Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I have been struggling with identifying a topic that has a fresh impact on media that most people consume today. As a result, I have three luke-warm proposals I'd like to pose for peer pondering:

#1 If You Can't Beat Them, Be Them:

Network programming has traditionally carried the banner of decency for television watcherss around the U.S. Recently, violence, sex, and profanity---traditionally seen in cable television---have been showing-up with higher frequency in prime-time programming. These provocative shifts are paired with more subtle changes like shorter season length and longer running time, for network shows that mimic--or are increasingly similar to--cable television shows. Is there a demand for violence, sex, etc. on network television? Is it attempt to cash in on the "Golden Age" of cable television? Or is it just a ploy to draw an increasingly unplugged audience away from Netflix, Hulu, etc.?

#2 Big Reach, Little Town:

Digital music is accepted amongst  the media moguls. It has even start turning a profit rather than costing execs. the millions they spend in piracy settlements. But while the industry becomes enamored with internet-savvy consumers, how do the up-and-comers, the not-yet-famous bands, utilize digital media kick music out of the garage and into customers/listeners buds? Has it been beneficial? Have they abandoned physical media altogether? Specifically, how have Kalamazoo bands--and other Michigan-based acts--utilized technology in the post-CD era?

#3 That One Guy, Made-it-Big:

Nathan K. is a name known well enough around the Kalamazoo bar scene--but his band Stepdad is know better around the U.S. than anywhere around here. How has this Michigan-born artist gone from the basement scene of Kalamazoo to national touring act, and what does it mean for other artists in an area qualified as one of the most musically metropolitan in Michigan?

I'd love comments, critique, etc. on the ideas above. I have more contacts for the ones below, but there seems to be more promise and nuance in the top proposal. That being said, they may very-well all need a thorough run through the garbage disposal to find some nutritional substance among them.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mr. McFarlane Goes To Washington, Brings Back First Lady, Oscars Get Dirty

The goal of the 2013 Oscars seemed more shock than awe, and they didn’t come from the awards themselves.

Alumni of the Golden-Statue Club were the predictable winners: Christoph Waltz won his second, Daniel Day Lewis his third, Ang Lee his second. Jennifer Lawrence won her first, and a bunch of technical awards went to Life of Pi. Anne Hathaway had a darling acceptance speech.

The only striking award was given to Argo for best picture, but considering the Golden Globe hype and critical brouhaha after director Affleck’s Oscar-snub, it still didn’t warrant a spit-take.

Instead, host Seth McFarlane, Family Guy and Ted creator, provided most of the eye-openers for the night.

During the opening ceremony, Denzel Washington’s character from Flight made a guest appearance as a sock-puppet doing cocaine, which  McFarlane assured viewers was okay because “Denzel was in all those Nutty Professor movies.”

William Shatner had to chide the television veteran, “you’re a white man in 2013; you can’t do black hand!”

“No that’s not as bad as it gets,” McFarlane assured after a John Wilkes Booth joke.

The official theme of the night’s Oscars was “Music and FIlm,” celebrating the nostalgia of movie-musicals and film-scores, but McFarlane’s own theme prevailed: Oscar self-acknowledgment and derision.

Traditional, Oscar-typical musical performances of a (flat) Shirley Bassey performance of “Goldfinger” in celebration of James Bond turning 50 and a full-cast stage performance of “One Day More” from  the Les Miserables ran second banana to McFarlane’s two originals,  “We Saw Your Boobs” and “Bless All The Losers”  that remained the glaring highlights of the night.

Jack Nicholson (accidently?) revealed why in his co-presentation with the awkwardly-telecasted First Lady about why they don’t have someone up front “messing around; making comments about rouge, chiffon, sequins and ringlets,” because that’s whole point--the Oscars escape reality, they don’t critique it.

But McFarlane’s commentary focused on the divide between the people that actually watch movies; audiences that laugh at the homophobic-racist-classist jokes be made throughout the evening, and the uplifting quality of films that Mrs. Obama claims “help us celebrate, broaden our minds, lift our matter who we are, where we’re from, or who we love...”

It seemed inappropriate fiction compared to the glamour and gold and whiteness of the celebration that included jokes about how you can only be Jewish in Hollywood and if musicals were gay enough, it was hard to see how accurate her words were.

oscars 2013 seth macfarlane jennifer lawrence boobs 222

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Allen is Wilde-Man, B is for Bob

A Play, Maybe

Allen stares at a brick wall. Maybe he is introspective--maybe he lost a job, a boyfriend, a scholarship, but none of that matters. Probably an art student, given his dress.

A: What are you really?

(He could be distraught. Maybe looking at a shard of mirror on the ground)

A: I’ll ask again, who are you really?

B: That wasn’t what you asked--oh, there it is.

A: There what is?

B: My existence. Your examination of the vacuum has brought about a significant amount of presence onto my very being.

A: That is preposterous. Existence isn’t qualified by words on a page. If thoughts were to remain inside one's head it does not result in creative preponderance of material. Breathless, overwrought, pensive self-deliberation doesn’t lead one out of the darkness of zero.

B. Neither does fanciful prose or self-indulgent argumentative musings.

A: Are you challenging my intellectual---?

B: No, in fact I am not pointedly trying to be led on down a debate specifically structured to point out my fallacies and ineptitude for high-brow though, but rather a tilling of the low earth. Too often is the “high-tower of thought” been brought about as an erected monument for justification of creative thinking.

A: But this level of thinking, critical thinking, is far and beyond superior to any other method in its ability to provide analysis and further critique on works of art, literature, performance--even thought itself. Do you deny such basic presumptions? Human ability to defy and conflict is what makes discussion and progress possible? We are the fissures in the tectonic plates, bottomless gaps of knowledge possible only because of titanic, contrary forces.

B: No, to deny this would be silly.

A: For our discussion it’s important for you to disagree with me on principle, or submit to my valid thesis.

B: No, to accept that would be silly. And before you go on, I’ll tell you the reasoning for this paradox. I can create in-the-between. Those gaps are bottomless. But without conflict the cracks would still be there. It is the very notion that once there is thought there must be conflict that creates conflict. Contemporary is a term often used in tandem with competitor, but they mean very different things. Conflict can inspire, there is no argument against that, but haven’t we moved beyond the alchemic notion that every actions creates an opposite and equal reaction? The critic pulls, and according to you, the artist must be pulled with him--the artist, the creator. A blank canvas is nothing without the paint. Yet you created me--the entire notion was altogether in your head.

A: Some sort of impetus was required. Some sort of skill involved.

B: Ah, but was there? Or does that fact that it is difficult to form my words somehow lead you to believe that there is some great resource bundled away in your head? The resource is your head. The thought and senses that provide thought are enough to form something--even an argument--though no conflict is necessary. Difficulty and skill have nothing to do with an end result. Even a critic would say that the creator ‘knows neither the origin of his deeds nor their result,’ but it does not make them sad or dull, it merely speaks to their ability to create. The ability to critique is optional, not greater. Just because we have the ability to observe and become critical doesn’t always mean those observations are applicable.

A: That’s preposterous that you would invalidate my opinion on this matter--a figment cannot battle with it’s creator.

B: That’s true, it does seem presumptuous of me to know your intentions, and then try to convey them to some fictitious audience. Our even your emotions. Because it isn’t a conveyance, it is an expression of your impression, correct? But then where does the critic leave? The critic denies the reality of events, what an object really is, for their own vanity and consumption. Anything will serve the critic’s purpose. Then why use art? Why use anything? This implies that the critic’s feeling need no material. Then that leads to a disconnection between the critic and the medium they are observing that cannot be linked because of the isolated profundity. They exist on the same plane, but one necessary for the other or else like the chicken and the egg neither would begin.

A: I disagree wholeheartedly.

B: And yet we both exist.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

For Frees?

For Frees?

So a quick perusal of yesterday’s New York Times Arts Section will lead a few careful readers to the latest article on the Upright Citizens Brigade, a newish juggernaut in the comedy industry. Performers here have gone on, according to one commenter, to write or contribute to:


Fallon (4 writers)
SNL (3 or 4 writers, 2 cast members [Kate and Bobby])
Colbert Report (2 writers)
Parks and Rec (Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler)
Key and Peele (2 or 3 Writers)

Every time you see a shot of the writer's room on 30 Rock- those are almost all UCB people.

BFF, Jeselnik Offensive, Brickleberry, The Daily Show.

Rob Riggle, Donald Glover, Ben Schwartz, Ed Helms.


These people owe most of their success to UCB, or at least so says Illisdub from NYC. The reason for this rather detailed internet description, was because while at UCB, none of them got payed.

In a growing era of intern exportation of labor, it becomes little irksome for a great deal of artistic comedic, performers, both doing stand-up and improv, to be treated like, well, as one hyperbolic commenter from California put it “slaves.”

