Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

07 MAY, 2008

5 Ways to Get More of Life in the City

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Ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city.

Urban clutter is easily the biggest pitfall of city life. There’s just too much stuff out there. Consumer psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it “the paradox of choice” — the more that’s available to us, the more frustrated we get with it all and the less likely we are to enjoy or even choose any of it.

Luckily, we’ve got 5 ways to help you navigate all that choice clutter, nail those special city gems, and get the most out of all your social activities.

A.PLACEBETWEEN.US

Here’s the thing about friendship: it’s all about compromise. Especially when making social plans — you want one thing, your friend wants another, so you kinda have to meet each other halfway. Well, now you can do it — literally.

Thanks to a.placebetween.us, a nifty Google Maps mashup, you can let an algorithm pick your hangout — so there are no ego gauntlets involved. Here’s how it works: you simply plug the starting-point addresses of all the people in the would-be get-together, say what you wanna meet for (like, coffee or ice cream or Italian), and the app spits out a handful of establishments that offer just that in the area halfway between the attendees’ addresses, complete with directions and contact info.

See? Compromise and complete geographic fairness make everything taste better, we promise.

FABSEARCH

Okay, so maybe you’re a bit more of a control freak. You wanna know the place you’re headed is up to par with your refined palate and sophisticated expectations. Heck, you want nothing short of a fab experience.

Sit back, relax, and let fabsearch do the work. The human-powered engine pulls content you can’t normally find on the Interwebs from editorial icons like Vogue, British Harpers Bazaar, Town and Country, New York Social Diary, Vanity Fair and other give-it-to-you-straight, Zagat-sans-the-fluff sources. The fabsearch team is damn serious about it, too — they spend months sifting through old magazines to really hone the recommendation quality and bring you the ultimate best of the best in hotels and restaurants.

You can search by source or by location — and by “location” we really mean location: from Abu Dhabi to Aspen to Atlanta, they’ve got you covered. We checked out their Philly recommendations and, we must say, these guys are dead-on.

via Give it a shot for your locale and see how your favorite going out staples measure up. Thrillist

FON

But what if you’re out on the town with that all-important extension of yourself — your laptop? Looking for those precious free wireless hotspots can be a hassle, especially if you’re traveling in a new city. Guess what: there’s a way that you can not only find a solution but also be a part of it.

FON is the world’s largest WiFi community, aiming to make WiFi universal and free. The concept is simple: you give some, you get some, and everyone gets a ton. All you do is get a La Fonera community router (just $29.95) and hook it up to your home internet connection. Obviously, you get WiFi at home — but that’s not the point.

The point is that La Fonera is your membership ticket to the FON worldwide community.

This means whenever you travel, you have free access to the FON WiFi that thousands of other users, or Foneros as they call themselves, have shared. And they’re everywhere.

The entire network is 100% safe and, best of all, not only do you get free WiFi across the world, but you can also make a bit of cash whenever non-Foneros connect to the FON network.

But, really, we just dig the idea of claiming our urban web space back from the nasty, unscrupulous monopoly of present.

URBAN DADDY

The bigger your city, the more frustrating that “paradox of choice” thing can get. Which is why those of us in the biggest metropolitan beehives need a bit more help with a bit more stuff — not just dining, but also shopping, nightlife, style, travel and various insider perks.

That’s what Urban Daddy is all about — currently in four of the world’s most culture-overloaded cities (New York, L.A., Las Vegas and San Francisco), and also available in a broad U.S. National edition, the exclusive daily email magazine offers city life pickings carefully curated by a team of professional cool hunters.

And just so you get the level of exclusivity we’re talking here, Urban Daddy is currently invitation-only. But the good news is you can swallow your pride, sign up for their waitlist and hope you’re soon invited to sit at the cool kids’ table in the huge cultural cafeteria that is city life.

BANDS IN TOWN

One of the great things about city life is that it offers a music experience you can’t get on iTunes: anything from wait-in-line-for-hours megastar live shows to intimate indie gigs in neighborhood cafes. Navigating all the options, of course, is a whole different story.

Luckily, there’s BandsInTown — a cool service you may remember from pickings past that lets you know about upcoming shows by your favorite artists whenever they pop into town. A little IP address birdie tells the algorithm your location, so all you do is say what music you dig. It then spits out a tag cloud of bands and artists, letting you narrow things further by show date (tonight only or not), distance from the city, max price range, and label type (unsigned, indie or major). On top of that, you can also filter results by genre or tag.

It’s all free, super nifty, and it’s telling us Rilo Kiley are playing right across the street on June 5, so we diggidy mucho. Check it out and get ready to show your friends who’s boss in music town.

Missed parts 1 and 2?

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27 APRIL, 2008

Down With The Man | Part 6

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How music got its groove back. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 6.

DANCING IN THE STREET

Lately, we’ve been focusing on the music industry a lot, what with all the massive tectonic shifts it’s undergoing. Artists big and small are sticking it to the Big Label Man, anyone from big-leaguers like Madonna and Radiohead to indie mavericks like Ghost Away and Jill Sobule.

The latest shaker: cult British 90’s trip-hop getup Portishead just released their first album in 11 years, Third, exclusively on Last.fm on April 21, where it could be streamed for free until its official release today. (You may also recall our fervent raves about Last.fm and our early predictions of its revolution potential.)

PORTISHEAD – Hunter

It’s the very first exclusive for the social networking music site. But even more interestingly, Portishead was also the very first artist to join Last.fm’s catalog, with their track Cowboys as the first one to ever be played on Last.fm when the site went live in 2002.

And here’s the fascinating thing: traditionally, the music industry has employed an event-based model with album launches, where the launch is heavily promoted and positioned as an object of anticipation by sending the album out to music critics and reviewers well in advance, building up solid media hype. Then, that the record label and retailer can monetize this by pricing the anticipated new release much higher than other stuff.

Recently, in an excellent piece for Wired, the Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke tackled the current business model, probing the capacity for change. And we think this Portishead/Last.fm move is tell-tale sign of days to come, where artists use new media and the power of the social web to promote, publish and eventually distribute their work, creating a loop of self-sufficiency that not only puts the fans first, but also completely circumvents the red tape of the Big Labels model.

27 APRIL, 2008

Down With The Man | Part 7

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How to do peer-to-peer sharing without entering Jesse James territory. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 7.

LEGAL AND WILLING

Speaking of things shaking the music industry, we couldn’t gloss over the huge and highly polarized issue of piracy. Worst part: it’s a vicious cycle. In a nutshell: a handful of big music retailers (a.k.a. “The Man”) dominate 90% of music sales; they exert pricing pressure on everyone else, asking consumers to shell out too much for music, most of which doesn’t even go to the artist due to brutal licensing deals; in turn, many music fans flip the bird and just download music illegally through P2P file-sharing.

But there’s actually a way to get free music through “file-sharing” that doesn’t make you an outlaw.

You may recall from pickings of yore services like Paperback Swap and SwapaCD — networks of everyday people who exchange books and CD’s they own via the mail. Now there’s a better execution to the same idea: swaptree, officially launched last July, is a similar concept, but has a broader media catalog — books, CD’s, DVD’s, even video games — and a massive member base of hundreds of thousands of users, with an astounding 30% monthly growth rate.

Seems like the newest media-shaker comes from the oldest medium of all: snail-mail, regarded today as barely a step up from pigeon post.

swaptree is free, simple, and here’s how it works: first say what you’ve got (build a “have” list of all the read books and old CD’s you’re willing to bid adieu), then say what you want (build a “want” list of stuff you’ve always been dying to read/hear/play). Then just sit back as the swaptree algorithms find you a trade and get the ball rolling. (We’re currently awaiting The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the brilliant book by one of our heroes, Michael Pollan.)

So how could all this be legal? Flashbacks of copyright class remind us about something known as the “first book doctrine,” a loophole in copyright law that allows you to transfer (for payment or not) a lawful copy of copyrighted work (like a book or CD) once you’ve obtained it. Everyday translation: whenever you buy, find, receive as a gift or get your hands on a book in other ways, it’s yours to do whatever you like with. Including swapping. And now it’s being applied to other media.

Sure, the big media dictators may not be happy. But in this power- to-the-people age, getting the latest from Postal Service through the postal service is an in-your-face constitutional right “the people” are learning to exercise…and lovin’ it.

17 APRIL, 2008

7 Ways To Free Yourself

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Mad about folding, the new Radiohead, global ‘zines, the U.K. vs. France, why the next MoMA piece may be found in your closet, how to be even lazier than you already are, and what 1’s and 0’s have to do with art. Welcome to the 7 Ways To Free Yourself issue.

BEND IT LIKE JAFFEE

The one, the only: Mad Magazine. What greater icon of American humor, political satire and pop culture commentary? The cult pub has been making waves since 1952, but some of its most recognized cultural contributions remain Al Jaffee’s infamous fold-ins.

Now, thanks to The New York Times, they’re available in interactive form, from 1960 to the present. And if there ever was a question of whether history repeats itself, this makes the answer loud and clear: most of the fold-ins are just as relevant today as they were decades ago, liberating history from its own confines.

Take the 1968 election year, when Nixon and Humphrey threw it down like there was no tomorrow, in the midst of a highly politicized war. Forty years later, the atrocities of another war are “turning our stomachs,” and a new generation is just as conflicted about a new war in an equally politically charged climate.

The entertainment business doesn’t seem to have changed for the better, either. In the year of the $2.7 million 30-second Super Bowl commercial, Jaffee’s snark resonates all the more powerfully.

See the full collection for a hefty slurp of history’s irony cocktail.

SIBERIAN COOL

Say what you will of the music industry’s demise, but all this commotion has actually propelled the evolution and diversification of the “indie” music scene. No longer is it all garage bands and acoustic pop and stale teen angst.

Case in point: indie up-and-comer Ghost Away. Their unique brand of alternative sound blends brilliantly sombre vocals with electrically charged instrumentals, fusing in beats that will both hypnotize you and make you wanna move. The getup is part Radiohead, part Junior Boys, part Battles, part something else entirely.

GHOST AWAY – SLOWDRIFT

Siberia, their debut album, is out this week. And as if to claim their place in the music business revolution going on these days, they’re launching the album as a free download. Talk about the ultimate self-publishing empowerment of today’s new media freeconomy — it cost the band close to nothing to record, produce and distribute the album (except, of course, hours of sweat and blood in the studio), and now it’s costing you nothing to experience it.

Get it now and get ready to dance the toldja so dance when Ghost Away make that Rolling Stone cover.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Speaking of self-publishing empowerment, we love Scribd: the document-sharing online library that takes information exchange and collaboration to a whole new level. It’s simple: you can upload any docs you like — Microsoft Office stuff, PDF’s, PostScript, OpenOffice, and more — and make them available to the world.

Similarly, you can search and access millions of documents other people uploaded.

Besides offering free unlimited storage (seriously?!), Scribd is the ultimate tool for self-publishing and reaching a wide audience. People use it for anything from backing up office documents, to storing and sharing photo albums, to publishing e-books and indie ‘zines, to collaborating on music chords and more.

And just when you think they couldn’t possibly give you more, there’s Scribd iPaper — a platform that lets you quickly integrate files from Scribt into a website, and you don’t even have to know code. Think of it as embeds on steroids.

In our humble opinion, Scribt is just the tip of the collaborative future iceberg, where information becomes the new social currency and the digitization of data builds a tremendously powerful communal pool of knowledge.

So go ahead, free yourself from the confines of static and introverted desktop software.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE

After last week’s French fusion of documentary and raw indie music, the empire strikes back: we’ve got a British sequel.

The Black Cab Sessions, a Just So Films initiative, shares a similar point of view, namely that venues strip music of its essence. So the project employs a simple concept: for each “session,” an indie band or artist hops in the back of a black cab and plays a song filmed in a single shot, which is then uploaded — completely unedited — for the world to see.


Currently on chapter thirty-five, The Black Cab Sessions have sported some of the best of the The’s, and then some — The Ravonettes, The Kooks, The New Pornographers, Cold War Kids, Spoon, and much, much more.

Our only question: where does the cab actually go?

NO HANGUPS

What is art if not the talent of looking at the mundane and seeing the extraordinary? Sculptor David Mach has just this sort of rare gift. He takes everyday objects like coat hangers, matchsticks and Scrabble pieces, turning them into sculptures, collages and installations that speak artistically, socially and politically.

Mach as been crafting his exquisite matchstick head sculptures and signature wire coat-hanger statues since the early 80’s. But, like a true artist, he spends more time concepting and crafting than tinkering with his new website and uploading visuals. Luckily, you can see the full breadth of his work on the archived old website.

We also dig the passion with which he stands behind his creative vision: Mach speaks freely of the great projects that never happened, which you can find in his Proposals section.

A particularly regrettable non-realization: Sound Wave, a gigantic tidal wave sculptured out of 250 upright pianos, which he conceived for the 25th anniversary of London’s Albert Hall. We feel your pain, Dave, we feel your pain.

WORD MEETS IMAGE, THEY MATE

You may recall the super nifty PicLens from a couple of months ago. Now, we bring you the next big thing in image search: the Flickr Related Tag Browser. The ridiculously sleek app does just what the name implies: lets you search Flickr images by tag, but does it visually in a way that halves the process and doubles the joy of it.

When you do a search, you get a collage of images tagged with that word, but you also get a tag cloud of contextually relevant images. It’s like the app thinks one step ahead for you and generating your next related keyword. You can click each tag in the cloud to sample the resulting images with another collage that pops up in the center.

You can keep scrolling through image results right there in the center collage, or you blow up a specific image thumbnail for a closer look. From there, you can either keep browsing the thumbnails if the image is no good, or click straight through to its Flickrs page to snag it.

The app is the work of freelance interactive designer Felix Turner, a Flash whiz who helped build the now-ubiquitous Brightcove video players.

BINARY FREEDOM

This week’s Untrivia is a different take on data, inspired by a new branch of the “found objects” art genre. We like to call these new digital artists “binary sculptors” — because the found “objects” are sets and patterns of mined data that they use much in the way traditional sculptors use mined ore, transforming the raw material into compelling visual art.

One such remarkable binary sculptor is artist and real-time visual performer Paul Prudence, who uses a software called Daub to project the digital data of a video stream onto a “brush” moving in 3D space, creating a neo-surrealist morphing mesh.

And speaking of video streams and data, it seems like Prudence won’t be out of raw material anytime soon. In February alone, Americans viewed 10.1 billion online videos, up 66% from last year. The average time spent watching web video that month? 204 minutes.

That’s a whole lotta cats falling down toilets.