Posts tagged ‘Shows’

Clap your hands say meh

Earlier this month I dropped my remaining vacation days a 5-day jaunt in Brooklyn during which I attended the Blip Festival, an event whose praises I cannot sing loud or long enough. But as my hearing returned to full capacity, so did my sense of reality and perspective over what had just taken place.

I’ve listened to electronic music nearly all my life and grew up on Nintendo. The mental library of earthly sounds I’ve accumulated over the years contains it’s fair share of lo-fi bloops, bleeps, snaps and peeps. Nonetheless, this was essentially my first experience with the artists and music that define what some would call the chip music or chiptunes scene, a music genre that seems to define itself more by hardware and production aesthetic than by the nature of the music. That is to say that over the course of the festival we were treated to a variety music – pop, rock, hip-hop, reggae, house, ebm/futurepop, idm, breakcore, industrial and every grey area in between – that was apparently all under the umbrella of chiptune.

bloop bloop bleep bleep

That’s Glomag, and yes, that is indeed a Nintendo Game Boy in his hands. The original big honking Game Boy at that, and it’s fitted with one of those screen-brightening and -enlarging doodads. Chip music essentially involves repurposing archaic computer hardware into instruments. Most commonly, this means game consoles, and this in turn most commonly means the Nintendo Game Boy. Of the 40-some-odd artists at Blip, I’d estimate about 95% of them used the Game Boy in some form, and about 75% used it as the sole instrument in their ensemble. A lot of these guys had pretty tricked out Game Boys, like two-tone cases with custom-installed back-lit screens. Once in a while you’d see someone using a Game Boy SP or PSP and you knew they were totally style-fakers. In any event, though photos of the previous two festivals led me to believe we’d see some, there was no truly inventive use of hardware a la James Houston‘s Big Ideas:

In days of yore, electronic musicians often used keyboards, live drums and/or guitars, turntables, theramins, effects pedals, and a bevy of other instruments that involve some sort of physical exertion and performance in their live acts. Those days are largely gone; today, most electronic shows involve some laptop button-pushing, knob-tweaking, fader-flicking and not much more.

So creep with me, if you will, and imagine standing in a crowd of unkempt 20-somethings staring at another unkempt 20-something on stage, garishly dressed, hunched over with Game Boy in hand, queuing tracks and adjusting parameters, intermittently taking a break to fist-pump, thrash about, or gesture awkwardly in some other manner to express his excitement and passion for the music he’s not quite actually playing. It is a very arresting experience to say the least.

I have a back-up NES so I can spike one when I lose.

Believe it or not, there was some dancing, some awkward spastic nerd dancing. And if the music is good and the crowd is good and the dancing is good, then, performance be damned, it’s still a good time. But as you might imagine there was a large contingent just sort of standing there, barely nodding their heads like you do when you don’t want to seem not into the show. What up with that? What were these guys doing at the bloop bleep show? I mean, they’re not partying, not drinking, not molesting women and surely not appreciating the skill of the performance. I’m sure some might take exception, but as a former DJ and musician, a player of video games and a one-time-owner of a Game Boy, I can proclaim with confidence that it’s not that difficult to do and not at all impressive to behold.

What ever happened to showmanship? Say what you will about misogynistic epic metal, but Manowar knew how to put on a fucking show. Guitars would be played in every position imaginable: over the head, behind the back, between the legs, shared betwixt two people. I saw their bassist solo for like 10 goddamn minutes and then proceed to break those absurdly thick strings with his bare hands, one by one. Even if you weren’t that into the music or interested in slamming your fragile body into a crowd of strangers, you still had to be impressed with Manowar. Virtuosity, showmanship, leather codpieces. There is no substitute:

Showmanship is not to be confused with spectacle. One of the better acts at Blip, a duo from Barcelona called Meneo, was sheer spectacle. Don’t misunderstand, they were awesome and everyone had a blast, but their set was all about on-stage antics that involved wrestling, nudity, toilet paper and hiding microphones in various locations inside pants. The guy on the Game Boy came up to me, snatched the ear plugs from my ears and ate them. They didn’t bring that keytar, just leggings and unrestrained Dadaist energy. But for the people in the audience who weren’t that into the music, weren’t dancing and weren’t drinking, they had to have been outrageously uncomfortable during that set.