Now glancing past the problematic discussions that arise from that sort of statement, it does seem that more often than not students are okay with the term. Instead of worrying, many laugh it off as just another stepping stone to real professional development. However, the performers at UCB individuals aren’t students like your college buddy stepping up for open mic night. Many of them are performers that are trying to make this their living.

But the UCB says  it’s okay because “they don’t pay their performers in money.” More or less meaning they pay them in exposure and a decent probability for some high-totin’ position that will pay. Though until then, the thought is, well, you [artists] aren’t valuable enough to pay and not essential enough in society to get in a hub-ub about. If you like art, sucks to your asmar.

Seems like a big difference from the age of guilds and whatnot where people were taken in and taken care of, all while learning a craft. Now it seems like we pay more--either in time or money--for exposure and education, than at any previous time I can recollect.

Sure you can love it, but it feels kind of slimy to know that someone else is making a living off of you trying to make it to making a living.

Or maybe that’s just the English major in me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Did She Do? Pauline Kael, Annie Oakley, or really just someone who had an opinion

Pauline Kael chewed bubble-gum while giving lectures. Sass with authority.

It is her confidence, her intellectual defiance that perplexes and invites pleasured readings. She is the Caesar to the intellectual majority, enticing and challenging. The review  of “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” is superscripted and whipped-lashed back to what could be considered her peers “Excerpt From Fantasies Of The Arthouse Audience.” She becomes a plebeian philosopher who aims to defend the ‘hum-drum,’ ‘the pretty,’ and the ‘seductive.’  

Kael writes with the authority of someone who has been denied voice in the Curia for too long--the geek picked on in school all grown up and running the local bank. She quickly parcels out opinion in a clear fashion--an assertive fashion, and dares readers either to enjoy or deny her presumptions. And if that isn’t believable, by golly she’d say otherwise, and that’s that.

But her language and focus are out on the basketball court with the popular kids--prettiness and sex hold priority over everything else. Body parts are given precedence over all other on-screen entities in her film reviews akin to Ben Brantley’s lewd theatr quips.

She develops a sensuality that is unseen in normal reviews. Limbs  are some fresco cobbled together to represent a sheen of sex present in all films--almost forcibly found. “Top Gun,” is a “homoerotic commercial” with fighter pilots with towels “hanging precariously from their waists.” “My Left Foot” is features a Christy Brown, or a Daniel Day-Lewis, whose “sexual seductiveness” is paired with “lolling head and slitted eyes.” Sexuality seems to be synonymous with engaging in Kael’s lexicon.

What’s reassuring about this is the fact that Kael’s seem to spend more time on the screen than on her notebook below, taking in and regurgitating scenes in a manner that feels like a completely autonomous story is being re-written for the reader. Kael is a storyteller rather than an accountant doling out advice on where  best to spend one’s dollar.

Her own words and perplexities fill pages of her lengthy inner dialogue--only referencing characters in grand schemes of the movie as a whole, or going about comparing actors and pondering roles that could have been.

She is as much outside of the film as she is in. Quotes and scripts are often-times entirely ignored in favor of scene summary. Senses for Kael are not so much tools for detail but receptors for waves of pleasure and inundation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

So,I Dig It, But What Am I Supposed to Do With This?

Many an individual will label me a hipster. Most of the time it is to my chagrine--recieiving snips due to my love for poofy, cotton Huxtable-sweaters or snorts at the dinky, thick framed Ray-Bans that crookedly adorn my face. I have to see and I have to stay warm.

On the other-hand, when the title becomes a beautiful badge, is when comes to mean escape from identifiable labels: "What ARE you listening to?" friends will ask at the garbled noise-rock or other such internet music-oddity that comes oozing out of my speakers--most recently this happened with Boards of Canada videos that were playing on repeat while writing some mid-terms.

I find a sense of pride in being able to expose myself--and others--to new or odd types of music that is simply difficult to find. But sometimes it becomes difficult to listen to, literally. Like when they come on cassette.

Sean Hartman, a friend of mine, who was recently reviewed and interviewed in Kalamazoo College's Naked Music and Culture Magazine started his own record-and-tape label three years back with his fellow musician Joshua Tabbia. Yes, you read that right, tape. 

Sean and Josh also pride themselves on finding artists that simply don't recieve the same amount of attention as for-pay distribution companies (comapanies that make money off their distribution sales; Sean and Josh give all proceeds to the bands). They feature noise-artists, experimental drone groups from Europe, cool-dudes from California, and nifty poetry-electronica from New York. But Sean and Josh are just two buddies living in apartments in Chicago and Kalamazoo, they don't have the cash to go about making CD covers and professional-level labels.

