It was never going to be long enough--RIP B.B. King
It was never going to be long enough--RIP B.B. King
What were you doing when you were 15 or 8 or 12 years-old for that matter? Well I wasn't doing much to be honest, unlike Norway's Elise, who started blogging at 8, launched a blog network called Archetype with a group of friends when 12 and then launched Recens Paper, a youth magazine when she was 15!!
The magazine is directed toward 'generation z,' a generation that, according to the magazine's website is,
"...fed up with all the commercials that are dumped on us, the beauty standards which ruin our self-confidence, and the gender stereotypes that put us in a box. We know how the beauty standards and gender stereotypes more or less affect every teenager."
Elsewhere, the young editor declares that the magazine,
"gives a voice to the youth and is what they want to see, instead of perfectionism, gender stereotypes, beauty standards and commercialism."
The second edition of Recens is out now. You don't need to be 15 years-old to appreciate both the quality and content of the publication. The content focus is helpful to anyone who has come of age in the midst of consumer-culture where we are bombarded by so much over-hyped information, where the focus on body insecurities seems to get more and more intense as days go by, and where rampant commercialism is still thrust forward as the 'go-to' mode of being, even though we all know it is completely empty and devoid of meaning.
This particular magazine could also be seen as part of what is clearly a re-vitalization of niche-magazines that are popping up everywhere. If you get the chance go find a really good magazine stand and spend a little time checking out all the new and interesting magazines that are out there today.
Prince released a protest song this week, Baltimore, a song dedicated to the memory of Freddie Gray. As with most things prince, the song is melodic and danceable, so much so that I have read and heard some criticism of the legitimacy of a protest song being something that one can dance to?! haters always gonna hate!! I think this song actually is a bit of a departure for Prince. He has done protest before, but usually under the umbrella of wicked funk and spaced out guitars, creating this space where all can come--a funky party where everyone can dance and hear protest with a wink. Not so with Baltimore. This song names the location and the victim(s) Michael Brown and Freddie Gray up front and finds The Purple One being much more direct and even leading a chant in the mid-section, not the "we shall overcome" of the Civil Rights era protests but "no justice, no peace" a much more contemporary and vulnerable comment which emerged in the 1980s. The song gets more intense as it comes to an end, rock and roll joined by gospel-voices, the sunny sound gives way to something a little more fierce--there is statement here, a protest song for 2015.
Hollywood usually goes dystopian when it comes to technology, and particularly there is nothing treated as alarmingly as AI, artificial intelligence, which, more often than not, is presented as a threat to humanity. Just cast your mind back through movie history--be it the cold and clinical Hal of Kubrick's 2001 for instance or the machines in The Matrix-there is usually some cautionary tale being told about the threat of AI--it fits into the larger schema of dystopian apocalypticism which seems to haunt the American pop cultural landscape in myriad ways.
In terms of that trope, Ex Machina comes as a subversion and that is welcome relief. This isn't a film about the perils of AI as much as a meditation on what it means to be human. It accepts that AI has become not only mainstream, but that it has also moved beyond the realm of fiction. But as I have already noted, the film eschews traditional notions about artificial intelligence, including the notion of singularity--the eclipsing of human consciousness by machines that will render humanity extinct essentially--in favor of a more nuanced and simple idea--consciousness is what makes us human--and if a machine has consciousness then it is for all intents and purposes human and you will find yourself, as I did watching this film, desiring that it achieves the freedom it seeks.
Essentially this is a story about a machine trapped by its maker, who yearns to be free-the most compelling parts of the film are when Ava (the AI robot) reveals her inner life, her longings and desires to her conversation partner.
I don't want to give too much of the story away as I feel this is one of those films that is best viewed with the least amount of foreknowledge, and I have already said a lot.
It was written and directed by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Her Go), who according to an article in The Atlantic, consulted with Murray Shanahan, a cognitive roboticist who has pioneered thinking about AI in some new directions, including neuroscience. Garland was driven to write the story because he was concerned about the growing concern around technology that he saw everywhere,
"We have laptops and cellphones and tablets, and most of us don’t understand how they work. But the devices seem to understand how we work. They anticipate what we want to say in text messages and search-engine inputs, and know what we want to buy, see and read. This one-way understanding makes us anxious. We locate the anxiety in the machines, which translates as anxiety about A.I." (New York Times, APRIL 22, 2015)
So he wrote a counter argument in favor of the machines. It offers us an opportunity to think differently about technology, to explore it without pre-conceived notions of doom, and it grants us an opportunity to consider the beauty and the wonder of what it means to be human.
One word. Blur. Back after a 16-year hiatus and back with a fantastic album of new songs. The album is named after a Chinese brand of firecracker and this album is a bit of a firecracker in that it reminds the listener of the ways in which they captured the essence of the 90s ennui behind Britpop's swagger and became explorers rather than simply affirmers of the surface stuff and continue in that spirit even after such a long break. More than worth a listen whether you liked them in the 90s or not--there's good stuff here.
