Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A Word Too Far

I  have noted, as of late, a perplexing propensity towards the use of superfluous superlatives. Long a popular method utilized in advertising, rather egregious overstatement is hardly a new phenomenon. It is also present in references to attributes such as ‘biggest’, ‘strongest’ and ‘worst’ which feature prominently in reality shows titles such as The Biggest Loser, World’s Strongest Man and the Worst Drivers series of programs set in various countries. 

Few places are such instances more numerous than online. Even a casual perusal of a streaming site, such YouTube just for a for instance, and one will spy variable cornucopia of videos making such claims, often ‘tagged’ in most brazen upper-case letters, i.e. ‘BEST ROCK COMPILATION EVER’, ‘FUNNIEST FAILS EVER!!’ and ‘MOST SHOCKING THINGS CAUGHT ON LIVE T.V.’. The issue present in such proclamations is they are essential unsupportable. Some may argue that they are based on personal opinion but the terminology used elevates the statement to the point of an absolute state. The word ‘perfect’, for example, when used properly, leaves nearly no room from flexibility. Something can be ‘nearly perfect’ or ‘not quite perfect’ but that is about all. A fact which makes statements gross exaggerations at best and willful deception at worst. 

A way to avoid this’s to use a qualifier such as ‘one of’, ‘among’ and ‘on record’. Also, it is prudent to pay attention to context, words such as ‘great’ being posses of more than a singular meaning. There is ‘great poet’ in terms of relative quality, as well as ‘Great Wall of China in terms of scale and Alexander the Great and ‘The Great Train Robbery’ in terms of impressiveness and comparative importance. 



Sunday, 18 February 2018

Accounting For Taste

Debates regarding the nature of perception have been carrying on for centuries. As has the phenomenon of people claiming that they, and they alone, have finally cracked it and are therefore perpetually on the side of the angels. On the other side of the ledger are the individuals who maintain that opinions are like noses in that, barring some sort of unfortunate incident, everybody is posed of one. The truth is, of course, to be found somewhere between these two extremes. Critics are as human and therefore as fallible as any other in the mortal coil. Though, to be fair, the majority of professional critics have experience, education and other such background factors that give them a sharper insight and wider context when judging a particular work. This can include amateur and self-published critics, such as those often found ‘online’. Individuals such as Lindsay Ellis and Kyle Kallgren who possess post-graduate degrees in film production and film theory respectively.

While all opinions are, in the end, essentially subjective, there are particular things one can do in order to account for this. One of the simplest methods is to try and discern exactly what it is you like or otherwise about a particular work. Just saying that something ‘sucks’ is not terribly helpful. Nor overly articulate. Lacking many of the syllables one so likes to see in words. Pointing out that the characters seem bland and disengaged and/or that the plot is weak or slow or derivative, or even all of 

these, sometimes referred to as a ‘hat trick’, is a lot more useful and generally more considered. Something else that can be done is to expend as much effort as possible to account for taste. Despite what the old saying might claim, it is possible to account for taste and to not automatically assume that just because one is note entirely enamoured with a work it is not, therefore, intrinsically bad. A prime example of this manner of falafel thinking is when an adult criticizes a children’s film for being ‘patronizing’ or ‘simplistic’.

A reverse of this effect occurred with Neil Gaiman’s illustrated novel Coraline. Loved equally by readers and critics, adults and children, there later emerged something of a 

trend in which children could read the famously frightening tale  and end up largely unscathed, while adults tended to sleep with all the lights on. Gaiman’s own theory is that children tended to see the book an an adventure story, while adults see the book as a story about a child in danger. Difference of perspective which cannot help but influence one’s reaction to the work.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

A New Hope

It is a fact none can dispute that the technological advancement of the past decades has changed many elements of society. As with all other things, however, it is a matter of degrees and natural forces of self-correction are beginning to be brought to bear. Digital distribution has, doubtlessly, made an alteration to traditional industries, as supported by statistical changes, there are however other factors which go into deciding whether a given format is to thrive or perish.  

The primary area in which the impact of digital distribution has been felt is that of ‘video games’. Since the launch of digital distribution, such as Steam, in 2009, the overall market-share has increased from 20% of the overall market to a discombobulating 74%, nigh on constituting a monopoly. In addition to the much lower price point digital distribution affords, it it also somewhat a matter of public spirit. Eve since the turn of the second millennium, a general spirit of independence began to permeate much of Western culture. It is telling then, that the vast majority of games distributed via the ‘internet’ are produced by independent and even boutique enterprises with absolutely no corporate or industrial support whatever. Quite similar, in fact, to the very beginnings of the computerized industry in general, the majority of the enterprises that have remained active to this day being of the ‘start-up’ variety. At times commingled from very humble beginnings, on occasion with little more than three chaps stationed with in an automobile storage port. 

Despite the rather rapid spread of musical recordings over the ‘internet’, available at least inexpensive price points, if not entirely free of charge, and near constant proclamations of the traditional recording industry be rather quite deceased, the rumours of its death have been greatly exaggerated. While it is fair to say that the traditional reactor ding industry is something of a down-turn as of late, it is hardly in the queue for the Endangered Species List. Overall sales, including that of proper vinyl records, in 2016 was a respectable 205.5 million units, the renewed interest in vinyl accounting for a full 10% of overall sales. A phenomenon leading to the production and promotion of plethora new turn-tables.

A traditional form which has not only survived by thrived in the new century is traditional live theatre. Counted among the oldest forms of human artistic endeavour, the theatre dates back to Classical Greece and is as well regarded in the contemporary epoch as it has been since the beginning, the impositions of television and the ‘web’ having no real impact on it, the experience of live theatre simply being too unique and specific to be replicated, let alone surpassed, in any other form. Indeed, far from being subsumed by the Internet, dramatists and thespians have begun to harness and utilize the massive reach of the digital realm for their own ends. In addition to the posting of live recordings of both professional and amateur theatre productions on ‘streaming sites’ as a means to get wider attention, theatre groups have exploited the 
popularity of ‘flash-mobs’ as to promote their upcoming productions. More than this, other intrepid entrepreneurs have utilized digital distribution as the primary vehicle for their theatrical productions. A case-in-point being Paul Sharpea, the genius dramatist behind the incomparable ‘web musical’, The Dolls of New Albion. Despite being released in an ‘audio-only’ format, it is nigh on impossible to distinguish between New Albion and a recording of a traditional stage musical. To the point that it has since been stage adaptations produced, which have been, in their turn, recorded and poster on streaming sites. Thereby bringing everything full circle. 


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Highest Form of Flattery

In this time of great change and progress, it is comforting to know that there are still a few things that have not changed. Especially so, if there was not anything particularly faulty about them to begin with. An encouraging example of this periodic preservation is the time-honoured tradition of song sharing. The notion off sharing musical compositions has existed from the very beginnings of recorded music. In point of fact, where it not for what are now known as ‘cover songs’, the early 20th century recording industry would have barely existed at all. Even as late as the 1990s 'cover versions’ of compositions came to be more widely known and better regarded than the original incarnation. A prime example of this the ditty ‘I Go Blind’. Originally done by the Canadian minstrels known as 54-40, the tune became better known in the version devised by Hootie and the Blowfish. At least in the colonies. Since the initial imposition of social and political issues onto the digital speakers-corner referred to as ‘social media’, there have come to be jokes about when YouTube was just for ‘chatty vlogs, amateur musicians and cute cat videos’. Despite this being meant somewhat sardonically, there is also a grain of truth to it. There have long been amateur and later professional musicians who have utilized the ‘video-sharing’ site as a means of trying to build a career. A the is also a great deal of variety. 

There has also come to be an increase in the types and styles 
of songs being utilized for ‘cover’ versions. Many of the covers done by

Ms. Stirling and her compatriots such as cellist Tina Guo and the string quartet String Theory, revolve around popular culture. Particularly that in the Science-Fiction and Fantasy genres. Another interesting tendency materializing in the world of cover musicians is the notion of willfully crossing genres. The classical cello quartet Apocalyptica, for example, specialize in covers of ‘Heavy Metal’ songs by Metallica, Motörhead and Pantera among their contemporaries. This also extends to independently based musicians such as the grand Lady Morwen who does a transcendent rendition of "Keelhauled" by Alestorm and Lady Chugun who manages to make ‘Metal’ and
'Punk’ scores work for the accordion. An achievement on par with executing a banjo-driven Hip-Hop track. A heroic feat only Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer has managed to achieve.

A chap who is greatly changing changing things is the pianist  Scott Bradlee. The founder and leader of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. An ever shifting group of like-minded melody aficionados who assist Mr. Bradlee in his ambition to expand musical horizons in the culture at large. As Mr. Bradlee explained during his ‘TEDx’ lecture entitled ‘A Bizarro World of Pop Music’, when queried as to what sort of music he 
preferred, he would respond ‘a bit of everything’. Despite this feeling a bit too easy. Until, that is, he realized the fact that ‘all songs are just songs.’ Sets of words and melodies that can be arranged in any manner one wishes. Essential rendering the very notion of ‘genres’ arbitrary at best. A notion he goes on to prove by doing Jazz renditions of songs from nearly every known genre. Closely with Mr. Bradlee and his Postmodern Jukebox is the Jazz singer and pin-up model Robyn Adele Anderson. Even more greater in her ambitious than Mr. Bradlee, Ms. Anderson is even more bold in terms of her experimentation. Her mos gobsmacking experiments include a Big Band version of Shakira’s ‘Whenever, Wherever’ in fluent Spanish and an unbelievable, in the most literal sense, Swing version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

The outlook is no longer quite so dismal once was in terms of the financial aspect. Despite a few shenanigans in the beginning, the pay structure as related online material has been

more or less standardized by systems like Patreon. It is still very much a situation in which some will succeed and others will fail, more or less like the traditional structures. Only now there are no ‘gate-keepers’ aside the consumers who decide that for which they are willing to pay out and creators succeed or fail on their own merits.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tabula Rasa

It is an unfortunate truth inherent of the human condition that we all have memories of which we would sooner be rid. Alas, the notion of ‘repressed memory’ remains tenuous in the most charitable terms and is in no way certain to alleviate the furthering torment of a tumultuous history. It is dashed difficult to entirely excise negative recollections once they are manifest. Yet, such obstacles have yet to deter the nature-tamperers and the white lab-coat brigade have developed a method of obliterating less than savoury memories. All that it requires is a small portion of intentional brain damage. 

According to researchers, there has been located a set of neurons, in mice that is, that are attributed to the creation of fear. These self-same neurons being the thing that create negative memories and makes them just that extra bit unpalatable. With the destruction of the receptors responsible for fear, it is also possible to bring bad memories to a permanent end. When applied to a different set of neurons, the same procedure can be used to cure one of a dependence on narcotics. 

However, as Mary Curie discovered, even honourable endeavours can have unforeseen consequences. Some of those pertinent within the notion of memory erasure, particularly the case of fear receptors, are personality change, even the smallest alteration in neurological make up posing the risk of major changes in personality, and the high risk of psychosis. Alteration to the fear receptors, never mind the removal of such, poses an unconscionable risk of negating the fear response as a natural defence mechanism. A sure way in which to land oneself in a nasty spot of bother. As evidenced by the case of the supporters of the Burnley football club. A diminutive association of dedicated hooligans that routinely engaged in fisticuffs with far more populous groups, oft being out numbered by three men to one, with no apparent fear. A tendency which earned them the monicker ‘The Suicide Squad’. 



Thursday, 8 February 2018

From A Strike to a Tap

As the march of time progresses on its merry way, there has also been a dashed unsettling tendency for the integrity of the English language to be altered to suit. The verb ‘type’, for instance, did not exist in terms of writing composition until the introduction of the commercial typewriter. At this particular point in time, typewriters were functionally mechanical and technically as demanding in use as a military field rifle. The keys had to be struck with a certain amount of force to register the command, much like operating a lever or pulling a winch. This being a simple, straight-forward time, when things were called as they were, ‘strike’ was precisely them used. Such as in the following passage from the 51st edition of Pitman’s Journal of Commercial Education published in 1896: ‘It will be apparent that if two keys are accidentally struck together no impression wile be made, also only one type can enter the guide at a time, and the act of striking two keys locks each, neither leaving an impression on the paper.’

So remained the case through much of the 20th century even managing survive the adoption of digitized ‘word processors’ and affordable ‘personal computers’ in late 1980s. A fact based in several, disparate elements, paramount among them the fact that even the new fangled ‘plastic’ keyboards maintained an element of lovely, mechanical precision by having keys which where separate pieces spring loaded into the base. A design which still required a modicum of honest graft to operate. It was not until the turn of the last 
century that the new fangled ‘flat’ keyboard began to usher in an age of sloth 
through simplicity. 

The fine old terms ‘strike’ and ‘hit’ were duly replaced by the anemic words ‘tap’ and ‘click’. A situation only worsened with the imposition of ‘touch-screens’ unto the world. It was not long until such distasteful terminology began to claim cultural dominance, there now even being a website dedicated to mobile communication devices christened TapTapTap. While gentler in terms of terminology and association, the ‘taps’ and ‘clicks’ required by ‘touch-screens’ rob 
the once proud work of typing of its rhythm, precision and, dare I say, passion. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Gaps In the Defences

To fret with regard to the safety of one’s offspring is only proper. Particularly in this modern age with all the potential risks and discombobulating new avenues of communications made possible by the Internet. It is also quite understandable that sundry mummas and pappas are wishing to, in one manner or another, monitor their little darling’s activities in the electronic sphere. Myriad applications and other forms of programming have arisen to meet the call. First it was made possible to track one’s children by using the location services on their mobile telephone. Then to monitor that which they viewed upon it. One clever clogs has even devised a way in which parents can install an application onto their own devices which will not only monitor activity on that of their children but also allow them to discontinue, remotely mind you, any further use of an application or web location the child may have visited that the parents, in their far superior wisdom, find objectionable. Which is certainly fair enough. There is no telling what harm to which youngsters might come, haplessly stumbling across a photographic
representation of peers imbibing libations or, heaven forfend, a only partially clad female leg (please do excuse my language).

Honourable as such attempts may be, there is also an inbuilt weakness, an Achilles Heel if you will, to all such attempts at electronic monitoring and control, useful tools for the protection of propriety that they may be and 

this is the inordinate, and blasted cheeky, amount of experience and cunning acumen so 
many of today’s sprogs possess in terms of digital communication devices. There were, and continue to be, youngsters starting up their own technology enterprises, as well as foiling the sophisticated security systems set up by those of superior, adult intelligence and wisdom. Preposterous as it my seem, it is perfectly possible that any one of the youth of today would be capable of not only detecting but also thwarting such attempts at monitoring them, even if it is for their own dashed good. Or, if they do not, they will more than likely have a school chum possessed of such dastardly knowledge. Thereby turning a honest, heartfelt attempt to protect them from the world into a near farcical exercise in futility.