So instead they make these. 

So they buy tapes wholesale off the internet, mostly from people selling them in bulk on ebay with Josh designing most of the labels himself--and by all means, they look great. 


But hey, am I just supposed to look at these things? I still collect vinyl because I find them to be a reliable, sturdy medium of listening to music, and I enjoy the hiss crackle that comes along to sitting down and listening to an album. But much of that is old music, Fats Domino records and Maynard Ferguson collectors pieces. It's all  stuff that is hard to find elsewhere, or simply sounds too different on CD or MP3, like it loses a bit of its soul if played by anything other than a tiny needle placed precariously on a sheet of plastic.

However, I am guilty of nabbing a new vinyl now and then. But, I usually want a download code to justify being able to listen to these newer, easier to find albums in places other than my listening station at home. 

To be fair, Already Dead Tapes and Records has just started providing download codes that come attached with their product--but only with the last two releases of 64. And they have always allowed consumers to listen to the MP3s of the albums via their bandcamp, but they aren't for purchase or download. 

So I absolutely dig being able to find these under-represented artists, that deserve exposure to out-of-niche music listeners, but I am not about to buy a tape rig or some car from the 1990s just so I can go listen to these $5 tapes. I love the art and absolutely adore the design mindset from Tabbia that seems fresh and slightly edgier than glossy, mainstream photoshopped nonsense, that also compliments and utilizes the format of the tapes to their fullest, but I have hard time justifying hanging vinyl on the wall when it is first and foremost supposed to be listened to let alone put some cassettes in a shadow box to frame for my friends. (Even though that sounds kinda cool.)

Maybe I am just a grumpy consumer, but hey, I want to buy these things, share 'em, spread 'em further than a lick of butter on toast--am I really just supposed to listen to the music on tape?
AD056---Waiting To Be Spoken To, by The Next Commuter. 

AD035---Macronesia, by King Necro.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Not Quite Stoked, But Mighty Pleasant

Presented in the sunny, front-room of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the “Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay” pottery exhibition inhabits an emotive realm outside of its punny title of excitement and energy; instead settling somewhere outside the kiln into a calming array of jar, bowls and sculpture.

Educated at the Saint John’s University in Minnesota in 1976, and director of the school of pottery since 1980, Robert Bresnahan is mentor of the four former apprentices that comprise the other four “Stoked” artists. Himself having studied in Japan during his senior year, and three years after that, under the 13th generation scion of pottery-making Nakazato Takashi,  Bresnahan’s work and teachings have “absorbed [the] Japanese culture’s emphasis on community and reliance on sustainable and renewable materials.”

When provided with these broad criterion, the four former apprentices took such inspiration in forms of wildly amorphous shape and subject that range from simple pottery to symbolic sculpture.

Comprising the former, Samuel Johnson’s contributions to the exhibit are plain--everyday earthenware pots and bowls with imperfect, wobbly bodies coated in a smattered, almost sloppy, white slip glaze. He cultivates an appreciation of textures in minute shades of absent color, though superior strength in attention to the surface and exploration of patterns might go to his co-apprentice Kevin Flicker.

Flicker’s works also sit within the realm of simple--almost ancient, in the shape of the classic pottery that seems appropriate for the age of antiquity. Raised sections of delicate patterns--concentric circles and scale-like planes--- are scratched onto the body of pots, asking to be appraised by fingertips.

Works that play with the guidelines of Bresnahan’s axioms, however, are by apprentices Anne Meyer and Steven Earp, with Bresnahan’s work itself providing the rule. Bresnahan’s clay is shaped into tea-pots and serving bowls of Japanese influence, smooth bodies of red and brown adorned with hand-woven reed handles that create a root-like feel to his work--a tea set for the forest.

However, Earp and Meyer explore these themes of “community” and “sustainability.” With intricate latticework mimicking the veins of plants, or his “Large Presentation Jar” (2009) adorned with introspective couplets “Of earth I am it is most true/ Disdain me not for so are you.” Meyer, the most diversified of the five, uses human figurines to display communal female emotion, such as “Lion” (2009),  a nude, encroaching, enraged woman with arms outstretched and eyes focused on some individual about to strangle the viewer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sherlocked (Har Har Har)

So the nut to crack is why this Sherlock and not any other? Or why not this Sherlock and every other (or a particular favorite).

