February 25, 2006

Amazing Story

Finally, some happy news from the nightly news.... worth watching some time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBYPaNc57Ik

Posted by brian at 04:42 PM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2006

Podbop

Very cool new mashup of EVDB's API by Taylor McKnight and Daniel Westermann-Clark: it's called PODBOP, and lets you listen to podcasts of bands coming to your town for to play live.

Just launched yesterday. Check it out!

Posted by brian at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2006

Chris Bliss's Juggling Spectacle

If you haven't seen Chris Bliss's amazing juggling performance done to The Beatles' Abbey Road, you can catch the video here. When you land on that page, click on the "Must-See Finale" link on the right.

Check it out, it's pretty amazing that he never drops a ball during the entire performance.

Posted by brian at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

The Entertainment Gathering 2006 - A Report (PART ONE)

Some random thoughts on EG2006, part one.

1. Bilbo's Party
There was something odd about Richard Saul Wurman all during the Entertainment Gathering (EG2006) conference that just wrapped up this past Friday evening. It struck me that he ran the conference, indeed, that he portrayed himself, like he was Bilbo Baggins at his eleventy-first birthday party. There were times you'd swear Mr. Wurman was itching to get away from all of us by slipping on the proverbial Ring and stealing away from the Shire for good.

Over and over he showed a contempt for his audience. But then, over and over he showed a love for his audience. Sometimes both. The two moods would swing in the blink of an eye. One moment he's all welled up with tears of gratitude and love or laughing to the point of choking, and the next second he's Jackie Gleason scolding someone in the audience for saying or doing something he thinks is mighty stupid.

At any moment across the three days of EG2006 I was expecting him to announce, "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!" With Wurman, it seems, if he doesn't know you, he doesn't like you, and you're not worth knowing. After all, he's never heard of you so why should he care. He spoke at times of memory, that we are all memories. If you he can't find you in his already, well, he seems to have been suggesting that he's not going to make room for more.

I stopped counting the times that Wurman, the legendary conference impresario, announced this, EG2006, was his last conference. "I am not doing another EG conference," he said at one point. "I am not doing it. Don't keep on saying we'll get you to do it," he said, scolding the audience. "That's boring already." But the audience kept briging the issue up to him over and over again.

His decision was final, he'd say. Just like Bilbo: "I regret to announce that though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!" If only Wurman had the Ring, he'd be gone in a flash. Yes, I'm certain that is what he wanted.

I am also certain he'll be back in a year or so with another conference.

2. Name Tags
The conference name tags were interesting. An innovative design in one sense, very revealing in another. At EG2006, the name tags and the conference agendas were cleverly melded into the same long, narrow laminated card hung from your neck by a red string. Look down at the tag hanging from your neck, and the conference agenda was right there for reference -- printed upside down just for you to read. Walk up to someone else and you'd see the agenda was upside down, but the person's name was readable, well, their last name. Printed in CAPITAL LETTERS. Above the last name, in much tinier font, their first name.

For Wurman, it appears, what matters is your last name. Again, I thought of Bilbo. Surrounding him in this semicircular Skirball auditorium in West LA were his dear Bagginses and Boffins, his Tooks and Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Burrowses, Hornblowers, Boldgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses, and Proudfoots. If you lacked such a familiar and distinguished last name, what the hell were you doing here?

Contrast this with conferences like PC Forum, where centered smack-dab in the middle of your name tag is your first name (or, as the registration form requests, the nickname you want to be known by), in a fairly large, readable font. Underneath that in a smaller font is your full name on a single line.

3. Poitier
I was standing in line before the doors opened on the first day of the conference, and there behind me walked in a graying, thin Sidney Poitier. Trying clearly to be invisible, he went up to that particular section of the registration desk for people whose last name (be it Proudfoot or Poitier) began with P. He smiled at the girl at the desk, took the name badge, and put it around his neck.

Sidney POITIER, ladies and gentlemen. One of my all-time heroes. Walking right up behind me, as I stood by the door. Standing, for a moment, right next to me. No eye contact. I wanted to say something to him. I wanted to tell him how much his autobiography meant to me, how I'd listened to the entire damn epic unabridged audiobook of his life on a drive halfway across the country. How I had been fascinated, amazed, awed. Inspired. I wanted to ask him about William Patrick, the guy who ghost-wrote the book. I'd had some interactions with Patrick in the past. So there was something, at least, something we shared in common. For all the wonderful films he'd chosen to act in. For just being him. But Sidney seemed not to want to mingle; he quietly murmured something to the conference staffer guarding the door; a moment later, the door was open and he was in and he was gone.

I'd see him pop up at random times during the conference. Often, I'd turn and there he would be, standing right behind me, or next to me. A ghost. I never saw him speak to anyone.

At one point during a conference session, Wurman was speaking about something or other and called out Poitier's name. "Sidney! Sidney Poitier!" he commanded. Always in charge, the King of the conference, demanding Mr. Poitier, a mere attendee, show himself. It was as if Wurman was not going to let anyone hide, no matter how famous they were and how much they desired to hide.

If I have a regret from the conference, it's not being able to shake Mr. Poitier's hand. But, that is a small regret. I'd rather focus on doing something that makes Mr. Poitier want to shake my hand.

4. Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones and his entourage were much more visible during the conference. As was his bodyguard, never too far away from him no matter where he was. Lots of crowds around Quincy the entire conference. Funny, I wanted to shake Jones's hand for the same reason I wanted to shake Poitier's hand: I'd listened to the entire epic unabridged audiobook version of his autobiography. What a life! The music! Sinatra! The recordings! The live gigs in Europe! The Thriller stories! Another amazing life.

At one point I did go up to him, and I did shake his hand and I told him how much I'd enjoyed the audiobook. He said he loved doing that book, but was saddened so many people in his life story had passed, like Ray Charles. Indeed.

5. The Finale.
I said this would be random. Here's how the conference ended.

Speaking of Quincy Jones, it finally was his turn at the end of the conference Friday night, to come on stage. His presentation was in the form of a video about how he took some inner-city gang members to South Africa to help build homes for the poor, and how the experience changed their lives.

When that was done, he switched to demonstrate the strange laser-based MIDI controllers that had been sitting on the stage since Wednesday. I'd been wondering since Wednesday whether or not they were binary devices or capable of more subtle, nuanced musical performance.

All hopes of nuance had been dashed before Jones' session had begun. I was standing in line, watching those privileged few who'd hustled or finagled or snuck in or were somehow more worthy than the rest of us to enter the auditorium and either wander around or pick a choice seat. Above the entranceway of the auditorium hung a speaker, from which bellowed at a painfully loud volume Steve Wonder's "Superstition". But not just "Superstition". Also a jingle jangle cacophony of random notes, the kinds children might make when banging around on an instrument they neither understand nor know how to play. Alas. The laser-based MIDI controllers were as I'd feared. Imagine taking a red laser-based motion detection alarm and running your hand through it, triggering the alarm. Well, now imaging putting the lasers on a stand, and wiring them up so that when you interrupted the laser beam, you triggered a signal to be sent to a Macintosh running software that interpreted the signal as an instruction to play a note, or a chord. Not just any note or chord, but ones that made sense at that particular point in the pre-recorded music. Made sense meaning, if Steve Wonder's song was in the key of C, the chord was in the key of C. If it moved to F#, so did the software.

Cool for about five seconds. After that, you realize it's haptic karaoke, and not very interesting, not very compelling, not very artistic, at all. So when you see a bunch of people, all friends, relatives of Quincy Jones, plus movie stars like Selma Hayek, plus jazz greats like Herbie Hancock, cello greats like Yo-Yo Ma, plus architects like Frank Gehry, all standing on stage waving their hands and twiddling their fingers to trigger the laser beams in different ways and cause a bumbling meaningless cacaphony of noise, you just have to wonder. Particularly ironic was Quincy announcing from the stage how "UNBELIEVABLE!" these devices were. Yes, they're unbelievable. I remain not a believer.

"I'm not going to play cello anymore!" exclaimed Yo-Yo Ma at one point. "This is fabulous!" Surely, you're kidding.

I am sure (I am hoping) Herbie Hancock realized how lame this whole thing was. As for Frank Gehry, this cacophony of noise seemed rather consistent with his architecture.

Picture the end of the typical Saturday Night Live show. There's been a commercial break. Suddenly, the show's back on. There's the host, standing in the center of the screen, looking unprepared and unready to say anything. There's random noise and conversation as other cast members mill around onstage, and in the background you can hear the piano or other instrument from the band, attempting to begin to play the sad ending anthem of SNL. Such was how EG2006 ended. A random lot of people onstage, with a cacophony of sound, eventually after much much too long, ending, as Wurman announced that deep-voiced Baby Jane Dexter would "sing us out of here." She did. We left.

To be continued.

Posted by brian at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)
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