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Interview with Chunnel.TV Founder Matthew Berman

What Banksy, TED, and a global network of ad agencies have in common, or why the long tail is the shortest way to cultural revolution.

Today, we’re picking the brains behind Chunnel.TV — a revolutionary entertainment network for left-of-center creative content that acts as a global collaboration tool connecting underground artists and producers alike. A big idea, if we ever saw one.

q0

Hey Matt, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your brand of curiosity.

Thanks for this opportunity. I’d like to start by saying how impressed I am by your site, your dedication to Brain Pickings, and your general good-taste.

Chunnel.tv LogoI’m Matthew Berman, co-founder and CMO of Chunnel.TV, an online distribution network for independent films, music, art, and other unique content. I first came about the Chunnel working as a freelance music producer composing tracks for various new media projects. That’s how I met Jake Septimus, whom I ended up interning for and then eventually starting Chunnel.TV with.

I’m originally from New York, but I moved to New Orleans to attend university. This past year, I’ve been to the Middle East, South America, Australia, and Asia.

I currently live in New Orleans, a city of dark whiskeys and dimly lit taverns, but our main office is in NYC. My passion is in music, guitar playing, composing, and recording.

q0

What was the first inspiration behind Chunnel? Take us to that very first brainstorming session, the proverbial paper napkin on which you jotted down the original idea.

The Chunnel evolved as a series of informal discussions between Jake Septimus and myself. On one hand we were noticing the proliferation of digital media tools, a rise in the quality and quantity of independent content, and a soft-spoken backlash against mainstream content (i.e. reality shows, teen dramas, etc).

On the other hand we were witnessing a rising trend towards video on the internet. There was so much content available on the web that neither one of us really knew how to cut through the static.

q2

The concept of “underground” is very murky these days. Even Banksy has a website. How do you define “underground” content in Chunnel terms?

We see “underground” media as being far on the fringe of mainstream, such that a majority of people wouldn’t know it exists — yet. The beauty of the internet, however, is that major communities can form around these seemingly niche concepts.

q3

We’re big believers in the power of human-curated content here. How do you decide what makes “the Chunnel cut” and what doesn’t? Your editorial filtration system, if you will.

Basically, the content has to pass an internal test. We have a team of hip, creative and unique people, and if we all think a piece of content is hot, interesting, or Chunnel-worthy, then we’ll post it up.

q4

What’s your relationship with WPP’s United Network? Does it predate Chunnel, or did they reach out to you once you were up and running?

WPP’s United Network gave us the money to start the site. Chunnel.TV was incubated from the NYC office of Berlin Cameron United, of United Network. Jake (Septimus) was working as Creative Director when I started doing intern/music work for him, so the relationship did exist prior to launch.

They don’t dictate what we put on the site, but they might have some pretty dope techie tools for us to experiment with in the future. We retain creative control and try to bring the user the best possible experience.

q5

It’s tricky to talk about commercial work in the context of “underground” culture, but you have a Commercial channel. We love seeing that – it shows the complex relationship content consumers have come to have with creativity in all its forms. How do you think people’s perception of creative authenticity has evolved in terms of all the great work out there that still falls within the commercial realm?

Banksy himself said:

The thing I hate most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative, and ambitious young people leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.

While I think most people find the majority of advertising to be nothing more than an annoyance, the stigma of ‘selling out’ has definitely dissipated within society. I also think creative authenticity depends on the product, budget, and client. People will give premium liquor or perfume ads more creative leeway than say Pine-sol, allowing the advertisers to do some really interesting work.

That being said, if an advertiser really gets pop culture they could create truly brilliant ads with nearly any brand.

q6

What’s your long-term vision for Chunnel and its growth as a cultural agent? Any exciting developments in the works?

We’d like Chunnel.TV to fill the void MTV left when they went mainstream. We hope to capture the imagination of the culturally curious, and introduce people to art, music, film or other content they might not have otherwise seen.

We’re working with indie filmmakers to bring exclusive shows to The Chunnel. Our first batch of shows are Reel Review, Jamaica Originates, and Duncan and Eddie, and we expect to have more.

We’re also going to open up our platform to guest bloggers and our user base. People are going to have the ability to post articles up on Chunnel.TV, which will be put up on review before published. Also, we’d like to implement a lot more interactive features so us like-minded people could better communicate.

It’s going to be an exciting few months for Chunnel.TV.

q7

If you could speak at TED, what would the title of your talk be? Will you get a Standing O?

Haha, I see you have a TED talk fetish as well. My favorite TED talk is Benjamin Zander on music and passion, so I’d like to perform in a similar vein. My talk would focus on leadership, the benefits and hardships of standing above the fray, and would end in a slow blues jam.

I think I’ll call it Electric Ladyland — unless that’s already been taken. As for the standing ovation, one can only hope.

q8

Well, thanks for letting us pick your brains. Any last thoughts left unpicked?

Again thanks for your time, I really do love your site.

As for everyone else, please check us out at Chunnel.TV and follow us on Twitter or MySpace. I can also be contacted at matt[at]chunnel.tv.

Take care.

BP

Hungry Planet: How The World Eats, or Doesn’t

What $376.45 and $1.23 have in common, or why we should be embarrassed to even worry about “the recession.”

Data visualization may hold its mesmerism as a tool of illumination, but but even the most original ways of presenting data can fail to make that eye-opening, visceral impact on us — what usually remains in the heart are not scientific analyses and cold facts but emblematic events (Woodstock), inspiring words (Martin Luther King, Jr.) or riveting photographs (D-day bombing).

Which is what makes Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (public library) so powerful — a photographic journey to 24 countries, where the authors stayed with 30 different families for a week each, documenting on paper and film what these families ate and how much it cost.

Each photograph depicts all the family members in their home environment, surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com
Guatemala: The Mendozas of Todos Santos
Food expenditure per week: 573 Quetzales ($75.70)
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

There’s something very special about the photograph and its ability to encapsulate the time’s vibe, condensing big amounts of information — cultural, political, economic — in a commentary that engages us emotionally. The student standing in front of a tank on Tiananmen Square. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a starved child. National Geographic’s iconic Afghan girl. Even without the full contextual facts about these photos, they somehow make us get “it.” And Hungry Planet does just that.

Comparing these images makes for some shocking conclusions, both funny and sad — prolific fodder for sociology, economics, and anthropology college papers alike. But to stick to our point here, we’ll seize elaboration and let the photographs speak.

Australia: The Browns of River View
Food expenditure per week: 481.14 Australian dollars ($376.45)
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com
Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City
Food expenditure per week: 37,699 Yen ($317.25)
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com
Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure per week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds ($68.53)
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure per week: 685 CFA Francs ($1.23)
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Grab a copy of Hungry Planet for a pause-giving perspective on a basic human right we’ve come to take for granted.

BP

The New Orchestra: Symphonic Innovation Around the World

The world’s biggest concert, what Venezuela has that everyone needs, and why YouTube is the unsuspected shortcut to Carnegie Hall.

Today, we’re doing something different. Instead of the usual indie up-and-comer, we’re going back to the idea that the best of innovation comes from taking tradition and flipping it on its head. In music, it doesn’t get more traditional than orchestras. So, today, we’re looking at three groundbreaking ways of orchestrating orchestras.

HAMBURG PHILHARMONIC

Last Monday, the Hamburg Philahrmonic put on a grand show — in fact, it was the world’s biggest music performance.

Instead of their usual venue, the 100 musicians took to the city, dispensing across 50 locations, replicating the layout of a concert hall stage on a much larger scale.

Overlooking this grand stage from the top of St. Michaelis Church, Hamburg’s highest point, the conductor worked her magic.

The musicians themselves were connected with each other via live video feed, with flatscreens propped right next to their sheet music — a wonderful metaphor for the classical-two-point-ohness of the stunt.

Watch the teaser video to really grasp the brilliance of this endeavor and the scale of the performance. Genius.

via GOOD

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL AT TED

Gustavo Dudamel is known as one of the most exciting and animated conductors of our time. He is also one of the youngest.

At last month’s TED, he led a truly jaw-dropping performance that elicited a standing ovation like no other — he conducted The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, composed of the best high school musicians from Venezuela’s life-changing music program, El Sistema, of which Dudamel himself is a product.

The performance is nothing short of awe-inspiring. But, more importantly, it’s a testament to the need — the urgency — of preserving and advancing music education, of harnessing youth talent, of fostering the culture and the cult of musical genius.

GOOGLE COLLABORATIVE ORCHESTRA

We firmly believe collaboration is the future of every aspect of culture. And Google is taking the lead on the music front. Last week, they announced the winners of the world’s first online collaborative orchestra.

YouTube Symphony OrchestraThe contest called for professional and amateur musicians to “audition” for the 90 spots on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Entries came from over 30 countries on six continents, with musicians playing some 26 different instruments. The 90 international winners, who will travel to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall, were selected by the YouTube community and a panel of performers from the world’s most renowned orchestras.

You can see all the winning audition videos on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra Channel. They are, needless to say, phenomenal.

The orchestra will participate in a collaborative summit for classical music in New York next month, wrapping up with their Carnegie Hall concert — which, by the way, will be conducted by none other than San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, also founder of New World Symphony  and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Here’s to making collaboration the new classic.

BP

Transform: The Journey to Creative Contentment

Why the only thing that matters is that it shouldn’t matter.

As creators, we all have moments of doubt. Sometimes momentary, sometimes situational, sometimes existential. But the “trick” about creative self-doubt seems to be in doing away with the pressures of measuring up, the perceived comparative value of our work, the destructive cravings for critical acclaim, and focusing on the creative truth of each moment, that “in-the-zoneness” that makes us truly happy.

transform1Which is why we love Zack Arias’ short film Transform — an exploration of a photographer’s journey to creative contentment, past the trials and tribulations of doubt and the tortured obsessions over the work’s merit. And although Zack himself is a photographer, we think the grander message of the film will strike a chord with any creator.

So watch Transform, and don’t let the intentional satire of the first 93 seconds mislead you — it’s after this that the film’s true richness really begins.

Transform seems to echo the wisdom of our favorite TED talk — Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius — and the idea that these pressures, be they external or internal, to measure up, to outdo, to be celebrated kill the very spring of creativity.

So with this sentiment, have an inspired weekend. And if you don’t, that’s okay.

BP

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