Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Now In Infinite Jest -David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

I don't know what I'm more shocked by - the suicide of writer/meta-fictionalist David Foster Wallace, or the surprising lack of coverage of his death. I mean, Wallace style of incredibly descriptive prose, ridiculous amounts of footnotes, and playful use of punctuation was somewhat prescient to what the whole blog-o-sphere is today.

In the monster book, Infinite Jest, there exists a movie that is so entertaining, that the viewer becomes so enthralled by it that they can do nothing else and actually expire watching it. Somehow I can't help but connecting this metaphore to the Twitter/Blog-o-sphere.

I've actually never made it through Infinite Jest, for one reason or another, but always found Wallaces essay's so incredibly great. Pick up Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, or A Supposedly Fun Thing I will Never Do Again. Wallace did change my view of what was possible in Fiction and Non-Fiction alike, and I am grateful for that.

Here's a link to the LA Times Obituary on D.F.W.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

And Now We Turn to the Comics page..

Here's a little something I worked up a couple years ago. I guess you can see who I really think benefits from all these copyright battles (My apologies for it being so hard to read. I will post a better quality version later this evening).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Against Me - "Up The Cuts"

I checked out this album from the library, and I'm really digging this track right now. here's some second hand smoke I remember catching from the blogosphere (all of which is completely arbitrary and without citation). Against Me! has a very loyal following. Some people think they have sold out with this record, or they've moved to a major label, and it's that same ol' same ol' cry from the people that were there first.

Personally this is all new to me, so thankfully I can hear this album for what it is, and that's a pretty straight forward rock record with really strong vocals and lyrics. I'm liking it.

Hobo! - The Musical

Harry Partch (1901 - 1974) is probably a lesser known legend in the world of "classical" music. I put the term "classical" in quotes because it, unfortunately - like the term "modern", usually tends to refer to a composer or type of music that uses orchestration. In reality the Classical period is the time in art from 1750 - 1820 [1]. But I digress...

Partch was the type of American genius that could only come out of the cultural mix that is America.

"In 1930 Partch broke with Western European tradition and forged a new music based on a more primal, corporeal integration of the elements of speech with music, using principles of natural acoustic resonance (just intonation) and expanded melodic and harmonic possibilities. "[2]

Along with that Harry Partch is also famous for inventing the 43-Tone Scale.

Partch may be best known for U.S. Highball, A Musical Account of Slim's Transcontinental Hobo Trip. A piece he based off his own travels from Caramel, California to Chicago, Illinois in 1941. Here's a clip below with a brief explanation.

Here's a clip from a 1968 documentary on Partch, with footage of Harry playing some of his invented instruments:

And here are clips to a 6 part BBC documentary on Youtube:
part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Zombies and the Fine Art of Hiaku...How Many Syllables is "Braaaaaaaains"?

Zombies. Is there any greater horror movie monster? How about Zombies doing Hiaku? Didn't think so.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In Other News...We Have Jet Packs! Hello Future!

I don't know about you but this little YouTube video:

But it looks like the future we were promised is finally here! Finally a world in which we have out own jetpacks. I'm giddy.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I Love Process Part 5 - Al Jaffee, King of the "Fold-In"

For anyone who grew up devouring Mad Magazine, such as myself, you may be thrilled to hear Al Jaffee is approaching his 400th Mad Fold-In - the back cover gags that allowed the reader to line up the points of a picture and expose a punchline.

Al Jaffee is one of those cartoonists whose creativity knows no limits, and I'm am always happy to see that he is still so vital and creative in his old age. That's definitely something to aspire too.

Now the question is, when is Mad going to publish the page a day fold in calendar? I'd definitely buy that!

Link to the article at New York

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I Love Process, Part 4 - Rolito and Patapon

Few games have ever been based solely on the work of an artist or designer. Sony's Japan Studio has based the game Patapon on French artist Rolito (real name Sebastien Giuli) comical 2-D silhouette tribal eyeball like characters called Patapon's. A wild, and addicting romp of a game that shows just how much is still to be explored in the making games that have total immerse experiences in the worlds in which they create, and get the player involved.

