Entries from April 2009 ↓

Puttin’ Russia on Blast.

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Did you know that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster of April 26, 1986 reportedly released 400 times more fallout than the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast of August 1945? Even more, did you know that, despite the fallout, both literal and political, the plant continued operating until 2000? Russia depends on nuclear energy for fully 16% of its electric power—nearly a sixth of the total. (Nukes provide 20% 0f U.S. electrical needs.)

But that’s just a start. Rosatom, Russia’s equivalent to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, plans to be generating 23% of the massive country’s electrical power with atoms by 2020, and fully a quarter of it ten years later. Clearly, the worst nuclear reactor disaster in history hasn’t made former Soviets the least bit gun shy. Perhaps that’s why they had no qualms about letting a photographer inside their 2.7Gw Smolensk nuclear power plant, 200 miles from Moscow, so he could take pictures of everything  from a worker handing out safety helments, above, to the colbalt-blue glow of fuel rods in water. Take a gander. See it before it blows up.

For Them We Unsheath the Blade.

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, when I spoke with Clive Young in March on NONFICTION, my radio show, I referred to a Star Wars fan film I’d seen of whose name I was not sure. I thought it was The Way of the Saber, but had to research it.

As it turns out, I was mostly correct: The 6-minute short, 2002′s Art of the Saber, by brothers Calvin, Clarence, and Cary Ho, employs the basic phoneme of SW fan film language—two men locked in light saber battle—invigorating it with flashy martial arts. But as opposed to then rehashing tales of Darth Vader 497px-sullivan_ballouand Luke Skywalker, the Ho brothers, instead, frame their somber work with the words of Union soldier Captain Sullivan Ballou’s famed 1861 letter to his spouse, Sarah.

One of the most captivating documents to come out of the Civil War, the note is powerful for the beauty of its prose, the depth of its feeling, and that its author, writing in noble contemplation of sure death, never saw his wife and children again. Ballou, above, 32, was cut down at the First Battle of Bull Run within a week of writing the text.

By drawing from Ballou’s pathos, the Ho brothers imbue their piece with the Captain’s sober dread, forging a story that is both new, timeless, and a powerful meditation on the cost of war.

Become a Fan of the Fan Film Fan.

I hosted author Clive Young, below, on my WBAI radio show, NONFICTION, a few weeks ago, and covered him on MEDIA ASSASSIN, too. Clive recently wrote the book, Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind The Camera, about amateur fan films: Movies made by ordinary people who love existing storylines about, and characters like, Batman, Spiderman, or Star Trek, and attempt to make their own versions of these films.

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I’m really interested in this kind of cinema—I covered the Star Wars fan film phenomenon for the late, great PREMIERE magazine, back in 2001—and Clive has penned a thoughtful, thorough, accessible book. He’s got a great web site, too, one into which he clearly puts a lot of energy, and he mentioned his appearance on the NONFICTION, as you can see, above, complete with a link to the show. Thanks for the link amour, Clive. Keep the good work up.

So, That’s Why Those Guys From Bensonhurst Are Always Grabbing Their Nuts: They’re Just Telling You How to Get to Their Neighborhood.

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They’re not being hostile, with their loud noises and passionate facial expressions. They’re excited about inviting you over! That’s what I realized after looking at Greenpoint, Brooklyn-based Cosmic Arts EnterprisesPenis NYC Subway Map. It imagines one of the world’s biggest rail mass transit systems as an even bigger male sex organ. (Go ahead: Click on the image to to, um, enlarge it.) Not only does the graphic rudely, though perhaps poetically, cast the most populous borough as the meaty scrotum of our great metropolis. Do you think I’ll see going from Harlem to Wall St., down the city’s flaccid shaft, to get to WBAI quite the same way ever again? Fuggedaboutit!

[via bangocibumbumpuluj.blogspot.com]

Getting Out the Book That’s In You.

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The do-it-yourself movement in arts and crafts—accelerated by the wide availability of sophisticated digital technology, as well as access to information, and people, through the internet— is creating a boon in one very key area: Self-publishing. “Once referred to derisively as ‘vanity publishing,’ self-published books are finally taking their place alongside more accepted indie categories such as music, film, and theater.”

So says Ellen Lupton, director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, and author of the new book, Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book, a step-by-step guide to being your own publisher.

Ellen Lupton is a guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, April 24, at 2 pm ET.

As well, composer Jeff Snyder’s band, Scattershot, has remix credits with Public Enemy, among others, and they created and performed the opening and closing themes for NONFICTION. Today, he’s stopping by to discuss his latest passion: Inventing his own musical instruments. He’ll be showing and playing two of them, the Manta and the Countervielles.

You can hear Ellen Lupton and Jeff Snyder’s ideas—and Jeff’s music!—by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

Is Terminator: Salvation Director McG About to Put a Bullet in the Head of the Hollywood System?

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“You and me are fucking done professionally!!”:
John Connors (
Christian Bale) and Terminator

From looking at his movies—mostly the Charlie’s Angels ones—and music videos—like the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”—I’d kinda assumed that Michigan-born director Joseph McGinty Nichol, better known as McG, was sorta shiny, fast, and shallow, like his cinema.

I think I owe this guy an apology. Continue reading →

Fight the White Rap History Rewrite.

