Posts filed under ‘Art + Music’

Battle Of The (Randomly Generated) Bands

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Before checking out for the weekend, we thought we’d share something silly and wonderful with you. A Flickr user going by the name of “Bishopia” has sparked a new viral trend with his “CD Cover Meme,” a challenge to create your own randomly generated album cover. Don’t have a drop of musical talent? Who cares!

First, click the random article button on Wikipedia. Voila! There’s your band’s name. Second, select the last line of the last quote on QuotationPage’s random option. Bam! There’s your album title. Finally, choose the third picture off Flickr’s “Explore the Last Seven Days” page. Ta da! You have a (fake) band, a (fake) album and (fake) cover art.

This meme immediately reminded me of my colleague Kat’s recent “random delight” post, only now, by inviting people to design and submit original artwork, the randomness phenomena has matured into something new: a call to creative action. Judging from the thousands of impressive submissions, people are taking this silly challenge quite seriously.

– Johnny

Click through for People Are Amazing’s CD art… (more…)

February 20, 2009 at 8:22 pm Leave a comment

TV On Our Own Terms

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Once upon a time, in an age before TiVo and Netflix, colleagues would gather around the watercooler to chat about the previous night’s popular TV shows. The shared experience of critiquing the latest episodes was a social blessing–or for those unable to tune in, a recurring curse. Whether watched or discussed, TV shows were immoveable objects around which lives were expected to revolve. Over time, however, the opposite became true.

Today, the very questions we ask each other about televison have changed. As programs break free from their allotted timeslots and onto Hulu, iPhones and Xboxes, the question “did you watch _____?” has become “are you watching _____?” Fixed broadcast content is on its way out, with viewers instead watching shows whenever, wherever they want. Take AMC’s breakout hit Mad Men. Judging purely by its weekly viewership, one wouldn’t necessarily deem the show a tremendous success. And yet in the past six months it seems as if the Don Draper and his misogynist creatives are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Did your friends watch last night’s episode of Mad Men? Not necessarily. But are they watching Mad Men? Damn right they are! Only now, it’s on their own terms, their own schedule, their own pace and their own devices.

As a result, weekly watercooler conversations have all but evaporated. Barring the Superbowl, the Oscars and certain major political events, today’s audience no longer experiences TV en masse. Unbound to a prescribed way of watching, viewers have turned online to discuss shows, where they can sort and sift through specifically what’s relevant to them. But god forbid they catch up to real-time! Fan websites, for instance, must now post “spoiler alerts” when discussing up-to-date episodes in order to prevent their readers from learning untimely plot points.

Our clever culture will no doubt adjust to these time-shifting technologies, but not without a heavy dose of nostalgic protest. “I remember when my friends used to watch the same shows, at the same time, and talk about them afterwards,” they’ll say. With any hope, the same technologies behind our liberation from broadcast TV will rekindle the faded joys of tuning in together.

– Johnny

January 27, 2009 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

The Amazing Year That Was

Obama crowd

2008 was an unforgettable year for us at People Are Amazing. Aside from Kat getting married, and me getting typhus, we launched this very blog and (despite our best efforts), it is still up and running! Since then, we’ve been privileged to interview a number of amazing people from Kalliopi Kohas, owner of Greek pine sap purveyor Mastiha to Tony Dusko, 5th grade teacher by day, whimsical web animator by night. A personal highpoint was hearing the wise words of 90 year-old Dave Crawford on growing up during the Great Depression and how best to navigate a crumbling economy.

But the recession didn’t keep us from visiting some intriguing places. John took a trip to Brooklyn’s own Fine and Raw for a taste of artisanal, dairy/sugar/preservative-free chocolate. He brought back some perishable, refrigerated samples and we made sure they never reached room temperature! Kat found herself in the Mid-West wandering the aisles of Cincinatti’s own supermarket/amusement park Jungle Jim’s. Food, it seems, is a minor obsession at P.A.A.. Kat’s post about local panini-makers S’Wich found its way onto foodie blog Eater in May. I wrote about an awful new bottled tap water I came across at a bodega; in turn, that company curiously linked to our post, “Tap’NY Must Think You’re Stupid,” in their press section.

Surprisingly, our most popular post ended up being about a miscolored canine. In early May, I was experimenting with ways to boost traffic and I noticed that the search term “green puppy” was “volcanic” in popularity on Google Trends. Apparently, a Labrador with a pea-colored coat had been born in New Orleans and really people wanted to see the pictures. I posted the two images available at the time, unaware that moments later the popular site Buzzfeed would link to our post. Within a matter of minutes, we had thousands of viewers visiting our humble little blog. Thus, the “Green Puppy Effect” was born.

Obviously, you never quite know where a year will take you. This time last year, People Are Amazing didn’t even exist. But between blogging about diabetic rappers and Colorado grease thieves, we were thrilled to ride the ups and downs of 2008. Luckily for us, amazing things are always on the horizon and 2009 is sure to provide hearty fodder for the blog. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

– Johnny

January 12, 2009 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

Come Together, Right Now!

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd, MTV Games, and Rock Band manufacturer Harmonix announced an exclusive Beatles video game to be released in the winter of next year. This comes as a welcome surprise for the many critics who feel that those licensing the Fab Four’s music have been painstakingly slow in adapting to digital culture. Though the band did brave new territory with Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE, for their own odd reasons, they have still yet to release their coveted catalog for purchase on iTunes.

On the shoulders of Harmonix and Guitar Hero makers Activision, video game manufacturers are now aggressively partnering with the music industry. According to The Economist, aging rockers Aerosmith have made more money in licensing income from Guitar Hero than from sales of any of their albums. But I have a hunch that these lucrative partnerships are indicative of something bigger.

In the past month, we’ve witnessed a presidential candidate advertising in Xbox 360 games and Brian Eno release an ambient musical instrument for the iPhone. We’ve watched Internet TV provider Hulu celebrate their first anniversary and Netflix and TiVo partner to stream on-demand rentals. Obviously, we are living in an era of rapid technological transition, but these innovations seem more enduring than past experiments. Virtual reality goggles anyone? While the Internet provides us with entertainment everywhere, it also raises our expectations of more traditional forms. Analog “one-purpose” mediums like TV, radio and even video games are learning that to survive you must not only partner with the competition but merge mediums. It seems on this long and winding road, there’s only one lane and it’s moving fast. — Johnny

October 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

The Future of Reading

Ever inclined to hide its most interesting articles in random sections, the NYT ran a fascinating article last week about how book publishers, authors and new-media-types are looking to drive youth interest in books by expanding the concept of a ‘book’ to include video games and interactive elements. According to the article:

“You can’t just make a book anymore,” said Mr. Haarsma, a former advertising consultant. Pairing a video game with a novel for young readers, he added, “brings the book into their world, as opposed to going the other way around.”

Mr. Haarsma is not the only one using video games to spark an interest in books. Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading.

Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.

Publishers, meanwhile, are rushing to get in on the action. Scholastic, the American publisher of the Harry Potter series, recently released “The Maze of Bones,” the first installment in a 10-book mystery series that is tied to a Web-based game.

What follows is a good synopsis of the ongoing educational debate: video games promote learning vs. video games damage learning. Not surprisingly, no consensus is reached, but a number of interesting voices offer their take on the ways in which reading is evolving.

There is, however, a significant distinction that that article touches on but doesn’t fully explore. The book publishing industry, in its struggle to stay relevant amongst digital competitors, is confusing a new desire for interactivity for a shift in what people want from reading. (more…)

October 13, 2008 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Tony Dusko Animates Learning

INTERVIEW

It’s a time-honored elementary school cliche: when the semester is slow, vacation fast approaching or there is a substitute teacher, the class watches a video to kill time. But Tony Dusko, a Pennsylvania-based 5th-grade teacher by day and animator by night, has bigger aspirations for what his students watch. Beginning with a short cartoon of a grilled-cheese sandwich telling his class to get ready for lunch, Dusko discovered that his 5th-graders had a voracious appetite for animated lessons.

Drawing on a degree in fine art and studies with Academy-Award nominated animator Paul Fierlinger, Dusko has created a series of films to engage his students in a variety of subjects; from learning about owls to being a good friend. His shorts make for lively and fun viewing, and represent a simple and effective way to break through the electronic clutter of his young students’ lives: His characters are quirky shapes and colors, his sound-effects are expressive, and his sense of humor is appealing to all ages (watch Some Facts About Owls, above and check out more of Tony’s work at notebookbabies.com). Recently, I had a chance to ask Tony a few questions about how and why he does what he does. –John

How did you get started with your educational animations?

One day I decided to make an animated character to tell the kids to be quiet when they are in line to go to lunch. I was sick of telling them myself every day.

What was your students’ response like?

They couldn’t believe their eyes or that I could do something like that. Then they begged me to make more.

How do you think a dynamic medium like animation helps kids learn?

I am not sure why it works but I am certain that it is an effective way to communicate information when done well. Perhaps it is the combination of movement and sound using simple colors and shapes. Or maybe it is just a medium that kids are used to from TV.
(more…)

August 12, 2008 at 9:36 am 1 comment

Girl Talk @ All Points West: A View From The Pit

Last Friday, I saw Girl Talk perform live at the All Points West music festival at Liberty State Park. For those of you unfamiliar with his music, I recently wrote a lengthy post here about how this laptop DJ’s mashup style perfectly reflects this moment in time. As expected, his set at APW was insane. Emerging right as Underworld was beginning their famous Trainspotting hit “Born Slippy” on the main stage, GT quieted the crowd in a nod to his elders. A moment later, he turned the page on the British geezers.

After a chaotic hour of cross dressers, toilet paper and unidentified flying inflatables, Girl Talk let his laptop do the work and rode a wobbly air mattress into the crowd. Falling awkwardly into a pit of worshipping young fans, he called his high paced set to an end. As we all hobbled off, sweaty and exhausted, I exchanged a few words with a guy on line for $4 water. “What’s the name of that band up next?” I asked jokingly. “I think they’re called Radiohead or something,” he replied. For us, at least, the highlight of the night came right before the beloved headliners.

This morning I was reading the NYTimes recap of the show, and what did I see in their slide show? Me! Well, to be fair, it’s more like mini-me, but if you look closely under Girl Talk’s right shoulder, there I am taking a picture with my digital camera.

(Photo courtesy of NYTimes)

Don’t believe me? Well, check out this awesome shot I grabbed at that very moment. In the spirit of Girl Talk, feel free to use this copyright-free picture below whenever and wherever you’d like!

– Johnny

August 11, 2008 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Girl Talk Looks Forward To The Past

(A fan’s homemade music video for Girl Talk’s “Still Here” including samples of Procol Harum, Kanye West and Ace of Base)

Two years ago, an obscure laptop DJ from Pittsburgh mashed together a collage of popular music samples into something brilliantly distinctive and fresh. Under the name Girl Talk, Greg Gillis produced the hyperactive hip-hop dance masterpiece Night Ripper, an album that has remained on my playlist and my mind ever since. Earlier this summer Girl Talk released his follow-up album Feed the Animals as a Radiohead-style “pay-what-you-like” download on the internet. Last week, he popped up on my radar yet again, this time in the form of a fan’s YouTube remixes. In each instance, I was reminded of why his music perfectly reflects this moment in time and felt compelled to share my thoughts.

Girl Talk arrived on a wave of critical acclaim and controversy, with even the most favorable reviews noting that Night Ripper (his third album, yet first commercial success) was “begging for court drama.” It seems GT had crafted an entire album using, almost exclusively, other people’s music. Of the mind-blowing 167 samples used most were under copyright, including popular singles by everyone from Ludacris and Hall & Oates to Elton John and 2Live Crew. Signed to Illegal Art (the aptly named label that specializes in artists with copyright infringement issues), it was hardly as if GT was unaware of the potential legal dangers of his sampling. Instead, relying on the “Fair Use” law, this biomedical engineer-by-day toured relentlessly with a sweaty, shirtless set even more frenetic than his music. And us kids loved it.

(more…)

July 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm 2 comments

Remember Hypercolors? American Apparel Does

Last week, NOTCOT alerted me to the fact that American Apparel has recently launched a line of ‘Thermochromatic T-shirts’ that change color when exposed to heat or cold. The site went on to point out that this is essentially the same technology used by those unrelentingly awesome Hypercolors t-shirts that were all the rage in the early 90s. And lest you forget just how awesome it was, the official American Apparel site has a nice little video of a model microwaving a shirt and then wearing it into a freezer. But my initial excitement gave way to cynicism when a few days later I read this article in the LA Times, saying essentially: hypercolor is back from the grave, so start counting backwards from 15 minutes again.

Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with Hypercolors coming back. I lived through the trend the first time around and still think it’s amazing in a 12-year-old boy sort of way. But this isn’t an isolated incident. (more…)

July 11, 2008 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

Paul Ahern, X-Acto Ninja

INTERVIEW

I’ve been a long-time fan of Paul Ahern’s “Cardboardistry” art — the pieces feel familiar yet striking and simple yet meticulous. I recently had a chance to catch up with the man with the mad knife skills, newly invigorated after his first show in Austin, Texas. –Kat

What is this thing you call Cardboardistry?

I discovered this method of working in summer 2003 in Brooklyn when I was the production designer for a music video for The Natural History. Our rule was that all sets and props had to be made from cardboard. I needed a pop art “painting” for the wall of this cardboard living room set, so I devised a method of creating a black and white image by removing the surface paper and revealing the corrugation beneath to act as the blacks in the image, and leaving behind the white. It turned out so well that I hung it up in my apartment after we were done, and a few different people asked to buy it.

Before I knew it, I had commissions for a series of huge wall pieces. People seem to be attracted to the mystery of how I create these pieces, but really it’s nothing more than steadfast determination, in the face of a rather mundane and repetitive process – scraping corrugated paper with an X-Acto knife. (more…)

June 30, 2008 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

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