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.