Geek Month in Review: November 2011

By JB Sanders

Some interesting reading as the snow falls…

Stars over Crater Lake
Another amazing time-lapse video of the star-scape over Crater Lake. Watch for the vault of the heavens view reflected in the smooth surface of the lake about 2/3 of the way into the video. And for the photography geeks out there, details on equipment used at the end of the video.

They Might Be Giants Slashdot Interview
There’s a lot of Geek in this link: pre-eminent indie-rockers They Might Be Giants, Slashdot and Science! For those who might need a reminder, They Might Be Giants are an odd-ball rock band from way back in the 80’s who gave us such songs as “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”, “Particle Man”, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, and “Boss of Me” (better known as the theme song of the TV show “Malcom in the Middle”). So why are they Geeky (capital G)? Because these guys are HUGE geeks. They used USENET groups in 1992 to send notices to their fans about upcoming gigs. They created Dial-a-Song, basically an answering machine people could call to listen to their new music (and some fake ads). They created one of the first artist-owned online music stores, selling MP3s directly to fans before most record companies knew about this Internet thing. I could go on.

This is a Good Sign
More and more kids are getting into the Maker Movement — which is basically Mad Scientist Training Camp, as far as I can see. There are more kids getting into creating things, buying circuit boards and soldering them together, for instance, or making their own marshmallow cannons. Great trend!

Electric-powered Multi-copter Manned Flight
Some German scientists/hobbyists built and flew the first manned multi-copter. What’s a multi-copter, you say? It’s a vehicle that produces lift (and flight) via multiple helicopter-like rotors. It’s like a hovercraft that flies. Watch the video to see what I mean. Interestingly, this is all done via electric motors. The folks behind it estimate that a one hour flight on the final device would cost about 6 euros of electricity to run.

Extreme Light Infrastructure
Or ELI for short! Scientists want to build a laser to “rip a hole in space-time”. Yeah, it’s another start to a scifi movie. To do this, they want to concentrate 10 lasers wielding 200 petawatts of power into one spot for a trillionth of a second. Fun!

Fake Mars Mission Returns from Fake Mars
Remember that Fake Mars Mission I mentioned a few Geek Reviews ago? Where they finally reached Fake Mars? No? Here’s the link:

Well, the Fake Mars crew is back from Fake Mars. It appears to have been a great success. No murders, for instance. When you consider that 6 guys just spent 520 days in the same space as a bus, stabbing a guy for taking the last pudding cup doesn’t seem that out there. The other great success was that they didn’t leave their fake spacecraft, even though they could at any time — so it’s at least more successful than the Bio-Dome (1 or 2).

288,000 Jelly Beans, One Singer and a Stop-Motion Camera
How to make a music video that’s both simple and amazingly artful. I never imagined that jelly beans could also do surreal sound-scapes, too. The link includes the video, and a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all done. One shocking factoid from the behind-the-scenes video: no green screen was used. The singer lay on top of a glass case over the jelly beans to make the video. Yeah.

3D Volumetric Projection
This is the very early steps towards those cool scifi holograms we’ve seen for 40 years in the theater — only for real! Right now they’re limited to just 10 rotational voxels, but the prof working on it hopes to use over 100 projectors (small ones, I’m guessing) to provide real, crisp resolution.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijOK_hb18kE

Global Village Construction Set
This group has created and posted the plans for 50 different industrial machines that they consider crucial for a “small civilization with modern comforts”. It includes a 3D printer, and the ability to build a very modern village.

Video Time Machine
Pick a year, and watch what comes up on the screen. It’s a giant archive of the video culture, organized by year, and randomized for your amusement. Sports clips, commercials, video games, news casts, movies, and music.

It’s a Polaroid! Sort-of
So there’s this camera that gives you an immediate print of what you photographed? Sound familiar? Like 1948 all over again? Well, it’s not. The same company that brought you the instant film camera now is coming out with a digital camera (14MP) that’s tied to an instant printer in the same unit. I’m not sure if this is a genius move or using new technology to do something old-fashioned.

Darwin and Human Emotions
Did you know that Darwin conducted an experiment (over 150 years ago) to see whether the facial expressions of human emotions were recognized or used the same regardless of cultural background. He did! They do! And now there’s an international experiment being conducted to further study this effect, only involving as many people as can get to the online website and take the test.

An Airship That Goes Anywhere
I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but this is the first real video of a working prototype I’ve seen. This company makes what’s called a Hybrid Airship — the hybrid part is because it’s a little like a plane, a helicopter and a regular (helium-filled, thank you) airship. It can take off and land without the need of a runway (or even land, if you’ve got the water-gear on). It can stay aloft for up to 3 weeks at a time (yes WEEKS), and the full version will be 1000 feet long and be able to carry over 1000 tons. I mean, wow! Sure, you’ve heard that all before. How serious is this? The US military has bought a few.

Acoustic Ruler Using iPhone
This is kind of wild. This guy made an iPhone app that measures distance just using acoustics. It has two modes: two phones or 1 (w/headphones). You put one iPhone where you want to measure to, and the first phone where you want to measure from, they play some tones and calculate the difference. Or the same using the headphones.

Amazing Fly-over of Earth
From the International Space Station. For best results, put on HD, full-screen it, and turn up the volume on the trippy musical score.

Raise the Ice Shields!
The capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, is planning on creating artificial glaciers that will very slowly melt over the course of the summer to help cool the city. Read about how they plan on doing that:

Ghost Mountains Explained
And before you get up on your high-horse about silly paranormal photos and PhotoShop, hush. These are mountains in Antarctica, buried under 4 km of ice. Scientists have finally figured out how mountains exist where everyone thought it was just a barren flat wasteland of ice. The article includes a link to an animated explanation.

New Maps of the Moon
Higher resolution topographic maps of the moon are now available, including false-color images showing detail up to 100 meters.

Giant Robot Snake
Designers have created a giant robot snake 35 feet long (because THAT was necessary), and even better, it’s based on a 50-foot long prehistoric serpent. Watch the video so you can see the very realistic movement of the giant robot snake, and also the guy in the spider-leg car (no, I’m not kidding).

Computer Legends First Computers
Speaking of giants, this article asks several giants of the computer age about their first computer experiences. See what Vint Cerf, William Gibson and others remember.

Building the World’s Largest Tesla Coils
Or how to do man-made lightning. By “world’s largest”, they mean tesla coils 10 stories tall, and 260 feet apart. Yes, there is a video.

The 2,100-Year-Old Wrist Watch
Remember the Antikythera mechanism? So last century, right? Well how about this wrist-watch version? Watchmaker’s Hublot have put together a concept piece that replicates the Antikythera’s inner workings in miniature, with a handy time-keeping circuit to show you the time, too. It can accurately show the motions of the 5 planetary objects the Greeks knew about 2200 years ago and predict eclipses. Full video from the watchmaker’s detailing their work.

Worlds lightest material
Remember aerogel? The stuff that’s super-light and non-conductive? Weighs almost nothing? So last century.

They’re Just Cake Sprinkles
Ever wonder how many cake sprinkles you’d need to make a photo-realistic mosaic? About 221,184.

Flying Robots Build Tower
I know, it sounds soooo 2236, but really, it’s happening today.

Earthscraper Concept Taking Off
Yes, that’s “earth scraper” as opposed to skyscraper. The idea is to build down (which has happened before). In this case, the idea is to build down BIG. Like arcology big.

Not sure what an arcology is? Try this:

Miniatur Wunderland
Think you have a nifty model train set? Think you’ve seen some great miniature setups? Think again. Let’s try 12,000 meters of track (yes, that’s 12 km), 200,000 human figurines or 300,000 lights.


Those pesky time travelers, always trying “fix” things. This guy was caught outside the Large Hadron Collider and admitted to sabotage, claiming to be from the future and intent on stopping it from discovering things and destroying the world.

The priceless quote from the article? “Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered.”

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Sounds Like Winter

By Marcy Lovitch

Not really “feeling it” this holiday season? Tired of hearing the same old Christmas music wherever you go? Worry not. There’s actually a plethora of wintry and non-denominational treasures that you haven’t heard a million times on Muzac at the mall.

Pop/Rock

Being single at the holidays can be a drag, especially when it’s not by choice. You can take solace in the 80s’ sounding ballad, “Early Winter” by Gwen Stefani,from her 2006 solo album “The Sweet Escape”. It examines lost love as autumn fades into the colder, darker days of winter. On the other hand, if you did the dumping, then assuage your guilt with Taylor Swift, exploring regret, apology and the pain of leaving a relationship in “Back to December”.

Beloved rock songstresses who evoke the contemplative mood of the cold season include Tori Amos with her reflective “Winter,” a beautiful ballad on solo piano with Tori’s soulful lyrics (“Little Earthquakes”, 1992). Equally cool is Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” album featuring 12 tracks about wintertime including a the glistening gems “Wintersong,” “Song for a Winter’s Night” and a cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, “River.”

Ambient Instrumental

If you’d rather chill without lyrics, there are plenty of ambient, new age and solo piano albums to explore. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, a cozy blanket and the beautiful piano solos from Michele de Wilton new release, “Snow Angel”. Tracks like “Snowfall,” “In the Bleak MidWinter” “WinterBlueGreen,” and the story of The Ice Maiden in “Waltz for Gerda and Kay,” will transport you into a winter wonderland for the soul.

Award winning artist and extraordinary voice Seay offers with “A Winter Blessing: Songs for the Season”, a festive, seasonal album celebrating all things winter and the holidays. Filled with Seay’s spectacular vocals, your heart will be filled with magic, love and light.

Beloved international concert pianist Danny Wright offers an evergreen favorite with “An Intimate Christmas”, bursting with both traditional carols and original compositions written for people whose stories moved him to create. If loneliness is what ails you, this album wraps its metaphorical arms around you and brings a quiet solace.

Windham Hill Records’ Winter’s Solstice collections (there are six volumes) offer relaxing instrumental selections from various Ambient, New Age and Jazz artists. Pianists George Winston, Liz Story and guitarist William Ackerman are just a few contributors to this mood-setting music series. It’s the perfect background accompaniment while curled up in front of a fire.

Retro classics

Once you’ve rocked and lulled through the selections above, perhaps you’ll be ready to get back out there in the spirit of the season. Consider revisiting a few of these old faves; so many artists have covered these songs that you can pick and choose your favorite versions.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a pop standard by Broadway and Hollywood composer Frank Loesser never fails to get you in a snuggly, romantic state of mind. Some notable versions include the duet with Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong; the Bette Midler version (joined by James Caan) from the 1991 film, “For the Boys”, and the pairing of James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

Another timeless standard “Let It Snow” gets a big band-y, jazzy treatment from crooner Michael Bublé. Diana Krall gives the tune a more intimate treatment. For something even slower and more low key, check out John Legend’s cut of the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song.

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” by Irving Berlin has been sung by some of the best in the business: Billie Holliday, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra, among others. Canadian songstress Lily Frost delivers a stylized, cabaret style version off of her album, “Lily Swings”. But perhaps the best of all is Rat Packer, King of Cool, Dean Martin’s swingy, smooth as silk recording….just press play on that one, and — in no time at all — you’ll be wanting to drag your sweetie – or some lucky stranger – over to the mistletoe.

