Monday, March 31, 2008

Po' boy sketches mk. II

Rejected Camouflage Pattern #34

The Coolest Xbox gamer you would EVER hope to meet...

More Bad News from the Hip-Hop Frontier

My TV happened to end up on BET for a while this afternoon and I was struck by the further distillation of "hop hop" music into a ubiquitous murmur of rhythmic noise.

Exhibit A: Lil' Wayne's Lollipop - yet another sex-as-candy innuendo love-grind features Lil' Wayne and bevy of hoochie girls rolling around a light cityscape in a stretch limousine. I honestly thought I'd tuned in during the song's bridge - the mood seemed so transitional and ambiguous. After listening for a few more bars, however, I realized this was the song.
I believe myself to have very broad limits in defining music, and my tastes are eclectic and varied. That being said, calling Lollipop a hip-hop song is like calling a doorbell a symphony.

(Let's not get theoretical here - I know there are those who would argue for the virtues of doorbells.)

This particular track demonstrated some disturbing trends which I feel should be brought to light for conscientious listeners everywhere.
The track Lollipop was produced using the now-familiar thick, heavy "southern-style" beats that have come out of cities like Atlanta and Nashville. While they may be great fun to blast out your neighbors while at stop lights, their complexity and originality is only a glimmering shadow of the pioneering hip-hop music.

Still, like radio-friendly top-40 hits, these artists mix and produce their music to sell - featuring hooks and catchy rhythms galore. This is good business.

However, unlike all music up until this point, this was the first time when I was unable to hear a discernible solo artist. Quite astonishingly, Lil' Wayne's vocals were multi-tracked and mixed down into the surrounding music so that I honestly expected the real artist to come on and start rapping on top of Lil' Wayne's ostinato.
Still, after listening for another minute, I realized that this was the song, and this was the artist and this was the music. And this was one sorrily disappointed music fan.

This is a sign of our music culture: as iPods have become a universal accessory for all ages and all demographics, musicians and producers have responded by crafting their tunes to play well to America's suddenly all-mobile listening habits. Gone are 80% of dynamic contrasts. Aside from a fade-in or -out, ipod listeners can not be inconvenienced by the trouble of having to adjust volume constantly to accomodate the roar of life around them. However, when you play this music at home, on your stereo for your private enjoyment, suddenly you realize how much this music sounds like a background soundtrack to a bad television program. It is merely a murmur, built for you to keep step with it, and help "groove" along, but not complicated or interesting enough to force your ear to have to listen and distract you from your otherwise already complicated life.

This may seem a luxurious compliant to most, and for the most part, they would be right. It is a small irritation on the zit-covered existence of daily troubles, but the further we slip away from appreciating true art in any form, the worse we are as a culture.

I can't get inflamed about this, however, because I have to believe that real art and real music will survive as it always has. In ten years we will have forgotten about Lil' Wayne's Lollipop (thankfully) and will only remember this decade in sweeping generalities, the way we regard the 90's as 'Grunge' and think of Classic Hip-Hop as Run DMC, despite the hundreds of other influential musicians who worked during that pioneering time.

I await music's next revolution with baited breath, and can't wait for this drought of musical sterility to pass.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You gotta practice machines, too...

For those of you paying attention, this would be an example of overactivity when it comes to how much ink is on the paper. The smaller the image gets, the more confusing it becomes.
The Undertaking of Project #756.4

In effort to remain productive, useful and utilize resources, I have begun a campaign to develop, learn and research an until-now unexploited potential gold mine: cartooning.

Sure, it's fun. Sure, it's easy. To do poorly, that is.
Sure, every church bulletin/sermon notes page since I turned 5 has been decorated.

Let's see if we can't use it for something more...
The premise:

Do free-hand drawing every day to build up skills with pen and ink that will benefit in the subtle storytelling art form of cartooning.

The rules:

10 - 15 minutes are permitted per drawing. This must include pencils and inks. It mu
st do its best to convey in the simplest shapes possible the point of the drawing. In other words: the goal is to maximize the economy of line in showing the viewer what is happening. Great cartoonists do this so well, it's uncanny. Us poor ones just slop ink on the page and hope something comes out of it.

Different types of tools will be used in experimenting with different techniques, attempts and style, etc.

Right now, the weapon of choice has been a regular Sharpie marker. The goal: to get a wider range of textures out of the felt tip beyond what I would scribble on top of a cardboard box. Then again, that might look cool. I should try that...

I will do my best to post a drawing here every day. (Ala The Creatures in My Head) to gauge reaction and hopefully see a side-by-side improvement as I muddle through this.

I give you the Carnivorous Parking Meter:

The Dude Who's Way Too Excited About Riding the Toy Airplane:

...and of course, Ugly Alien with his Rat-on-a-Stick:

Apparently I shall have to suffer through all sorts of torments in order to get this done. Most of them are technologically related (busted scanner, computer programs that can't seem to comprehend the simplest task I ask of it...) but through it all, I shall persevere to bring you my rendition of a singing toilet.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

As a Follow-Up to My Last Post

...mentioning some of the innocent, harmless music being made today, here is the balance point:
the grimiest, dirtiest artists I could find.

The Bumblebeez
Australian Hip Hop Troupe features a motley crew of white kids (and girls!) with some of the messiest, infectious collections of noises I've heard recently. Overblown and distorted, everything sounds like its playing through a blown-out boom box. And that's why its so cool! Content is much less a factor, as you can barely understand what the various emcees are mumbling into their $2 microphone.

Mickey Avalon
Jewish New York-born rapper has about as uplifting an attitude towards life as one could expect from a posting with this title. His songs are about a complete loss of faith, prostitution, comparing the size of his genetalia and various sex moves known as the "Jane Fonda." A gifted lyricist, he does something not a lot of emcees bother with: articulate. Even with his whiny, pouty son-of-a-b**** attitude, he makes you join his effort, rather than hate him.
"Toy Shop" Girl Musicians Are SO In Right Now.

First (if one can remember with me,) it was Regina Spektor, a Russian singer/song-writer who had quirky, unusual pop songs featuring a great deal of acoustic instruments and simple, innocent melodies. Needless to say, these weren't songs about self-mutilation, anarchy or dead puppies.

This past year we saw a huge surge in the popularity/number of these "toy shop" musicians. Feist even managed to pull a 'best new artist' Grammy nomination out of the whole ordeal. Sarah Bareilles and Yael Naim are using the same recipe: one part attractive (not glamorous) girl, one part piano, one part hooky melodies. Shake liberally and serve chilled.

The last two names mentioned in the above paragraph have certainly seen a huge boost in exposure due to their music's use in nation-wide commercials. Ms. Bareilles in Rhapsody Music's satellite music channel, and Ms. Naim in Apple's latest commercial for the iBook Air.

While this is the latest, freshest thing to emerge on the musical scene, it will certainly soon tire just as quickly since labels have obviously figured out the road to success and are quick to submit their own verse of the same song.

The characteristics of this music are unique. While so much music getting air play is production-laden, guitar-drenched, woofer-kicking schlock, this music seems absolutely refreshing. A great deal of acoustic instruments, quaint, almost comic and whimsical arrangements at time make you smile a little bit while considering the light-hearted innocence of the song itself.

This is what comes up when you put "Pork rind buttercup" into a Google image search. What other wonders will we discover next?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From the Office

Happy at having finished a rehearsal early, the orchestra poured out of the school where rehearsal had been held and filed to their cars by ones and twos.
It had been raining off and on throughout the day and vehicles that had been sitting unused for most of the day showed the usual symptoms: wet brake pads and swollen door seals. As I reached my car, I, as I always did, stuck my key into the lock of the hatchback - where I commonly put my instrument while in the car.

Much to my surprise, after turning the lock, I looked down at my hand to see that only 60% of the key remained in my hand. The rest of it had hilariously decided to jump ship inside the lock, not only denying me the ability to get inside my car, but also the ability to drive home.

Thankfully, at that moment, two other violists happen to walk by and see my look of shocked bewilderment as I held up the half-key for their inspection. Surely, they had to be laughing on the inside. To be polite, they both seemed quite genuinely concerned, but if roles were reversed, I know it would've taken some amount of self control to point and laugh.

Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, the number for my insurance's roadside assistance was pulled off of a internet-capable cell phone and I called their handy-dandy automated "hang on" phone system while they tried to track down a locksmith that could come out and do the work.

Already ten minutes have passed, and the great majority of the other musicians have all left. I am invited to sit in my friend's car while we wait and find out how many days it will take for the locksmith to arrive. Staying true to my fortune, I realize that the only (apparently) useful theft deterrent my car has is a computer chip contained in the key itself, which once engaged in the ignition, allows the motor to start. Without this chip, my car is nothing more than a stylish paper weight.
Finding a locksmith that could replace the key with a compatible key chip inside took longer, and, as it turns out, meant that they would have to drive from Zimbabwe. But, "they should be there in about 40 minutes." (ha ha)

The school where we had rehearsed had since locked its doors, the janitors undoubtedly going home to their warm beds and the thought of joyously returning to their work the next morning. My friend (and her warm car) began to realize that she had to start heading home.