Patapon is a key based rhythm game for PSP, like Pappa The Rappa or Guitar Hero/Rock Band. But it diverges from a rather simple setup that other rhythm based games have by adding elements of god games, and strategy play, all controlled by tapping out key patterns to infectious little ditty's that allow your tribe of Patapon's to hunt, attack rival tribes, or defeat large imposing monsters. The goal is to help your Patapons regain their once mythic glory.

This game ranks up there with other such unique game play experiences as Katamari Damacy, in which seemingly simplistic worlds offer a depth of insight into the characters you control. Where KD offered a world of seemingly infinite expansive obsessive collecting (that is until you have finished the game), Patapon offers a fun alternative to the music/dance/karaoke versions of rythm based game play that are popular right now.

Patapon offers a wonderful example of how games can act as a narrative as well as be just plain fun to play. Rolito's geometrically cute art work is reminiscent of online comics artists like Damian5 or the Japanese Neo style of drawing as seen in works like Matthew Cruickshank and Barry Baker (the sadly offline) re imagining of Mickey Mouse

Matthew Cruickshank and Barry Baker's Neo Mickey

With technology, we can bring the mountain to Mohamed, if you will. We can create a frightening Middle Earth in which all that is absent is the smell of the breath of the Orcs as their cast brought to life from the bowels of hell. Yes, we can do epic and monumental things that will always wow and captivate us. But it is moments like leading my Patapon's in a charge against the enemy that I truly value as an entertainment experience. Like reading a good comic book or doodling a character whose story comes to you as if they were alive, sometimes simplicity in narrative and form is better than "Gee Whiz" and "Bang! Bang!"

interview with Rotoli at Gamasutra

Monday, February 25, 2008

In Praise of the Art of The Video Game - A Further Need for Proper Video Game Criticism (Not Reviews)

I love video games. With all my education over the years and desire to continually "search for the truth", my need constant need for debate and dialogue about the world around me, I still find myself coming back to, and enjoying video games. I love old fashioned board games, card games, and strategic games of chance (such as backgammon, or horse shoes, bocci, etc.) - it all compels me. Games played with others are an incredibly necessary social tool, of which I would always choose over playing a game by myself.

Video games, on the other hand, offer the challenge of bettering yourself against computational odds, setting a goal and figuring out ever changing problems and patterns within the set confines and rules of an environment, and accomplishing them. On top of that, they are extremely effective in the instant gratification department.

But aside from game play, I am always interested in what goes into a game, how they can expand the players point of view in ways they never imagined.

I often cite Will Wright's Sim City as one of my favorite, and best video games of all time. How could a game that dealt with urban planning be any fun what so ever? Well, as a twelve year old boy, Sim City sparked something within me very few had - inspiration. I was instantly sucked in by it's possibilities and unique environment and game play. It quite simply blew the roof off of the notion of what a video game was. There had never been a game presented in this manner to me - this was one that made me think in ways I never had. I had to think about the result of performing an action within a game and how that might effect future game play, I had to make sure I had enough money in the bank to rebuild if a natural disaster occurred, I had to figure out, through trial and error, how to make the city run at a profit, so it could continue to grow. Sim City presented elements of Science, Economics, basic math and banking skills (which as an admitted life long math phobic, is something of a feat to keep me interested), and Urban Planning in the form of a "sandbox" environment that was as much fun as building a train set.

At it's heart, a game is made up of a set of rules one must follow to win or end said game. Add a set of variables (advantages, disadvantages, delays) that are put in place during game play that can keep you from accomplishing this, while another player advances, and you have the root of what makes a game "fun" or "challenging." For a long time I have adamantly opposed cheating in any form of game play with others, because I believe it offers the one, static, formula that makes up a true test of mental skill. Cheating should be reserved for real life, when we often are allowed to (and encouraged to) act in our own self interest to get ahead. In the world of gaming, this is sacrilegious. We must come to the game with our own experience, ready to test our meddle against others, on a level playing field/board/mmorpg of mental dexterity.