About Marcy Lovitch:
Marcy Lovitch is a New York-based freelance writer; she is not crazy about Christmas music. She’s a contributor at: http://hiltonshead.blogspot.com/

Put the Needle on the Record

Because of my age, I came into the 1980s late. It was in high school when my finger nails turned blue, my skirts included clingy black shorts sticking out from under that you could see, and on days when I wasn’t wearing a Sandman t-shirt (I must have had 6 or 7 different ones) my shirts tended to be mesh, neon, or perhaps ripped to expose a shoulder. There I was at the beginning of the grunge era, most days looking like I was on my way to audition to be an extra in a Cover Girls or Salt-N-Pepa video. (Don’t you worry your pretty little heads, as Courtney Love happened some floral dresses and combats boots showed up in the wardrobe as well.) In high school when I purchased music singles they were in the cassette single format, also known as cassingles. I rarely gave their covers a second look. Cassingles were simply a means to an end, it was only the music that mattered. Perhaps that’s why I have such a romantic feeling about vinyl singles. There is a magic about that size and format. You can lose yourself in a vinyl cover in a way that cassette tapes never really allowed.

This brings us to what I’m calling “the bestest thing ever”, “Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute” by Matthew Chojnacki. Let me first start with, that is a bad ass name for the book. I don’t know if it was the author or the publisher that came up with that, but whoever did deserves a big thumbs up! If you’re looking to discover the artistic nature of the eighties, look no further. Chojnacki has compiled over 250 vinyl single covers highlighting every musical and artistic corner of the decade. He presents covers together to show trends; the cover of Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” influencing Winger’s “Madalaine”, album sleeves in denim, the cover of La Toya Jackson’s “Heart Don’t Lie” being derived directly from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, covers that have the appearance of postcards, the work of Keith Haring, and more!

Kate Bush, Army Dreamers (Design John Carder Bush, 1980, EMI 5106, U.K.)
Dolly Parton, I Will Always Love You (Design Unknown, 1982, RCA 13260, U.S.)

“Two of music’s most distinguished vocalists and lyricists appear here in ‘autographed’ photos” – Matthew Chojnacki

But hold on folks, because “Put the Needle on the Record” isn’t just filled with beautiful images of vinyl single covers. Chojnacki interviewed loads of people involved with them. Artists, designers, musicians, and whoever else played a hand in the creation of the covers are featured throughout the book. Sometimes offering insight into how the art was created, other times revealing behind the scenes stories, and frequently explaining a meaning to the cover that you may not have seen before. And the whole thing is sandwiched between a great foreword from Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters) and an equally stellar afterword from Nick Rhodes (of Duran Duran).

Madonna, Everybody (Illustration Lou Beach, Design Christine Sauers, 1982, Sire 29899 12, U.S.)
The Clash, This is England (Illustration Eddie King, 1985, CBS 6122, U.K.)

“Madonna’s ‘Everybody’ depicted New York’s Lower East Side/East Village, while ‘This is England’ portrayed a Brit city landscape.” – Matthew Chojnacki

“Put the Needle on the Record” is an art book beautiful enough to proudly set out on your coffee table that is loaded with enough thoughtful pop culture journalism to keep your friends on your sofa for far too long.

What is New Age Music? And the New Paul Avgerinos Album.

Often times I find it difficult defining labels for types of music. It’s pretty funny considering I worked in music retail for 10 years. Although in thinking about it, it might not be so much of an inability to define a musical sound as much as me personally bristling at attempting to apply super specific labels to music that can preemptively dissuade someone from giving an album a listen, or give up trying to find it in a store. I prefer broad strokes; rock, rap, country, classical, dance, etc., etc. What is really accomplished by going crazy with the genres? Can’t we safely say that alternative, punk, and heavy metal are rock? Do I really need to see a bluegrass mini section within the country music section? Should I have to wonder if Simon & Garfunkel are rock or folk? And what does that mean for finding Paul Simon as a solo artist? I think you get what I’m trying to say here, right?

I started thinking about all of this when I decided that I was going to mention friend of The Buffet, Paul Avgerinos’ new album “Bliss” here on the site. Paul Avgerinos creates “New Age” music. I began to wonder if all it took to be classified as New Age was that the music was relaxing. Is my Sa Ding Ding album New Age? What about the Atman cd? Surely the “Pure Moods” cds I own are New Age. But wait! Those albums have songs from Moby and Peter Gabriel on them. Those two artists aren’t New Age, are they? All of those artists, albums, and more (including Paul Avgerinos) live in my “Relaxation” playlist on my iPod. Is that enough for them all to be New Age?