Looking around for any sign of civilization, I spotted a beacon of modern convenience: a Seven Eleven convenience store across the street from the school. Its fluorescent bulbs burned bright into the night, welcoming me with all of the assorted surreal sugar-coated shrink-wrapped 2 for $3 offerings I could ever imagine.

I walk in, viola on back, prepared to wait out the remainder of my "40 minutes" by the magazine rack near the front door. This way, when the phone call comes at precisely 10:29, (40 minutes) I will be able to dash out the door, across the street and to my car to meet the locksmith. Ironically enough, I find myself looking through the Auto Trader, wondering how much extra remote access would cost on a new car...

10:45 - Having exhausted the Auto Trader, RV Trader and Motorcycle Trader, I've resorted to staring out the window, making an unusual eye contact with the customers as they pull up in front of the store, a mere four feet from where I stand, staring straight back into their headlights. One starts to wonder if the man without a coat carrying a large black case on his back who deliberately stares down customers would be making any friends tonight...

11:15 - An automated courtesy call from my insurance company wants to find out if my help has arrived yet. Press 1 to talk to a representative.


It turns out that the lock smith is just crossing the bridge into Virginia which will still give me a good 30 minutes to ponder my life choices while I decide whether to look at XL, Lowrider or Elle.

12:00 - A call on the cell phone from the locksmith himself! He tells me that he's just made it to the intersection where the school is located, but he realized he doesn't have the computer he needs to program the new key, so he has to return to the locksmith mothership to get it. (Again, in Zimbabwe.) "Hang tight!"

FYI - The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is on newsstands everywhere. And, Avril Lavigne makes the cover of Maxim, and Car & Driver features a cover article about the new Pontiac G8. Some cheaply produced periodical named Shooting laments the passing of the .223 ammunition and I watch the same group of 3 - 8 guys come into the store three times and buy half of the beer that they have in stock. For a Wednesday night, it's quite a party...

1:00 - My body is shutting down. Tired, hungry and crabby, I'm sitting on a plastic bag full of over-priced logs for the rich man's fireplace, trying to stay interested in a one-page article about zany office character's bracket choices for March Madness. Also trying to stave off any undue suspicion from the two Ethiopians working the late shift.

1:30 - another courtesy call from the insurance company - this time I'm put on hold (why not?) only to find out that
indeed, the locksmith has in fact driven to another state in search of an Excalibur-computer. Fantastic.

1:50 - Finally, a phone call from the locksmith, driving around the school looking for my car. I meet him at my car and show him the nub of a key that I had left.
Interestingly, as surprising as the act of snapping the key off had been, retrieving the tip of the key from the lock on the trunk took an entire 35 seconds.

As our project progressed, keys cut and programmed, the locksmith and I began to talk and I found out that he had served four years in the military and had gone and done a tour in Iraq. Sensing our camaraderie, this locksmith decided to tell my some war stories of his time over in "The Sandbox."

I don't even feel I should write the story down, for the protection of all involved. Surely it is a story he should not be re-telling for his own safety, but also because of the potential legal proceedings he could become involved in as questions would arise about Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Convention.

It made me wonder: as frustrated as I have been by the experience of seeing the nominally stupid population that makes up the enlisted core of the Air Force, (and assumptions regarding the other branches of service) it puts me in a bind: I rely and trust upon these very people to complete their missions which will ensure the safety and well-being of the United States, and yet I often find the attitudes and actions of these soldiers, airmen and marines as individuals to be ridiculous, childish, dangerous and, for lack of a better word, stupid.
Why is my job in a situation where we're treated like brain dead infants and told how/where/when to do everything? It's because of this locksmith who met me at a parking lot at 1:50 in the morning.
This is saddening, frustrating and perplexing, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The other thing I wondered about was whether or not I wanted to be standing in the middle of a parking lot with this guy at 2 AM in the morning...

Thankfully, I was home by 2:30, a mere $360 dollars less and not a bit wiser for the experience.

A note to Ford: Please install a form of theft deterrent that will allow me to have a replacement key fashioned that will cost less than 10% off the vehicle's worth. Thanks.

And for all of you kids who are thinking about opening your trunk: use the release switch by the driver's seat - just to be safe.