Thursday, January 5, 2012

Generational Bias

Jim Fusilli today writes in the Wall Street Journal about Generational Bias. When it comes to listening to music many people, once they reach a certain age, stop listening to new music and prefer to listen to the music of their youth.  Fusilli calls them the Gee-Bees for short-

They present their argument as perceived wisdom: Popular music was better then. For you to disagree is to reveal a deficiency on your part. Cite examples of excellence among today's musicians and you too are dismissed. Here's a typical conversation:

Gee-Bee: "Go ahead. Name a band today that's better than (insert '60s or '70s act here)."
You: "Radiohead? Arcade Fire? TV on the Radio? Sigur Rós?"
Gee-Bee: "I never heard of them."
You: "You never heard of Radiohead?"
Gee-Bee: "I don't listen to new music. I don't need to. No one will ever be better than (insert favorite old-time artist or band)."

This kind of obduracy isn't new, but it does seem especially egregious among boomers.

I happen to think he's being a bit hard on the GeeBees.  Raising kids, negotiating the workplace and saving for /worrying about retirement takes its toll and leaves precious little time for indulging in the exploration of new music.  Every year there's more of it and longer you live the harder it gets to keep track of it all.  In my case the 1990s were my 'lost decade'.  During that time I completely lost touch with the current trends in our culture.  It would have been quite easy to simply listen to songs of youth, happily ensconced in a little self-made time bubble.
But something interesting happened.  When my daughter Anna was about 11 or 12 she introduced me to The White Stripes.  I smiled and said to her, "That's good stuff!  It's clear they've been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin."  She asked, "Who is that?"
And so a wonderful conversation with my kids started up.  I remember one day my son John came home with a Gorillaz cd.  I was skeptical.  A band made up of cartoon characters?  Shades of pretend bands like The Monkeys or The Partridge Family.  But the lead singer's voice was oddly familiar and I snapped my fingers- this was Damon Albarn of Blur (ok, so the 1990s weren't a complete black hole). 
Today, with the help of my kids, I find myself listening to Sharon Jones, Kid Cudi and MIA (the list goes on and on).  Stuff I'd probably not be aware of without their guidance.  We share what we find and hold onto the best without generational bias.
Oh, and Anna's favorite station on Pandora?  You can create it yourself by typing in Hang On Sloopy 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Santa? Please?

Design is key and this why the Segway has failed to live up to its hype.  People riding Segways look like dorks.  Dorks with very good posture, but still dorks.  Years ago, I paid ten bucks to ride one around a parking lot at a tourist trap for 15 minutes.  Ok, it was cool how it responded to leaning this way and that way like riding a motorcycle, but everything about its design was screaming, "I'M SO BORING!" 

This machine, the Ryno, on the other hand, has a distinct air of danger and style.  It looks sexy. 

Ok, the top speed of 20mph is meh... so maybe it's not that dangerous.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rolling the Beats

Here's a lovely Mashup which integrates the theme song from Magnum PI with Under Pressure and (perhaps ironically?) Bittersweet Symphony... as well as 26 other beats and vocals....

What I find personally interesting about this stuff is that I was a DJ for a disco club way back in the day.  I took pride in synching tunes by their rhythm and beat.  I worked all day long building a smooth set so that in the evening the experience for the audience was seamless.  So, these days, if I hear a DJ mixing tunes at a bar or a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah, I will literally cringe when the overlapping beats clash randomly and thoughtlessly.  Where is pride in craftsmanship?

But then, I come across something like Ithaca Audio and heave a huge sigh of relief.  They are taking the craftsmanship of the top notch DJ aesthetic into another realm.  Ok, I only had two turntables and a mixing board.  With this technology, they are doing things I never dreamed might be possible.

Is it an art form?  The tools may be new... but yes, of course it is.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Playboy Interview with Steve Jobs 1985

A fascinating interview with Mr. Jobs by David Sheff of Playboy Magazine.  The interview takes place in February 1985.  In May, the board of directors at Apple would remove him from managerial duties and he resigned five months later to start NeXT.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we can see how from start to finish, Steve Jobs lays out the aesthetic and business principles through which he will ultimately prove to dominate the industry.  I have always believed that Jobs talent was his aesthetic sense.  Whenever the inevitable 'I'm a Mac, I'm a PS' debate started I always said that 'I'm a Mac' because it's the better aesthetic experience.  I spend a good part of my day in front of my computer.  Is it too much to ask that that this environment be aesthetically pleasing?  Jobs understood this.

There are so many wonderful quotes in the interview.  Yes, loads of snarky ones where he dismisses the PC as junk designed by committees who use market research to back their decisions.   And there's the story of how he dropped into a calligraphy class and his subsequent appreciation of the beauty of text led him to insist on multiple fonts for the Macintosh.

But other snippets show this young entrepreneur's deeper insight.  This one speaks to keeping an open mind as we age:

Playboy: Why is the computer field dominated by people so young? The average age of Apple employees is 29.

Jobs: It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.”

Jobs always had the fanatical vision of a True Believer:

Playboy: Obviously, you believe that computers are going to change our personal lives, but how would you persuade a skeptic? A holdout?
Jobs: A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Here he talks about his attention to detail:

"Playboy: What’s the difference between the people who have insanely great ideas and the people who pull off those insanely great ideas?
"Jobs: Let me compare it with IBM. How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through." 

If you care about quality in design, this interview is highly recommended.  Read it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Roanoke's Taubman Museum of Art

Speaking of kitsch, here's an article in today's Wall Street Journal about a museum struggling to be relevant to the community it serves:

"ROANOKE, Va.—Mark Cline's fiberglass sculptures of giant ticks and man-eating dinosaurs are the sort of fare that a $66 million art museum would normally keep at arm's length.

But curators at the Taubman Museum of Art have approached Mr. Cline about showcasing some of his unconventional works.

"Nostalgia reigns in Roanoke's core and it isn't reflected in the hyper-contemporary glass-and-steel museum. "We could have used that $66 million to promote our true heritage, like moonshine running, country music and '56 Oldsmobiles," laments David "Mudcat" Saunders, a longtime resident and a political consultant.

" of his looming presence in the Taubman brings dubious responses from some museum supporters.

"Shakespeare sometimes played to the groundlings. I guess we have to do some of that too," says William Rutherfoord, a Roanoke painter and art historian, making reference to English theater audiences that included the poor. Yet Mr. Rutherfoord, whose oil works are part of the Taubman's permanent collection, says keeping an open mind to sharing gallery space with Mr. Cline isn't easy: "My mind has been violently jammed open."

Sculptor Mark Cline has created works with titles like 'Foamhenge' and 'Hunt Bigfoot With A Redneck.'  Here's a piece in Roadside America about his studio:

The Artist is Present

In 2010 Marina Abramović was at the MoMA for her retrospective:

During the run of the exhibition, Abramović performed "The Artist is Present," a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. -

Now you can play an online game entitled "The Artist is Present" here:

Which recreates the experience of entering the museum, buying a ticket, walking past paintings and then... waiting for hours to sit across from Marina Abramović to experience "The Artist is Present."  It was written by Pippin Barr who believes there's no reason video games cannot also be fine art.

"Are games art?! This one definitely is! The Artist is Present is a Sierra-style recreation of the famed performance piece of the same name by artist Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Have the experience only a lucky few have ever had! Stare into Marina Abramovic's eyes! Make of it what you will! Just like art!" -Pippin Barr

You can only play during museum hours (eastern standard time) which also means it is unavailable Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And the wait might be as long as five hours.

Play/experience more of his games/art here: