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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Inspired by the ever-amusing Indexed blog — if you’re not already familiar, we strongly suggest you fix that cultural mistake ASAP.
I’M A MAC, AND I’M A MAC POSING AS A PC
The horror! The scandal! You know those annoying new “PC Pride” TV spots for Microsoft that attempted to shove the Seinfeld fiasco under the carpet? Well, an overzealous conspiracy theorist decided to look at the EXIF information of the campaign photos sent to the media — that’s the little piece of file information that shows what program the file was created in.
Guess what — those Microsoft ads were made on…gasp…a Mac. And if you think Microsoft and Crispin, their ad agency, have the relationship equivalent of a Catholic priest caught with his pants down at a gay bar, it gets worse. Turns out, Dell’s agency, Enfatico, did the exact same thing with their client’s campaign. Except in their case, those Macs were actually bought on the Dell dollar.
And just when we thought no one could out-whore-out the ever-irreverent Improv Everywhere…who actually revered quite quickly at the sight of corporate bling.
Speaking of Seinfeld, here’s something that sounds like one of Kramer’s ideas but is, in fact, completely real:
One of our heroes, brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, has just unveiled the world’s strangest clock. Called
Chronophage, which means “time-eater,” the beastly time-keeper cost $2 million and was developed over 5 years in Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, a renowned inventor and horologist.
Its shtick: It has no hands — time is displayed by a series of blue LED lights illuminating the 24-carat gold surface through various slits and lenses. The design itself was inspired by the work of legendary innovator John Harrison, who came up with the “grasshopper escapement” mechanism almost 300 years ago.
The clock is only accurate every five minutes, but is wired up to an electric motor that will keep it running for the next 25 years.
We’re fascinated by the idea of a device that captures the relativity of time and how its passage mercilessly eats away at our lives. That, and we like shiny things.
On the cool-LED-stuff note, we’re obsessed with chronophage art collective PIKA PIKA. They make abstract animation using LED flashlights, which “draw” an image by tracing its outline over and over. Their movement is recorded in a series of photographs using long exposures, which are then spliced together into an animated sequence.
In 2005, the team was invited to a conference, where they presented the back-end of how the animation worked. They noticed that the audience of people interested in the concept was incredibly diverse, so they came up with a way to make the animation more interactive and inclusive, recruiting audience members in its production.
Today, PIKA PIKA films are made by that audience: Each person gets a flashlight and becomes a part of the animation. The films have since traveled the world and won various awards across a number of art and film festivals.
From one cool audience-made light-employing video to another: After Radiohead’s In Rainbows fan-made video contest, a Goldfrapp fan got inspired to animate the track “Lovely Head” from their first album.
It’s essentially a visualization of the sound data, with the lyrics superimposed, producing the visual equivalent of what we’d imagine goes on in one’s brain when listening to the track on psychedelic drugs.
It was made through a process that’s way over our head, which makes us dig it all the more. It also reminds us of binary data sculptor Paul Prudence his video stream data visualizations.
And since we’re getting into things way over our head, here’s something that blows everything else out of the water. Or, as it just so happens, out of the oil.
Scientists have developed a new strain of that same pant-pooping E. coli bacterium that can make butanediol (BDO), the material used in stuff like spandex, car bumpers and plastic cups, from scratch. Which basically means they can make plastic without using oil or natural gas, taking a huge energy load off the current plastic production methods.
That’s what we call research-grant-justifying progress. (Unlike, say, the one that measured methane emissions from farting cows.)
What do vehicles, plastic bags, shipping containers and coffins have in common? They all carry their contents from one place to another. And they can all be rethought in ways that may well outsmart, outcool and outweird the original purpose.
BETTER THAN THE VAN
Couchsurfing has been around for quite some time now. And just like anything that’s become really, really big really, really fast, it was only a matter of time until it niched out. Enter Better Than The Van — a niche stay-for-free community designed specifically for bands and artists on tour. Even the search function is niche-level particular: you can narrow down your results by age range, weekday/weekend preference, and host’s relationship to music — consumer (a.k.a. fan) vs. producer (a.k.a. in a band).
We suspect the majority of couch-offerers would end up being in a band themselves — simply because nothing breeds empathy like having had the same miserable, sleep-folded-in-half-on-the-back-seat-with-drummer’s-protein-bar-wrappers experience.
Plus, we think it’s a great way for up-and-coming bands to make new friends, for up-and-coming music fans to discover new bands they dig, and for artists to meat each other and possibly sprout some killer collaborations.
