by carl wilson

March 31, 2009

You Say You Want a 'Revolutions'?


I've posted more than once in the past about writer/director Jacob Zimmer's laboratory-theatre troupe Small Wooden Shoe and their series Dedicated to the Revolutions. In the past three years, they've done a set of seven shows about various "revolutions," most scientific (Copernican, Darwinian), some socio-technical (Industrial, Information), all derived from an unfinished school assignment from Zimmer's childhood. Tonight at Buddies in Bad Times theatre, they begin a two-week run of the final show in the series, which attempts to synthesize all seven previous performances into one, "demonstrating the difficulty of demonstrating the effects of progress on our lives."

It's an effort to think through paradigm shifts and how they affect our lives, an attempt to make the ghost of C.P. Snow just a little happier, and also a shot at having some serious-minded but light-hearted fun. Fans of Trampoline Hall, show-and-tell, Bad Bands and other hybrid performance events should feel at home. People who know a lot about science might possibly find themselves a bit impatient - as might some people who don't, but maybe not, I haven't seen the show yet.

I will very soon and report back to you. Meanwhile here are previews and interviews about it from The Globe & Mail, NOW, Eye, MaRS blog, Time & Space and One Big Umbrella.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 31 at 5:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


March 26, 2009

Blended, Chopped & Screwed


In answer to the question on the cover above, it seems that Britney has at least outlasted Blender. This morning I got an email from one of my editors there, Jonah Weiner, giving me the news, which was a nice courtesy, considering that I've only written a handful of reviews for the magazine. This is the first time that a publication I actually work for has joined the print-media death march, though I'm sure it won't be the last. (Though to those who wonder, despite the layoffs I am fairly confident The Globe and Mail will survive for the forseeable future.) My sincere condolences to all the staff and to Blender readers.

The shocking part is that I had figured Blender was the most commercially savvy one in the music-magazine market - they built their business on photos (especially of scantily clad pop starlets), best-ever/worst-ever/most-outrageous sorts of lists, titillation and trivia, backed up for credibility with a review section full of some of the best working music writers struggling (for a good paycheque) to squeeze wit and insight into tiny little capsule reviews. I hated its glibnesss, but it wasn't snobby - it was pro-pop, pro-hip-hop and pro-indie all at once - and it certainly seemed saleable; if even they can't survive, I'm not sure there really is a music magazine market. Curiously, a lot of the more niche-oriented publications - rap magazines and metal magazines in particular - seem to be doing well still, when I thought they'd probably be the most easily displaced by fan sites and blogs. Perhaps cliqueishness (and even snobbishness) is actually a safer marketing bet?

I still think there is room in the market for one more readership-oriented music publication, one aimed at the same audience that buys books about music. Something close exists in the UK (Mojo and, to a degree, The Wire) but a North American one might bring less of that musty British muso feel - like a general-interest version of No Depression, a great mag that was hampered by the narrowness of its "alt-country" focus. (ND continues to live online and as a twice-yearly "bookazine".) Given events like Blender's closing, though, I am less hopeful of ever convincing a publishing company of that idea. Sigh.

PS: Does this include the Indian edition of Blender, which I just discovered 5 minutes ago? If not, I want a subscription.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 26 at 12:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


March 25, 2009

Everything's Coming Up Tommy (Edison)


In response to my interview on this week's Spark show on CBC radio about music and technology, in which I talk about ringtones, mp3s and the like, John Meyer sent me this link to a relatively new project rating the sound of various media - which concludes that listening to a 16kbs mp3 is the fidelity equivalent of listening to a wax cylinder! How steampunk, kids. (Maybe the Decembrists are on to something with their annoying neo-Edwardianism after all.) Any comments from audiophiles, anachronists and audio-anarchists?

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 25 at 5:07 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


March 17, 2009

This is so not like sexting


Today Peli and I talked about Gossip Girl, Britney, poptimism and finding a happy medium between Bourdieu and Adorno or something like that.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 17 at 4:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


The Tech of the Hesperus


I talked to Nora Young of CBC Radio's tech program Spark this morning about ringtones, MP3s, computer speakers, iTunes, Auto-Tune and all the other gadget-adjustments that are changing the sound of pop music. In shorter form, it'll be part of their special music-themed March 25 show (re-aired on March 28) but, impressively, you can already listen to the full interview today on their site.

Speaking of tech and transition, you may have heard the newspaper business is having a rough week. Those who take this blithely because they assume that Twitter is going to take care of everything - or that, for example, somehow the same job can be done by the 20 reporters the now-online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer is retaining as by the 165 it formerly employed - might benefit by reading this Globe & Mail Focus piece by my colleagues Sinclair Stewart and Grant Robertson (which I edited). I also recommend the Clay Shirky piece on "Newspapers & Thinking the Unthinkable" on the parallel between the Internet revolution & the Gutenberg one - only this one of course is much, much faster. The conclusion I draw from both is that, yes, newspapers are mostly doomed (I think weekend papers remain a viable model for now at least), but no, nothing exists to replace them. And we may be in for a rough decade, democratically, until something emerges that can.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 17 at 2:12 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


March 15, 2009

A Big Steaming Mug of Ogre Milk

Fake photo by Torontoist now replaced by real photo from The Colbert Report.

Hi everyone. That hiatus was a bit longer than intended. Back to regular Zoilus business this week, but first a couple of links and notes from my psychic-teevee jaunt.

First, in case you missed it, here is my interview on the Colbert show in a link for Canadian viewers and here it is for the Yanks.

A lot of folks have been asking me about the experience, and it's difficult to sum up, except to say that it was very positive. [... continued after the jump ... ]

The show did a pre-interview with me by phone the day before that I almost wish could have been televised instead: The producer started by saying that she was going to ask me a bunch of serious questions, "which tomorrow will be turned into jokes. But answer them then the same way you answer me now." She proceeded to ask some of the most intelligent, well-thought-out questions I've had from any interviewer, all speaking directly to the themes of the book and not overly harping on the Celine angle.

Everyone I met at the Colbert show seemed to be smart, relaxed and really enjoying their job, which is frankly a contrast to the stressed-out, often grumpy crews I've met on a lot of Canadian TV shows - no doubt that's a function of having more adequate resources to work with, but I think it must also reflect the strength of vision and sense of purpose on the show itself.

As for Mr. Colbert himself, though he was rushing around and only had a few seconds before and after the show, he came across as a very solid, thoughtful & kind man. He had the affect of a 1950s TV dad - firm handshake, meets you right in the eye, focuses all his attention on the person he's speaking to. His voice is about a half-octave deeper than his vocal mask on the show. He has a little routine he goes through to make sure guests aren't caught unawares by his character if they aren't familiar with the show (it runs in part: "I do the interview in character - my character is a complete idiot, he knows nothing about you or your work or anything else, and your job is to disabuse me of my ignorance"). They also ran through the prospective questions for me, though their list was twice as long as the ones used, and clearly Colbert improvises as he sees fit throughout.

The green room was not lavish. I will sum it up in two words: Fruit plate. There was a swag bag, mostly containing product samples like Starbucks energy drinks, NY-company chocolates, miscellaneous makeup, etc. (apparently the gift bags aren't customized even by gender). But there was also a nice gift of a $100 coupon to be used to support the charity of Stephen's choice, which allows you to donate to projects in impoverished classrooms (my desk is a mess so I can't link to the specific one, but I will when I find it later).

For those who thought the interview seemed a bit clipped - it was. On set we talked for another minute or two but they jumped to the end, although apparently I had my memory-chip set on "don't worry, it's being recorded" as I don't recall what we talked about then, though I think there were a couple of good moments. For those who thought I seemed nervous - no, that's just my regular jittery personality, a bit heightened by the situation but mostly exaggerated by being framed on a TV-sized screen. And no, those weren't joke teeth; sadly, mine own.

It was a roller coaster - the whole interview seemed to last 30 seconds to me - but Colbert was fairly gentle and let me make my points. My instinct was that he felt a bit conflicted about where to take it, humorously, since after all the book is already a kind of ju-jitsu topsy-turvy act; but moreover I sensed that he was genuinely intrigued by the topic.

Which makes sense, if you think about it. His whole schtick is already a kind of cultural boundary-crossing exercise; even though he is being satirical, his jabs hit both liberals and conservatives for their intolerance and knee-jerk points of view, a feat he's able to carry off by walking the identity borderline that he does. So there's a kind of meta-level to him discussing a book about attempting to get inside and have empathy with a set of cultural positions and personae different than one's own. In fact, I had hoped to find an opening in the interview to point that out in a subtle way - without breaking the implicit contract to play along with the illusion - but I wasn't quite deft enough.

My greatest regret, though, is that I didn't have the wit and timing to echo the super-straight-man Colonel from the segment before me by cutting Colbert off during his recitation of fake "hipster" band names and saying wearily, "Stephen, there's no such thing as Ogre Milk."

Although, of course, that would have been fibbing.

As for the "Colbert bump"? In full effect. The next day the book jumped to #1 on Amazon among music books, and nearly two weeks later it remains in the top 10. Because Amazon stats are arcane and occult, I don't know yet how many sales that represents, but it must be substantial. And the book is now on Kindle and is being recorded for an audio book from (I'll let you know when that's out). All of which means more readers and more discussion, hopefully, of the themes and ideas, which is what counts.

Thanks to long-time readers of Zoilus for helping create the climate in which such nutty things can happen. It's a mystery but a delightful mystery.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, March 15 at 8:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)


March 3, 2009

After these messages

I've got a review on the Globe and Mail site right now of the new book Apocalypse Jukebox: The End of the World in American Popular Music.

The details of the many exciting papers and panels at this April's EMP Pop Conference on the theme of "Dance Music Sex Romance" are now posted, including mine.

Otherwise, I'm on the move this week - see below for the reason. Torontonians, some folks are gathering on Wednesday night upstairs at The Pilot on Cumberland St., to watch the Colbert show but also listen to some live music and readings, featuring my friends Laura Barrett, Angela Rawlings, Andrew Kaufman and Sean Dixon plus MC Sean K. Robb. Doors at 9, entertainment at 10, TV at 11:30. Here's the Facebook page - I didn't organize it but I appreciate it.

See you, as they say in the teevee biz, "after the break."

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 03 at 10:42 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson