is a subtle beauty in the way tuned metallophones, cymbals, gongs and found instruments alike are warped by the computer processing, creating a kind of auditory surrealism that's most evident on tracks such as "Shard" and "Swamp." I'm reminded of "TNT" by Tortoise. But where "TNT" told stories, "Treasure State" creates environments.

This isn't a groundbreaking record by any means. That's good - we don't need "groundbreaking" in music. Pierre Schaffer, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen were groundbreaking, tearing down arbitrary walls between what is and what isn't "music." But there's a certain irony in works like Cage's note-less 4'33"; a piece that's built on ambient sound is akin to screaming "Appreciate the subtleties, dammit!" In many ways, SoPerc/Matmos succeed where Cage and his colleagues failed - their poetic use of sound draws you into an dreamscape world made up of everyday noises. When it's over, you'll start to hear the music around you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monster Camp

Just read this in the New York Times. So much cooler than the standard canoeing-archery-arts-and-crafts type of summer camp (well, maybe we'll keep the archery - that will be useful for camp middle earth).

Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Kids are the ones who invented role playing games. What kind of Tolkein- or Lewis- or Rowling- or Pullman- (blasphemy!) reading child would turn down monster camp?

....Can I come too?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I'm adding a fresh coat of paint, moving things around, adding music, maybe throwing on some podcasts... things are going to look a little different around here.

I apologize to the five or six of you that read this blog and have gotten used to it. It will still be very green.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What I learned from Las Vegas

There comes a time in every boy's life when, yearning to see a larger world of sex, booze and slots, he ventures to America's soulless desert playground.

The time comes even sooner when the plane ticket and hotel are paid for, along with a few meals and a $25 per diem allocation.

But what I learned from Vegas was not how to pick up a prostitute at 7:30 in the morning - they literally wait for you in the hotel lobby and won't take no for an answer (but apparently "I'm gay" does the trick). My revelation had nothing to do with that bafflingly awful Rihanna song (although Rihanna, who is raunchy without being clever or even bothering to rhyme, says a few things about our generation. At least Madonna could sing) And I already knew that slot machines are a giant waste of time.

I stayed at the Palms Casino and Hotel, home of the world's only Playboy club. Pretty classy, right? The casino likes to advertise that it caters to a younger audience, and plays this up in all of their advertisements featuring - what else? - busty, bikini-clad women.

While strutting around the pool, proud of my status as the palest, skinniest dude around, I was stopped by a bachelor on vacation.

"You know why Vegas is awesome?" he asks, "coming around now - that's why Vegas is awesome"

To my right passes a barbie doll - fake blond hair, skin some shade of bronze, and t&a that would make a centerfold jealous. I swallow my puke - this whole place feels so very wrong.

"You know what that's called?" he asks
"No. What?"

Later on, I try to understand this - why am I, a heterosexual male, so completely turned off by this standard of beauty? Not only that, but most men I know feel the same way. Real guys go for real girls - the plastic female image is not only not beautiful, it seems surreal and inhuman.

My friend believes a generational difference is to blame- men in the 26-30 age group, the pioneers in the MTV generation, go for this idea of attractiveness. Some refuse to accept that they're aging, some just read too much Playboy (they picked the Palms for a reason, I guess). But this doesn't explain why the Vegas trip was a major flashback to high school, where the plastic image reigned supreme.

A few years a go I read Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs." High school made a lot more sense after that, but I still couldn't wrap my head around the nation's warped and contradictory attitude toward sex. We are puritanical serial monogamists who think sex is a sin unless you're married or in a committed relationship or drunk on your birthday. We coerce women into objectifying themselves until they consider it "liberating" to be topless on camera. The very idea of waxing makes me want to cringe, but countless women view it a small price to pay for beauty. On top of all of this, we still debate over the "sanctity of marriage" (The state that gave us Hollywood and Beverly Hills thinks gay couples are a threat to their "sacred family unit"? Right).

But now, passing over the grand canyon, I realize that the terrible implications of the barbie doll ideal. Vegas is like the plastic woman - shimmering, glitzy, expensive. It catches your eye, but before long the sparkle fades and you realize it has no soul. We call this place "America's playground," among other things; maybe it's time to grow up a little bit.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for having fun, partying, and general debauchery, but why does it have to be so sexist? Maybe what we need is a kind of neo-chivalry: respect, honor and honesty without the medieval prudishness. Men and women could partake as equals, as we are meant to be - take back knighthood while taking back the night.

"Neo-chivalry..." it has a ring to it. I wonder how it would sound in a Rihanna song...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sonic Aurora

Just heard that John Luther Adams received N.U.'s Nemmers prize for 2010. He's the second composer from the arctic circle to take the prize, after Kaija Saariaho won it last year.

Interestingly, both composers write music that is often described as "visual." I prefer to think of their work as spatial - each composer uses unique means to transport you into a sonic environment that feels like an actual "place." The experience isn't just visual; it's much more immersive than that. You feel as if you've stepped into a different world, one that existed before and will continue to exist independently of the timeline of the piece.

The showing for the Nemmer's prize has been very strong so far - Postminimal superstar John Adams won it in '04, followed by world-class conductor/composer Oliver Knussen in '06. It can be really good publicity for Northwestern... which leads me to ask - why is it so low key????

I stumbled upon the latest J.L. Adams announcement by complete accident while browsing the recital schedules. The $100,000 prize guarantees a residency of only 4 weeks, which is about enough time to throw together a few performances and masterclasses. Outside of the composition and music tech faculty - and contemporary music geeks like myself - few people are even aware of the prize.

This conversation happened last week:
Me: " John Luther Adams took the Nemmers prize for next year."
Senior Violinist: "oh. Who's John Luther Adams?"
Me: "He's a composer who writes in a minimalist style."
V: "Right, I think I've heard of him..... What's the Nemmers prize?"
Me: "it's when the school gives a composer 100 grand for being a BAMF"


V: "....that's it?"
Me: "That's about it."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In Limbo

It's now clear to me that we are in a videogame renaissance, aided in part by XBLA and the Playstation Store. "Artsy videogame" is no longer an oxymoronic title.

This bizarre little nightmare of a game, called Limbo, should convince a few remaining non-believers.

Monday, May 10, 2010


This Video of Super Meat Boy came out the other day. Looks like a winner - be sure to check it out once it's released.

I would've loved to be at the sales pitch for that one... "A glob of meat leaps over buzz saws and dodges projectiles in an attempt to save his girlfriend from a nefarious cyborg in a tuxedo"
- if you can sell that idea, you can sell anything.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I've added a link to In These Times after reading an article by author Susan J. Douglas.

Most of it isn't news to me, especially after Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. The statistics are very revealing - "White women still make 75 cents to a man’s dollar, and it’s 62 cents for Black women and only 53 cents for Latinas. The majority of families with children in poverty are headed by single women..." - bad news for women in the workforce, despite portrayals in entertainment media that may suggest otherwise.

The works by both Douglas and Levy are lacking, however, in a definitive call to action, or even a suggestion for individual activism on any level above "awareness."

So, ladies, what do you want to do? Burn bras? Stop shaving? Dance naked in the streets to Bikini Kill and Le Tigre?

I'll definitely join in on that last one.

Born Again

In case you can't read the type, it's an advertisement for plastic surgery.


Thanks to Pete Rollins for the image.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


There's a new FatCap interview with Maxamiliano Ruiz, author and editor of Graffiti Argentina.

Really unique stuff is coming out of that country, both high and low brow. Throw ups, abstract works, murals, political pieces, sketches and gallery showings are all represented in this volume. Check it out and see what the streets of Buenos Aires are made of.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's Lonely in the Modern World

Got this from Unhappy Hipsters:

"Anything to avoid returning to the zero-energy, cold-concrete, corrugated-metal death sentence."

Well put. Not everything on Dwell's website makes you feel "at home." It's been a few decades since those modernist fanatics really screwed up public housing in a bad way, and you'd think architects would have learned their lesson.

But sometimes even the best forget that their buildings are for people. And those people have lives; lives that aren't always shiny and squeaky clean. Houses can be places of solace, comfort, and warmth, but also chaos, coldness and anger - I mean, who has a family that doesn't quarrel? Who hasn't found their home to be oppressive and suffocating at some point in their life?

Even though Unhappy Hipsters is satirical, it brings up an important point that architects seldom consider; homes aren't for families who get along all of the time. The dining room isn't just for eating and communing - its also a battleground for the passive-aggressive wars of attrition that will inevitably take place, even in a "healthy" family unit.

Architects set the stage for the drama of everyday life. The successful house, like a successful set design, becomes an active participant; it's an omniscient cast member who takes on a constantly morphing role, pushing and pulling the action in subtle ways - some predictable, others not.

This isn't to say that everything on Dwell is bad news (a number of featured works are fantastic). No architecture can anticipate the full range of it's human inhabitants' behavior. Just remember that a house is meant to be lived in - life is not always pretty or happy or peaceful.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I saw the sign

The Revolution Began...

And Dada rides again!

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Stumbled on this composer while writing a paper.  

There's an incredible subtlety to these so-called "spectral" works; a weird kind of poetry that speaks to us through calculated evocations of natural phenomenon.  

Frightening and alien, but somehow familiar at the same time...

Really should get back to the grindstone, but thought it deserved sharing.  

Saturday, January 30, 2010

O Britania

Found this video of Banksy's exhibition at the Bristol art museum.

Estne nihil sanctum? Hopefully not.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010