Like all matters such as these I turn to the anonymous peeps at Wikipedia to help a sister out, “New Age music is music of various styles intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments, and is often associated with environmentalism and New Age spirituality.

The harmonies in New Age music are generally modal, consonant, or include a drone bass. The melodies are often repetitive, to create a hypnotic feeling, and sometimes recordings of nature sounds are used as an introduction to a track or throughout the piece. Pieces of up to thirty minutes are common.

New Age music includes both electronic forms, frequently relying on sustained synch pads or long sequencer-based runs, and acoustic forms, featuring instruments such as flutes, piano, acoustic guitar and a wide variety of non-western acoustic instruments.

Vocal arrangements were initially rare in New Age music but as it has evolved vocals have become more common, especially vocals featuring Native American, Sanskrit, or Tibetan influenced chants, or lyrics based on mythology such as Celtic legends or the realm of Faerie.” And that sounds as good as I could hope with regards to defining New Age music.

All of this is just a really wordy, rambling lead in to me telling you guys that Paul Avgerinos has a new album out called “Bliss” and if you like “New Age” music or just music to relax and reflect to, you should consider checking it out.

A “Deluxe” Review

As a general rule, I hate the “deluxe” album. As someone who worked in music retail, I have an extra reserve of hate for them based on endless customers complaining that “they’re expected to buy the album….again?” Of course the worst is the greatest hits collection with those two extra songs there to annoy the devoted fans who already bought every album the artist ever released, but I digress, we’re discussing the “deluxe” album. In my experience “deluxe” is a meager handful of additional tracks, heavily featuring demo versions (and often times demo versions are better left unearthed) and remixes (which I sometimes enjoy, but to buy an album a second time for a few remixes….not likely). Now you can understand why despite how much I enjoyed the Florence and the Machine album “Lungs”, I kept turning my nose up at the “deluxe” edition out on store shelves.

Well one day in a moment of weakness and curiosity I finally picked it up to see what was so darned “deluxe” about this version of “Lungs”. I bought it that day, so as you may guess a lot. Let’s break it down for you. There are 11 additional tracks. Yep. Eleven. As in someone took the dial for “Lungs” and turned it up to 11. So there is a whole second disc of “deluxe”.

How many demo versions? One. The track “Ghosts” is the origin of the song “I’m Not Calling You A Liar” from the original album. Although not a revelation, it’s quirky and slightly more uptempo feeling demo was fun, and not a regrettable addition. Remixes? I’m going to stretch and say two. The deluxe disc features a remix of “Dog Days are Over” by Yeasayer. Honestly, not that impressed. However, there is also “You’ve Got the Dirtee Love” as performed at the 2010 Brit Awards. Since this introduced me to Florence and the Machine, I’ve got a soft spot for the performance. Also it is a fun mash up of Florence and the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love” and Dizzee Rascal’s rap “Dirtee Cash”, so we can call that a remix if you like. (Fun fact: Florence won for best British album of the year at that show and Dizzee won best British male.)

A few other common tropes for the “deluxe” album are tracks from other compilation albums and covers of other songs, and the “deluxe” “Lungs” has those too. You’ll find “Heavy in Your Arms” which was originally on “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” soundtrack. I still haven’t seen the movies, but I really should just man up and buy all the soundtracks because I seem to like every song I hear from the darned things, and this song is no exception. It’s almost a death march sound chronicling the overwhelming, unbearable, weight that love can have on a couple. As for the covers, they’re the real stand outs for me. So much so I’m going to toss a couple of videos at you!

Florence and the Machine take Robert Palmer’s gritty, grinding, and all around universally accepted as bad ass song “Addicted to Love” and turn it into a more delicate, pulsating version. (By the way, there was no “official” video for this song but this guy made a video for his Media Studies course at The New School in New York City, so I thought, why not share his work with more people.)

The other stand out cover is “Hospital Beds” which was originally done by the Cold War Kids. The live clip I’ve got here highlights Florence’s powerhouse voice as she adds her personal touch to the song.

Now would be a good time to remind you that there are a few totally 100% new tracks on here too. Technically I think they were part of some iTunes deal, but they’re new to me, so I’m calling it new! These songs reaffirm that Florence continues to have a crazy good voice, an ability to write compelling complex lyrics, and an adventurous spirit when it comes to making music.

Here is a live performance of “Swimming”.

Yes, I bought “Lungs” again, and I don’t regret it one bit.

The Pop Up Post

Rejoice pop culture junkies! At the end of May VH1 announced the return of “Pop Up Video”!

“Pop Up Video” would generously sprinkle music videos with facts and trivia about the artist and video heavily laced with sarcasm. For those of you unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is “Pop Up Video”, let me demonstrate the fun with this true classic of the original “Pop Up Video” series, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna’ Give You Up”.

(It’s well documented that Magical Buffet founder Rebecca Elson is a big fan of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna’ Give You Up”.)

ET.com’s PopWatch writer Jeff Labrecque reports, “After a 10-year hiatus, ‘Pop Up Video’ is coming back to VH1, with 60 new episodes ordered for this fall. This time, not only will the show tackle classic hip-hop and rap music videos for the first time, but the ‘Pop Up’ treatment will feature user-generated pop up content and updated polls in its bubbles.”

(Rebecca copied and pasted this quote while listening to the “Family Guy” television show. She often works this way.)

With 10 years of catching up to do, I can’t wait to see where they start! I mean, one can only assume there will be an all Lady Gaga show, right? One day soon we may get to see “Poker Face” get the kind of treatment that REM’s “Losing My Religion” received.

(Rebecca originally planned on using the “Pop Up Video” version of No Doubt’s “Ex-Girlfriend” but in the end opted for the more iconic “Losing my Religion” video.)

Do you remember “Pop Up Video” too? What videos do you hope to see them tackle?

(Most bloggers end posts with questions like these as a blatant attempt to get readers to leave comments on their website.)

(It rarely works.)

Doctor Dee….The Opera

Who is John Dee? That can be a complicated question. He is different things to each person familiar with him. Like all complex things, let’s go to the anonymous folks at Wikipedia for the general gist.

John Dee was a noted English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy.

Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic just as they were becoming distinguishable. One of the most learned men of his age, he had been invited to lecture on advanced algebra at the University of Paris while still in his early twenties. Dee was an ardent promoter of mathematics and a respected astronomer, as well as a leading expert in navigation, having trained many of those who would conduct England’s voyages of discovery.

Simultaneously with these efforts, Dee immersed himself in the worlds of magic, astrology and Hermetic philosophy. He devoted much time and effort in the last thirty years or so of his life to attempting to commune with angels in order to learn the universal language of creation and bring about the pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind. A student of the Renaissance Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, Dee did not draw distinctions between his mathematical research and his investigations into Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination. Instead he considered all of his activities to constitute different facets of the same quest: the search for a transcendent understanding of the divine forms which underlie the visible world, which Dee called “pure verities”.

Dee’s high status as a scholar also allowed him to play a role in Elizabethan politics. He served as an occasional adviser and tutor to Elizabeth I and nurtured relationships with her ministers Francis Walsingham and William Cecil. Dee also tutored and enjoyed patronage relationships with Sir Philip Sidney, his uncle Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Edward Dyer. He also enjoyed patronage from Sir Christopher Hatton.

Damon Albarn is a British singer/songwriter/producer that you may know best as the front man for Blur and the Gorillaz. He is also preparing for the debut of an opera that he collaborated with theater director Rufus Norris on about the life of John Dee. Intriguing, no?