The other component to Blip, and to most live music of any genre these days, is the visual display that accompanies the performance. It was in this aspect that Blip seemed really appealing when I first heard of it but also fell the most flat in actuality. Last year, the fest had several projection screens and this video screen with ridiculously oversized pixels which produced a look that was really complimentary to the music. Geneva’s Mapping Festival uses all kinds of inventive displays each year – note the translucent curtains for floating projections. The Copenhagen Mikrodisko takes an even more lo-fi approach that still has a wonderful aesthetic. So you can imagine my disappointment when this year’s Blip had a single projection screen behind the stage and nothing more. Granted, the set-up is only as good as the VJs and animators who show their work. Some of the musicians, namely Meneo, Anamanaguchi, and m-.-n did their own visuals or had animators do stuff just for them, which were usually pretty good, and a couple of the guys in the small line-up of VJs that worked with the rest of the acts were okay, but a lot of the time the screen just looked like it was displaying a broken VCR.

Until now, I didn’t realize this was, you know, a thing, chip music, as in deserving of its own scene and word and all. As far as I know, lo-fi electronic video game-ish sounds have been used in music for quite a while but perhaps more sparingly than in this case. This album got a lot of good press when it dropped almost two years ago, but think about how superfluous it is to have bloop-bleep computer music covered by musicians using even more bloopy-bleepy computers. Don’t get me wrong, I heart Kraftwerk. And I like these 8 bit guys. They put on a decent show. I would just maybe take issue with the claim, as they make in 2 Player Productions’ chiptune documentary Reformat The Planet, which was screened at Blip and apparently got a nod at SXSW, that they’re doing something entirely new and revolutionary when what they’re really up to is more or less bizarre bordering on Luddite. This is more a critique of the film and not the musicians, but it seems as if the filmmakers focused on the contemporary NYC scene not because they’re trying to illustrate via microcosm but simply because that’s where they are and that’s who their friends are so that’s who they have access to. They treat Blip as just that – an isolated event – and don’t really touch on the international scene or put chiptunes in the context of the history of electronic music. I would take up that crusade but that’s not really my job or the point of Redikulus. My job is just to draw attention to silly shit, and I believe my work here is done.

– posted by RussellMania3000

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December 31, 2008 at 5:34 PM 2 comments

Something to see, who’s comin’ with me?

Photo by Mike Mergen for the NY Times

Photo by Mike Mergen for the NY Times

There’s a little place in Philadelphia called the Rosenbach Museum. Now, I haven’t been there yet, although the women I e-mailed with was very cordial. You see, I was trying to get in to a members only event, Sendak on Sendak. No, I couldn’t come and have food and drink on the Rosenbach without being a member that night, but there were plenty of hours in which I could come and see the show. I sincerely hope you aren’t asking yourself who Sendak is, because you, my friend, are about to be a bandwagon fan. Oh yes, that’s right, with the advances in computer animation, a Where the Wild Things Are movie is going to be released that is going to be awesome. The only place to have a clip of this still is Gawker. It’s old, but still poignant news for the rest of you.

Get ahead of the times and get your copy of Where the Wild Things Are. If you lost it over the years, invest in the book, because those stocks are going to go up come next year. In spirit of awesome artists whose work appealed to me as a kid, here are some more artists you may have forgotten about:
My numero uno over the years was Keith Harring. Just look at that picture, if he came back today he would be the hugest hit with the hipsters at Urban. His work was fun and being that we came from the same town, he was a hero to me. He was taken too early by AIDS. He still has an awesome store in NYC, and I recently saw a great heavy book that provided a collection of his life’s work. He also made a children’s book or two that I own and love, called Nina’s Book of Little Things. This is a book for you to paste little things into, a sort of guided sketchbook for kids just getting started. (I’m in my twenties and still getting started, lay off the young.)

Chris Van Allsburg was insane (and I believe under the influence of an
earlier form of aderol, or maybe just a really smart brain). Everyone
liked him when we were little, although his work has been forgotten by
most people who don’t have a child. All of his books have some serious
dark humor to them, almost as Charles Adams does, but with much more
subtlety.

Which brings us to Charles Adams, and I swear my friend was raised by
invisible friends who were all characters of Charles Adams’ twisted
world. We can also thank that man for his heavy influence on Tim
Burton as Burton himself created a large part of our childhoods with A
Nightmare Before Christmas and books like Melancholy Death of Oyster
Boy and Other Stories.

Please add your favorite youngster types. Get on Shel Silverstein and comics. Archie? Anyone? Bueller?

-posted by samsquared

December 10, 2008 at 5:59 AM Leave a comment


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