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Ed Halter, whose book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games we'll be discussing at BookCourt in Brooklyn tomorrow night (y'all come!), referred me to this discussion at Henry Jenkins' blog about video game criticism and the topic of "why don't games have their Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael?" You could substitute "electronic/digital art and music" for games in that discussion and most of it would be relevant: that the critics will emerge in a generation from the ranks of kids consuming the products now, that criticism does exist but mostly on blogs and chatboards and not the established print publications, etc. Games have a different problem in their climb to mainstream acceptance, which is that, as one commenter pointed out, the experience varies so much from one consumer/player to another--and not just for the usual reasons of "the squishy subjectivity of art" but because the game has decision trees that could result in completely unlike experiences for the novice and the advanced player. In an earlier post I described the pleasures of watching my nephews playing Super Mario 64. They're experts so I got more out of being a spectator than I ever would have gotten as an inept player. The "game art" Halter describes in his book that I think I'd like best are the pieces that take apart the games and reassemble the fragments as "objects of contemplation," for example, Workspace Unlimited's Diplomatic Arena, which consists of world leaders and villains indiscriminately slaughtering each other to a montage soundtrack. Some earlier thoughts of mine on the "problem of interactivity" are here and here.
Bern, of the 8-Bit rockin' duo Bodenstandig 2000, on why he doesn't like the iPod:
We know that mp3 is part of our relative poverty, but Apple's proprietary digital rights management is an extremely stupid answer. I am the engineer-like type of guy (or at least an engineer-sympathizer) and I still canít get over these now-so-common crippling of technical possibilities. Appleís iPod? Yes, they look good and maybe they are the last bastion of classical brAun-like industrial design vs. chinese-turkish styling-trash for pimps and bitches, but still: They are crippled and I donít buy one.I agree with this. As a nascent mp3-making musician, I would rather get the product out there via "the chinese-turkish" free mp3 sites that link to me than use iTunes. At home I use Winamp to play music by others, because it doesn't stink of some kind of monopolistic capitalist scheme. Information wants to be free. (What a quaint idea!) The extent of my own capitalism is, send me 10 bucks and I'll send you a CD-R with as much music as I can put on it. For the money you get higher res recordings, the music all in one place, and no time-consuming downloading. You can rip the songs, whatever, just don't pass it off as your own work. My address is on my faq page. Check or money order to "Tom Moody."
1. You cannot just copy a song to an iPod and play it, youíll need iTunes.
2. If you buy a Bodenstandig-song at iTunes, you cannot play it on every mp3-player, you need an iPod.
"Aruba '85" [3.1 MB .mp3]
We're having sort of a heat wave here: nothing compared to Texas summers, but I'll go along with it. In honor, this piece has kind of a jazzy, tropical, Latinate feel. I wrote the melody fairly quickly a few days ago but felt it still needed something, so I busted my hump writing some harmony parts. I wish I could say I learned something about chord theory but I'm still doing everything mostly by ear. The challenge was to write additional notes and variations on the main theme without losing the original syncopated character of the verses. On the third iteration there's a kind of barrelhouse thing that's not very Latin, but it's interestingly quirky and lilting so I left it in. The "bass" is the characteristic Mutator twang bending some tuned drum notes--it stays constant through the piece, maybe too constant, but it's only 2 minutes. The rest is percussion from various sources.
Update: I guess I should mention that just because I said the piece "has kind of a jazzy, tropical, Latinate feel" doesn't mean it is jazzy, tropical, Latinate song. I think it's an "art piece" in that the repeating electronic bass line is static and trancelike in its textures and the jaunty electronic piano parts seem to be imparting forward momentum the piece doesn't have. Thus those iterative piano parts hang like fruit in jello to be individually considered for their simple but rather classically fabricated harmonic structures. The song is supposed to be problematic but also fun and pleasurable in a way I think a lot of 20th Century music wasn't.
Update 2: I took out the griping in the above update--that's a constant temptation with a blog. Thanks to Pierre for listening and documenting the process of recording this piece on his end--he is turning surfing into a Fluxus event with his series on listening to music.
Hate to poop the party, but y'all really need to find someplace besides MySpace to blog and be creative. It's evil now.
Next week, Wednesday, July 19, I'll be guest moderating a talk at the Brooklyn bookstore BookCourt; the featured speaker is Ed Halter, Village Voice critic and author of the just-published book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games (Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon, 2006). The announcement for the event is a here, on the book's blog.
After exploring the intertwined histories of combat and play, from chess to modern "war game" exercises, Halter probes the nexus among the US military, academia, Hollywood, and the gaming industries that led to the development and promotion of such popular games as Full Spectrum Warrior and America's Army. I almost wrote "unholy nexus" but that's probably not the phrase Halter would use. He has a deceptively calm "just the facts ma'am" style that lays out all the information and leaves it to readers' heads to explode. As in, how sick is it that these "fun" games are both a recruiting tool aimed at the poor and impressionable and a trainer of hardened killers to be sent into the Iraq/Afghanistan meat grinder? How ridiculous is it that our tax money is paying for laboratories that explore "subtle effects of light" that heighten a game's realism? The book then ends with descriptions of projects by creative types with a bit more leftist, activist slant. I'm just starting the last chapter and taking notes as I go--doubtless I'll have additional placid thoughts up on the blog as next Wednesday approaches.
From Juan Cole, an update on the sectarian civil war in Iraq (thanks, George!). See also the PS at the bottom of the post: It's great to hear the feds "fired" Halliburton but it's not likely corruption will end any time soon--too many military procurers in the Executive and Legislative branches enjoying cocktail weenies with contractors. We're going to suffer when the real bill comes due.
At Muqdadiyah, a mixed Sunni-Shiite town north of Baghdad, guerrillas came to a bus station, separated out 24 or more Shiites from the other passengers, and took them to a nearby village where they killed most of them (al-Zaman says they murdered 22). The massacre is a continuation of the tit for tat "identity killings" that began last Sunday when Shiite militiamen massacred Sunnis in al-Jihad district of Baghdad. This tactic has brought the low-intensity civil war in Iraq to the boiling point.
In a rare outbreak of brutal candor, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki revealed on Wednesday that the daily violence in West Baghdad has not been random, but rather derives from a concerted plan by the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement to take over West Baghdad politically. He insisted that their advance in Karkh district had been repulsed, whereby they were attempting to move north.
My guess is that a key objective of the guerrillas is to surround and besiege the Kadhimiyah district of north-central Baghdad, which lies to the west across the river from Adhamiyah, a Sunni Arab stronghold. Kadhimiyah is the site of a very major Shiite shrine, that of Imam Musa al-Kazim,the seventh Imam or divinely-guided dynast of the House of the Prophet. The middle-class Shiites there are more or less behind enemy lines and isolated from the lower-class Shiites of East Baghdad (Sadr City). The guerrillas already have demonstrated that they can plunge Iraq into the fires of Hades by blowing up a shrine. I am sure that everyone in authority in Baghdad knows all this, but I don't have any confidence that Kadhimiyah is properly protected. It has been the site of many horrific bombings.
Eyewitnesses to the massacre at the al-Jihad District are now saying that the Shiite militamen who undertook the killings had with them long lists of ex-Baathists who had held office under the old regime but had been purged by the Debaathification Committee. The Debaathification Committee has been dominated by Ahmad Chalabi, and much of the documentation for its work was turned over to Chalabi by Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also played a central role in the Debaathification Committee. How have these lists leaked to local militias[?]
Al-Zaman/ DPA say that Sunni Arabs in the West Baghdad districts of Amiriyah, Khadra, Jihad, Ghazaliyah, Sayyidiyah and Al-Dura (Dora) have formed emergency neighborhood patrols for fear that Shiite militias from nearby Shiite-dominated districts to the east will make further raids into their areas. Muezzins or callers to prayer in the Sunni mosques of the Khadra district used amplifiers to call for volunteers, and dozens of young men responded by taking up arms. They especially hastened to do so after armed militiamen attacked the Muluki Mosque in al-Amiriyah District near Karkh late on Wednesday. They set up concrete blocks as barriers barring entry to the Khadra District. As soon as the callers to prayer broadcast the attack on the Muluki Mosque, shopkeepers and merchants in the commercial district closed their establishments.
This narrative of innocent Sunni Arabs policing their neighborhoods from predatory Shiite attacks on mosques obscures those other processes that PM al-Maliki described, whereby the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement is trying to take over these districts politically and extend its sway to Karkh. In a civil war, disentangling offense and defense is no easy task.
About all those health centers supposedly built in Iraq with our $20 bn. in US tax money. Not so much.