Escaping the reality of Arthur Conan Doyle’s prolific nature is nigh impossible; from novel to graphic novel to stage to film to kid’s show (anyone remember “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century?”), poor Sherlock, and buddy Watson, have been tossed around the realms of fiction more times than I care to count--or can count, for that matter.

Where does this fit in with a review of “Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure”? Whether or not to compare the play to modern television adaptations of the detective, such as “Sherlock” or “Elementary,” I think is easier than saying whether or not it should be compared to television. While many comment that the stage’s proximity to television is only a “leap away,” usually a negative step--which way depends on the critic--a distinction needs to be made between Sherlock in New York or Watson in 21st century London.

The Last Adventure simply doesn’t occur in either of those places. It is a classic representation, or traditional, much more in line with the old PBS Masterpiece Theatre pieces--”Hound of The Baskervilles” and the like--than anything else that comes to my memory. So keep Benedict Cumberbatch and Lucy Liu in your Netflix queue and out of the review.

This leads to required research to find out other stage productions Sherlock and his cast of witty characters have been written into, as those would be more apt comparisons. Or find television productions that took the old tale and transposed it. Preferably though, I’d want to stick to stage (unless there was absolutely nothing else available), as a rapid drop into a film vs. theatre debate could develop about a character who didn’t originate in either.

That being said, comfort can be found comparing it to the original textual stories it is based on--which can be assumed are  “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “Reichenbach Falls.” The dry wit and humor of the books are more in line with the atmosphere of “The Final Adventure,” along with being a “fair” reference point for what the play was invoking.

With all that nastiness out of the way, the ability to start taking the play apart as a performance in its own right: at the Civic, for a Mid-West audience, professional standards as opposed to amateur (community) theatre, the blocking, the acting, the sometimes gorgeous lighting design with sometimes lackluster stage design, etc.More specifically: a critique is formed around whether or not the Sherlock of this production was re imagining the old tales or rehashing them. Was Lady Aderlee an accessory, love interest, or a strong female lead? Did her position on stage reinforce stereotypes, serve to separate her from the cast, or generally make here similar to the one other female character in primarily male-oriented show? How did the lighting, the letter-reading, serve to add or distract from the mystery? Hell, did the ensemble even sound British?

These are the sort of questions I’d ask--after escaping the adaptation dilemma.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Something For Funsies--A Student Showcase

Age doesn’t always translate to wisdom, prowess, or ability, and Saturday night’s Student Showcase, co-hosted by Naked Music Magazine, followed that ponderance strictly.

Start off with this modern addagge: a PA system, does not a venue make. Held in Kalamazoo College’s Hicks Banquet Hall, someone decided that stuffing five or so speakers in the back of the long, narrow room in front of a half-foot stage for oral presentation made for great acoustics.

I’ve visited stuffy bars in my time, but at least I could hear most of the bands over the chit-chat of bar flies.

That venomously declared, the bands themselves were less poisonous--though of the five acts, most audience-members tributed their attention to the taco bar and the button-making table.

Crammed on to the miniscule stage, a rocking-brass group opened the night to some 100 K -students, pulling off one of the more complex sets of the night. It was refreshing to see something different than the  one-man, singer-songwriter  or 4 piece garage rock performances that typically adorn open-mic-like events.

So hey, why not follow it up with a one-man, singer-songwriter thing.. .David Daily crooned his way through covers of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and other 60’s sweet-things that  swooned some away from the snacks and crafts. Disappointing, however, was Daily’s aversion to crossing lines that caused intrigue. He was followed by a 5-piece rock set that “had a really Minnesota feel,” according to one other showgoer, but didn’t distinguish itself by doing much more than sit down occasionally to let their female vocalist sing with their lead guitar player.

Thankfully, Andres Villafone and buddy Ken, played a duo-acoustic set that provided needed respite. The played a set  of backgrounded, Spanish-inspired guitar ramblings and other twitching twiddles that kept many quiet with eyes glazed at the stage. Void of vocals, the two demonstrated talent without the apparently needed leap from someone-elses work. Basically it was pleasant to not hear a cover.

Kingmedian (4-piece rock) closed. Declaring, which I say instead of ‘covering’ because their vocals followed an a-tonal trend, Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” “Weezer’s “El Scorcho” and other covers. While it was getting late into the 2-hour show, numbers dwindled and jaws remained clenched until the band navigated safely into their space-fuzz original songs “Hey Brother” and “Wear Another Skin.”

Otherwise I agreed when host and band-member Colin Smith pleaded for someone to get lead singer Camden “off the mic.”