That's not to say cheating doesn't run rampant, everywhere, even in the gaming world, but I see it as the truest test of character of a person, on how they handle themselves in a gaming situation. Perhaps one of the few windows into a persons soul that we get in this life. Admittedly, I have found cheats or walk through to games I just can't finish on my own, or have grown tired of, but in terms of competition, I feel you must bring what you have in your head to the table (or console, or board).

The truth is that, for the most part, we don't have anything like game criticism, and we need it -- to inform gamers, to hold developers to task, and to inform our broader cultural understanding of games and their importance and impact on our culture. - Game Criticism, Why We Need It, and Why Reviews Aren't It by costik

This statement couldn't be more correct. Video games are still a relatively new teritory, in terms of criticism. While there are sites out there that are looking at games as art, most offer the thumbs up, thumbs down approach to placing a value on a game. We need to look at games as a whole - social impact, cultural implications, metaphors, and style present within. Just as a film is not a single artists work, but an amalgam of talented individuals working together towards a shared vision, so to are video games. It's time we enjoy them with both sides of our brains too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm a Walking Parody of Everything I Know - Parody, Re-contextualization, and Mashing Up Your Own Unique Experience

I often wonder if it's inherent in our human nature to take that what we know (songs, stories, jokes, experiences, and art) and re contextualize it into our own creation. I am a graphic designer by day and a cartoonist at heart. I thirst for satire, parody, puns (clever and bad ones, alike), situations, and stories I can distill into a frame by frame sequence. I'm a writer with pictures, which seems to require a certain innate need to reference the things people know (symbols, images, experience, movies,music, and political reference) sometimes easier at conveying an idea over a simple attempt at an emotional impact.

But I can't help but thinking that the need to re-appropriate is more biological within humans than it is preferential. I think it is in our nature to create collages, mash ups, and remixes of music, video, and photograph's. The very first piece of pop cultural ephemera I can recall effecting me a was an issue of Mad Magazine which parodied the cover of Time magazine. It incidentally was my first introduction to Mad Magazine, an endless source of parody and ridicule I would devour as fast as the sugary candy usually purchased with it. You might say parody and satire were the backbone of the house that Alfred E. Newman built.

But there was something about growing up in the 80's - parody or re-appropriation was everywhere. New Wave seemed to be a mash up of the lighter (more neon) side of punk rocks fashion sense, mixed with a retro futurism of the space age 50's. Shows like Saturday Night Live, were established to skewer cultural institutions and pop culture alike, while being a pop cultural institution themselves. And a young "Weird" Al Yankovic found a special niche parodying the hits of the day with song parodies like "Eat It" (for Michael Jackson's "Beat it", and "Like a Surgeon" to Madonna's "Like a Virgin"). Al Yankovic actually stood as a one man cultural re contextualizing, mash up force. He not only made spot on musical parodies of the music he lampooned, he made parody videos that mimicked the some of the better known imagery MTV was producing and sending through the closed circuit network of cable television. Al Yankovic was a one man monopoly of pop stardom parody. Like an appearance on The Simpson's would be many years later, to be parodied by "Weird" Al, was a cultural cache, a badge of honor, and it would seem that it often lent to a further increasing popularity of the artist who was lampooned.

You tube videos:

Michael Jackson - "Beat It"

Weird Al Yankovic - "Eat It"

But here's where I feel it's more in our biological nature to reference the past, or past work of others. One need only to look at back at Folk and traditional music to see this trend repeated again and again. I've figured out 3 ways in which music is often re-contextualized:

  1. Traditional Melodies or well known existing are recycled (lyrics are often changed or "updated")
  2. Versus addendum (versus are sometimes added)
  3. Song Theme's are expanded upon.

Here are 3 good examples of this in practice:
1. "Love Me Tender" - Elvis Presley (Ken Darby - Credited to Verra Matson/Elvis Presley)
"Aura Lee" or "The Maid with the Golden Hair" (music by George R. Poulton, lyrics by W.W. Fosdick).

Here's the "original" via YouTube (the dudes a bit of a tool, but it was a good version of lyrics and melody):

and of course the Elvis Presley version, where he puts the crooner shine on in the "68 Come back" special:

2. "Amazing Grace" - John Newton

This song was written by Englishman John Newton and sung over a variety of different tunes before being attached to the tune "New Britain." The tune is believed to be of Scottish or Irish origin[1]. The song continued to update and evolve when brought to America, and was not spared from the addendum phenomenon:
Link to song performance of the song by The Hargroves at The Internet Archive

From wikipedia:

In her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe includes an extra, final verse which may have been taken from another hymn. The additional verse is part of most hymnals today.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We've no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

Whereas the original lyrics were penned by John Newton in 1772
(stanzas 1-6), this additional verse (stanza 7) was written in the
nineteenth century, and is credited by some to John P. Rees (1828-1900)[4]. This verse became firmly established as part of the hymn by its addition in popular hymnbooks of the early twentieth century.

3. "Maggie's Farm" - Bob Dylan

image source -

Next to Dylan's "Royal Albert Hall" performance, Dylan going Electric at The Newport Festival in 1965, has to be one of the single most iconoclastic moments in pop culture (even if recounts are often more profound then it was actually experienced.) In the book, Behind The Shades: Revisited by Clinton Heylin, Johnny Taplin is quoted as saying that Dylan "seemed to be crying" (pp. 213) after the performance, even though people like Joe Boyd got it, and were "lapping it up"(pp. 211). But the act of playing "Maggie's Farm" electric, with a rock band, at a folk festival, was a sign of protest in itself, lending to the ever deepening history of music evolving.

From Wikipedia -

"Maggie's Farm" is Dylan's declaration of independence from the protest
folk movement. Punning on Silas McGee's Farm, where he had performed
"Only a Pawn in Their Game" at a civil rights protest in 1963 (featured
in the film Don't Look Back), Maggie's Farm recasts Dylan as the pawn
and the folk music scene as the oppressor. Rejecting the expectations
of that scene as he turns towards loud rock n' roll, self-exploration,
and surrealism, Dylan intones: "They say sing while you slave / I just
get bored."

a YouTube video of that performance:

"Dylan biographer Robert Shelton
traces the origins of his 1961 song "Hard Times in the Country" to
"Penny's Farm," a 1920s musical complaint about a rural landlord; it is
also similar to Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett's
1934 song "Tanner's Farm."' - William Ruhlmann (All
Music Guide

A link "Down on Penny's Farm" performed by Charlie Parr at The Internet Archive.

This behavior doesn't always apply to just music, though. Even the visual arts have their progenators of recontextualization such as Joseph Cornell. Cornell seemed just as comfortable re-appropriating dime store tchotchkies and print matter into mystical little worlds or spiritual shrines of his own devising. Cornell even had a correspondence of cultural mashing with one of the first modern artists to turn art on it's head - Marcel Duchamp [further reference]. When one views the work created between the two in correspondence, assisting Duchamp with his Dossier project, it is clear that even Cornell was helping Duchamp to re-contextualize and re-invent himself once more.

So what is this need, this compulsion for us to take, riff, expand upon, collapse, rearrange, deconstruct, reconstruct, and recompose something we enjoy so much. Since I was a kid, I love to flip the lyrics of a popular song to fit a situation, no matter how silly. It's a sort of mental free form improv gymnastics for me. I like seeing if I can fit my thoughts within the context of the "original". "Stop Your Sobbing" is sung to my daughter with the lyrics "There's one thing that you gotta do, To make me still want you" is replaced with "If there is one thing I cannot do, it is to nurse you." And who didn't attempt this in the most juvenile ways on the playground as a kid. As a kid songs like "Every Breath You Take" could easily be reconstructed into an ode to a bizarre bathroom experience that would have us in stitches. When in doubt Pop Culture will always thrive on the double entendre or a poop joke or two. Even as children we see the benefit of building something off the work of others.

As beings that posses a strange trait called creativity, our human experience in every form is the reference. Making the profound more personal is the name of the game with humans. Or like Bob Dylan proclaimed in that ground breaking album, maybe it's all just about "Bringing It All Back Home"

Originally published 1/11/2008 on Mog