No matter how many CFL’s we swap for incandescents, our homes remain environmental Big-Foots. Luckily, going residentially green doesn’t have to mean settling for a hippie shack in the Ohio outback.
It may, however, mean inheriting the living space of a FedEx box.
EnterQuik House. You know those “bed in a bag” things at department stores? We’d call Quik House a “house in a box”… except it is the box. It’s a prefabricated “house kit” made from recycled shipping containers. But don’t be fooled — the 2,000-square-foot dwelling includes 3 bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. It assembles in less than a day, so it should be less than 3 months between the time you order it online and your housewarming party.
You can further greenify the already super tiny-carbon-footed house with the optional solar and wind energy sourcing available. And speaking of customizing, you even have the option of getting your Quik House tagged by local graffiti artists.
At $125-$165 per square foot, including everything except the land, this isn’t just a smart investment in the planet’s future, it’s also a pretty good real estate deal.
MUSEO AERO SOLAR
If this kind of static environmental statement isn’t your thing, how about one in flux? Museo Aero Solar makes you reconsider what you choose to carry your groceries in. Thousands of plastic bags compose the “flying museum,” a hot air balloon propelled solely by solar energy. It travels from country to country and whenever it makes a landing, more bags are added, increasing both its size and the next flight distance.
Since its inception several months ago, Museo Aero Solar has toured three continents. Upon each landing, the local community gets to add to the quilt and shape this ever-growing flying canvas.
We like the idea of calling it a museum: it’s a visceral exhibition of our excess, constantly growing to reflect our never-ending consume-produce-waste cycle. The irony, of course, is that with an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags consumed annually worldwide, most of which end up in landfills, it’s virtually impossible for the museum to run out of resources. If the project carries on and continues to increase in size, it could eventually cover earth’s entire atmosphere.
How’s that for a global warming wake-up call? We hear shrink-wrap makes things even hotter.
On a brighter note, Coffin Couches: corpse carriers repurposed into living room furniture.
Apparently, there’s some sort of government regulation (gotta love those) that prevents funeral homes from reselling unused coffins to the general public. So the guys behind the unorthodox venture approach said funeral homes with a recycling attitude and snag 18-gauge steel coffins with minor flaws, sculpting them into an impressive array of leather and vinyl couches.
We’re pretty sure those new media and interactive technology gurus couldn’t possibly outdo the “immersive TV experience” of watching Six Feet Under on one of these babies.
This week, we’re looking at ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what grannies and Major League Baseball have in common.
By Maria Popova
MONKEY SEE MONKEY REDO
After we gave props to groundbreaking graffiti executions, it’s only fitting that we also honor non-graffiti urban guerrilla art — especially the kind that makes a social statement. Because, after all, if we’re gonna be claiming our streets back from the grip of modern indifference, we’d better have something to say.
Yeah, yeah, we’re into advertising. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re into good, smart advertising. Which means we’re all the more eager and willing to call out the really, really bad stuff — and root for the rebels out to take it down.
Like Pixelator: an outlaw guerrilla project that uses NYC subway entrances as its canvas, covering those eye-stabbingly ugly video billboards with a lit-up panel of 45 color- changing blinking squares. We love the extreme euphemism with which the team behind it, Jason Eppink and Jen Small, talks about the work, calling that ultimate bottom-of-the-barrel advertising “exhibitions” and the suits behind it “artists,” as if only to draw our attention to the point: our aesthetic sensibility is being relentlessly polluted by the visual atrocities of the corporate world.
Pixelator is about taking a stance against it all, a stance they invite you to join them in: here’s how you too can pixelate some public ugly.
Next, let’s take on those hideous in-train subway ads — now that’s something you’re forced to stare at for quite some time, because it’s usually between them and the smelly dude talking to himself… although we’re always far more intrigued by the latter. (Draw you own conclusions, bad ad people.)
The concept of “guerrilla art” is by definition undefined. Which means it’s not confined to any medium or dimension. Sure, a lot of it is static, physical art. But some of it is dynamic, complex, and mobile. Which makes it all the more impressive.
We’re talking about guerrilla get-up Improv Everywhere — a group of comedy-minded citizens who cause carefully orchestrated “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The NYC-based group, founded in 2001, has amassed an enormous following of unofficial national and global chapters. They’ve done over 70 such stealth comedy missions, recently making major waves with the Frozen Grand Central one.
Besides being a wildly impressive stroke of such large-scale genius, the stunt got major mainstream love: not only did it land in the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU , but it was also cool enough for R.E.M. to blatantly rip off. (Nicely done, Gestalt — lost your creative bone along with your hair?)