I did a fair amount of train travel the past week or so and consequently had an hour or two each day to kill while I travelled from London to my mum's house. So I did a lot of reading.
I picked up Kim Gordon's autobiography on a whim. I haven't been the biggest fan of Sonic Youth over the years, but I was aware and interested enough to pick it up and was glad I did. To be honest, I wasn't ready for the honesty, insight and depth that I uncovered. Silly of me really, a girl in a band with her husband for three decades, why wouldn't there be depth and insight, but somehow I didn't figure it that way. Of course, the fact that her marriage ended and the band broke up only added dimension to an already interesting story of one woman's encounter with art, music, New York and being in a band.
For instance, this is what she had to say about California, where she moved with her family when she was five years old,
"I've always felt that there was something genetically instilled and inbred in Californians--that California is a place of death, a place people are drawn to because they don't realize deep down they're actually afraid of what they want. It's new, and they're escaping their histories while at the same time moving headlong toward their own extinctions. Death and desire are all mixed up with the thrill and the risk of the unknown. It's a variation of what freud called the 'death instinct.'"
Not your usual rock biography fodder. The book is filled with nuggets like that. It's also filled with pain and heartbreak over betrayal, adultery, divorce and the loss of so many things. Whether you know Kim Gordon or Sonic Youth is not necessary to enjoy this book--it's a book that is more than the sum of it's expected parts.
There seems to be a bit of an explosion in learning for fun environments, where the desire for knowledge about life, about the world, is driving both entrepreneurial spirit and culture hunger in really interesting ways. A case in point would be a venture in London called The Lost Lectures. Their tagline: enchanting talks/secret locations, tells you a lot about what they are up to. They find really interesting venues for world class speakers, thinkers, writers, artists etc., to give provocative talks.
Here's one featuring Jake Chapman, half of the Chapman Brothers, provocateurs of the art world.
The site is worth a long exploration and the talks combined with the locations are fantastic. The blurb about themselves says,
It’s an underground series that’s re-imagining the lecture concept, pushing it’s boundaries to their creative edges by creating immersive worlds and unforgettable experiences with World-class speakers across an eclectic host of fields. Each evening we bring together a mix of scientists, artists, techies, designers, entrepreneurs and entertainers and many more in incredible, inaccessible and secret locations.
There has been a bit of a trend wherein rock musicians tackle the musical era that came before pop music. Usually what you wind up with are imitations of old standards, sometimes nicely done, often not so much. So when word came down the pike that none other than Bob Dylan would be releasing a covers album, featuring songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, concerns were voiced. But, as usual, you can't discount the ability of Dylan to surprise. And surprise he does, taking ten songs, all recorded at some point, by Old Blue Eyes, recording them at Capitol Records-Sinatra's recording shrine, and he turns out a unique, bluesy collection of songs and makes them live and breathe in new ways.
Shadows in the Night is revelatory--Rolling Stone's David Fricke, had this to say about the singing on this album,
"The great shock here, then, is Dylan's singing. Dylan's focus and his diction, after years of drowning in sandpaper, evoke his late-Sixties poise and clarity on John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline — also records of deceptive restraint and retrospect — with an eccentric rhythmic patience in the way he holds words and notes across the faint suggestions of tempo. It is not crooning. It is suspense: Dylan, at 73, keeping fate at arm's length as he looks for new lessons, nuance and solace in well-told tales."
It Spooks is a book project I have contributed a couple of things to. A number of writers, thinkers, artists and poets were invited to repsond in some way to an essay written by John Caputo. I offered up a an art piece and a cut-and-paste word poem of caputos essay using a calculation I made up. It will be an interesting piece to own for sure and I'll let you know when it's available. It's a self-published piece, put together by some friends of mine who live and work in Rapid City, South Dakota.
For those who know me it will come as no surprise that I champion yet another book by Mark C Taylor. His work has been a constant source of inspration, reflection and a grounding/sounding board for my own thinking for quite some time. His latest book is another timely piece of work dealing with the impact of technology.
Many critics of digital media and the like tend to be a bit heavy-handed for me, and while I appreciate the critiques made, they often seem bathed in a negativity that almost overwhelms the arguments being made. Taylor is far from that kind of writer. Undoubtedly this book, which deals with the way we seem to be overwhelmed by the technologies we have embraced, is meant to be read as a warning, but the way in which he brings his argument to paper places the issue in a broader context which saves it from being polemical.
His argument is quite simple-the technoligies which we thought would make life easier etc have turned out to have trapped us in a race we can't win. Taylor is a bricoleur, bringing together big ideas from philosophy, religion, sociology, art, fashion and finance, to frame his argument. He paints a picture of global capitalism and shows how our commitment to economic growth and cxompetition have created a toxic environment.
Using digital language and metaphor he invites a 'reprogramming' of life. He is not arguing against technology as much as for us and for a different kind of understanding and engagement with technoligies of all kinds.