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I don’t know how, until this very morning, I missed the April 15 New York Times profile of white rapper Asher Roth by former VIBE music editor Jon Caramanica. (“To Be Young, Rapping and White,” it was near sacrilegously titled.) But it was certainly worth the wait.

Continue reading →

What a “Diff’rence” a Beat Makes.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Now, the world don’t move! To the beat of just one drum
What might be right for you, may not be right for some….

To folks familiar with cheesy sitcoms from the late ’70s and early ’80s, the theme music to Diff’rent Strokes is so well-known that merely reading its lyrics, above, not to mention hearing its earnest strains, is enough to trigger soppy memories of the show’s early opening visuals. There, each week, good-hearted millionaire Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) would escort his new charges, brothers Arnold (Gary Coleman) and Willis (Todd Bridges), above, from a basketball game in the hood, past the wonders of late 20th century New York, to his luxurious apartment building, all in his chaufferred limousine.

Indeed, the gentle innocence and curiosity of children, coupled with the wizened kindness of their doting patron, is what makes UK YouTuber MontyPropps’ “Disturbing Strokes” so unsettling. By switching the spirited soundtrack to a mysterious, mood-laden instrumental, then slightly desaturating the colors in the footage, Propps turns the classic intro into something vaguely hinting at pederasty. By the time Arnold and Willis look up at the towering, phallic structure Drummond calls home, giving only furtive backwards glances as he leads them inside, if nothing else, you’ll believe, as said one poster on Propps’ YouTube channel, that, in film, there is truly no such thing as “incidental music.”

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pig.

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Somewhere amidst the urbane yet cannibalistic hogs of the Boost Mobile ad—hands down my favorite commercial of the not half-over year—and the knife-wielding ne’er-do-wells of Woonsocket, RI artist Jason LaRose’s t-shirt design, above, pigs just started turning on each other. (Favorite detail: Those coins the unnerved swine has dropped in fear.) Guess the recession is making all banks a little timid, and a little mean. “Piggy Bank Heist”: t-shirt, $18, men’s XS-3XL, women’s XS-2XL; zip-up hoodie, $40, S-2XL. By Threadless.

Poetry in Motion: Hip-Hop Music and the Dynamics of Lyrical Flow.

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Fluid dynamics—the movement of particles in flow—remains one of the most intractable areas of study in all of science, with fluids in action being among the hardest phenomena to model, even with a very high-speed supercomputer.

The same may be true of hip-hop, if the relative absence of scholarly writing on the principles of the art form is any indication. Enormous swaths of text have been, and are being, composed on hip-hop’s master narrative: The Bronx, poverty, Kool Herc, Danceteria, Run-DMC, etc. Meanwhile, others delve into rap’s social and sexual politics, ad infinitum.

To my thinking, though, the real excitement truly, absolutely, lies near hip-hop’s epicenter, and its most elemental, fundamental questions; those corresponding to its mechanics.

For example, Why does rhyme work? Why does the act of mating like sounds grab a listener’s interest? I mean, when you think of it, why should so simple a trick hold the fascination of grown men and women, or anyone older than an infant?

Or, how do artists make word choices, winnowing away all possible semantics until they have crafted a narrative, or maybe a diatribe?

From what does rhythm derive its power? When a rapper speaks confidently over a strong meter, what new sound is he, by fusion, building, different from either his voice or the track, alone? Is this singing? If not, why not? How is doing this different from the way people made music before hip-hop’s advent?

And, most of all, when these and other queries are considered all together, how, and why, does hip-hop  function as a system, one of both cognition and action?

Or, as Dr. Adam Bradley says in his amazing new text, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, in one of a seeming cluster of elegantly parsed, yet deeply thoughtful insights, “The MCs most basic challenge is this: When given a beat, what do you do?”

He continues:

“Rap is what results when MCs take the natural rhythms of everyday speech and reshape them to a beat. The drumbeat is rap’s heartbeat; its metronomic regularity gives rap its driving energy and inspires the lyricist’s creativity. ‘Music only needs a pulse,’ the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan explains. ‘Even a hum, with a bass and snare—it’ll force a pulse, a beat. It makes order out of noise.’ Robert Frost put it even more plainly: ‘The beat of the heart seems to be basic in all making of poetry in all languages.’ In rap, whether delivered in English or Portugese, Korean  or Farsi, we hear two and sometimes many more rhythms layered on top of one another. The central rhythmic relationship, though, is always between the beat and the voice. As the RZA explains,  the beat should ‘inspire that feeling in an MC, that spark that makes him want to grab a mic and rip it.’

“Rappers have a word for what they do when the rhythm sparks them; they call it flow.  Simply put, flow is an MC’s distinctive lyrical cadence, usually in relation to a beat. It is rhythm over time. In a compelling twist of etymology, the word rhythm is derived from the Greek rheo, meaning “flow.” Flow is where poetry and music communicate in a common language of rhythm. It relies on tempo, timing, and the consituitive elements of linguistic prosody: accent, pitch, timbre, and intonation.”

There are so many good things about writing like this: The clarity of Bradley’s language; the gentle way he uses technical terms, in order to bring readers into his secrets; the subtle manner by which he alludes to hip-hop’s global impact; his ear for pounding quotes; the good sense to mate RZA and Robert Frost, maybe for the first time, ever; the fact that all of this occurs within the book’s first six pages.

I had to make certain that Adam Bradley would be the guest, today, on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, April 17, at 2 pm ET. And so he is.

You can hear his ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.