We just dig the entire concept because IE’s missions jolt pedestrians out of the private zombie bubbles we mindlessly walk around in all day. They remind us to come to and pay attention — because when you look at how long it took the Grand Central passersby to notice the extreme and obvious bizarrerie, those Orwellian drone-filled scenes seem frighteningly nonfictional.
SECRET WALL TATTOOS
Guerrilla statements are all the more indulgent when they mess with institutions that take themselves a bit too seriously. Especially if the messing is kinda hidden, producing even more of a jaw-drop when accidentally discovered.
Case in point: you may remember the “secret wall tattoos” of pickings past — drawings in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture only revealed when said furniture is moved. Word on the street is the movement was started by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who compares the idea to the delightful discovery of the toy hidden in a box of Cracker Jacks.
Today, there’s a whole following of independent artists spreading the hospitality mischief. And curiously enough, hotels hungry for street cred are actually paying artists to do that stuff. But street- cred-for-sale discussions aside, we love the idea — what better form of social art protest than taking some of that mind-numbingly bland space back?
So here’s to injecting a bit of scavenger-huntish excitement into the otherwise bland hotel experience. Next time you check in, make sure you peek behind the paintings… and maybe pack a Sharpie of your very own.
MARK JENKINS ART
We’ve been obsessed with Mark Jenkins for quite some time, so it’s no surprise we honor him here. His street art installations are an exquisite hybrid of playful and unsettling, from the human- legged shopping cart to his Storker Project
But besides the gotta-love-it shock value of his brilliantly cast and positioned sculptures, we love what his art stands for. In a rather compelling interview with The Morning News, the artist shares what drives him: a certain outrage at how stagnant institutionally authorized public art is — monuments, memorials and the like seem to cling to the past rather than push the city into the future or challenge its present.
And that’s a pretty big social statement — how come our culture chooses to glorify the works of the past rather than celebrate the artistic vision of the present?
Plus, we just can’t stop laughing at the wall-diver.
Okay, okay, Banksy fans: relax. Here it comes… although we’ll preface it by saying we’re a bit ambivalent about the “social statement” quotient of Banksy’s art: somehow, it always seems to be a bit too ego-gratifying (a.k.a. “Oooh, look at what I can get away with!”) as opposed to challenging ordinary folk to stand for something.
But despite selling his works at auctions, we have to hand it to Banksy for smuggling his own art into the MoMA, The Met, The Museum of National History, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery, and…wait for it… the Louvre. Sure, this may be the ultimate ego-driven prank — but it also challenges our relationship with art and makes us question. What belongs in this museum? Why? What makes it better than that?
And, really, while we may admire his exquisite technique (and his ability to sneak a live red elephant into a gallery), we find that all- important social perception shuffle is what really makes him a guerrilla maverick.
Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you let people take away from it.
Guerrilla art doesn’t always have to be unauthorized. In fact, the more people are on board, the more of a difference the effort can make. And when it’s about solving a really, really serious social problem, then it’s really worth noting.
We found out about Canstruction by fluke, stumbling upon a bizarre public installation downtown — several gigantic sculptures of anything from the Philly Phanatic to an iPod, all made entirely out of food cans. Turns out, Philly was just one stop on the Canstructionnational circuit — an operation of the Society for Design Administration, the design/build competition travels the country, challenging teams of engineers, architects and students to construct enormous sculptures out of full cans of food.
Here’s the social kick: after the competition, all the cans are donated to local food banks and distributed in emergency hunger relief programs. Since Canstruction was founded in the early 90’s, 10 million pounds of food have been donated — sodium overdose aside, that’s one massive stab at the poverty monster.
Check out the gallery of work to get amazed, inspired, and even fired up to participate. And, hey, if your city isn’t on the tour map, you can always host a competition. Talk about grassroots initiative.
Here’s another blast from the Brain Pickingspast. “Guerrilla knitting” may sound like a laughable oxymoron (visuals of prankster grannies materialize), but it’s actually a brilliant form of public art that blasts the urban grayness away with a bold splash of color.
Heading the movement is Houston-based Knitta Please, a group of 11 men and women out to reimagine the cityscape. Since 2005, the crew has been wrapping ordinary city staples like lamp posts, bike racks, parking meters and other random personality- deprived objects in colorful hand-knitted sleeves.
The yarn ninjas have since color-bombed their way around the world, knit-blasting places like Seattle, Harlem, Paris, El Salvador, The Great Wall of China and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
And we love the statement they’re making — what better way to wrap up our week-long tribute to guerrilla work that claims the city back from the gray grip of faceless concrete?