BBC News reports, “This concoction of Renaissance ideas and a human story is being brought to life with an eclectic musical composition – featuring medieval instruments, West African drummer Tony Allen, and Damon Albarn’s unmistakable vocals.” Albarn goes on in the article to explain that he feels Dee has been “whitewashed” out of history, and is quoted as saying, “It’s just amazing how much colour there is in his ideas. Just imagine the English now if we had kept that spirit in our hearts.”

The opera is called Doctor Dee and will be debuting in July at the Manchester International Festival.

Hadi Thawra! Rap Music in Libya

It’s no real secret that I’m a fan of rap music. Not all rap music, and I’m certainly not an expert, but I do know what I like. You’ve seen it in “Public Enemy and the People Who Love Them” and “Nas – Big Damn Hero”. You may also recall an article I wrote about how important it was that music had returned to Afghanistan in “Music Matters”, and that it also gave mention to the struggle of heavy metal music in Iraq. But I’ve always had the most fun discussing rap music in my sporadic but ongoing series of “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad” articles. Several countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have “Vice Squads” to police the morality of their citizens; be it showing a little denim pant leg or setting up turntables. Rap music in these environments was discussed back in 2007 in “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 2: The Rap Edition” which dealt with Iran and in 2010 with “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 6: Rap Music Strikes Again!” which was also Iran-o-centric.

I’ve always talked about how rap music can be the voice of rebellion, a means of expressing a life that many can’t imagine, and essentially a catalyst to society as a whole. This is why I was not surprised to learn that there is a rap music movement in Libya that has been exploding since February 21, 2011. Twenty somethings in Libya had been making music in hiding, never sharing it for fear of repercussions that would include prison and possibly death. 23 year-old Mutaz el Obidy of the group Revolution Beat is quoted in a France 24 article as saying, “We weren’t allowed to talk about the system, we could not speak our thoughts. We were not allowed to perform in college or anywhere. I was afraid not about myself, but about my family. They would have been killed, I’d have to watch my sister being raped. I never got in trouble because I wasn’t stupid about it, we never published it.”

However now France 24 interviewed Revolution Beat because they started distributing copies of their song “Hadi Thawra” to anti-Gaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi’s central courthouse. I’d say it’s public now. Leela Jacinto reporting for France 24 says, “This is revolution the way the Libyan youth see it. If every history-mending youth movement were to have its own Bob Dylan vocalizing the dissent and dreams of a generation, ‘Hadi Thawra’ is the ‘Times They Are a-Changin’ of the anti-Gaddafi hipster set.”

An Associated Press article quotes Mutaz el Obidy of Revolution Beat as he explains that, “Rap is more popular than rock and country among the young people in Libya because it expresses anger and frustration.” If it helps Mutaz, that’s what Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were saying with “The Message”, what Public Enemy was doing with “Bring the Noise”, and certainly what N.W.A. were expressing in “F*#k the Police”.

Rap grew in America when a segment of the population felt marginalized and set up by a system that didn’t appear to care about them. It is the universality of that feeling of anger and frustration that causes rap music to ferment globally. When I reviewed the book “Sufi Rapper” I learned of the vibrant French rap community that comes from the “deprived Paris suburbs”, aka the projects. I’ve written about the rise of rap music in Iran. And now we’re looking at Libya. Perhaps large segments of the population will never see or feel the way I do about the power of rap music, but the genre has withstood the test of time and has inspired people around the world. And I dare say, these rap communities in Iran or Libya are probably more true to origins of the music than we’re seeing from many popular rap artists today. For these artists rap music is about the struggle. They realize how unlikely it is that they will ever have the lifestyles of their American counterparts, but they just don’t stop. Maybe it’s just another facet of their struggle. Maybe they’ll write a song about it.

Britney Spears is Dancing to the Apocalypse

The world is going to come to an end, and Britney Spears intends to dance her way to the apocalypse. Spears’ latest album “Femme Fatale” is the pop music equivalent of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”. It’s a game changer for the artist. While many critics are whining that the album never wavers from its dance floor sensibilities, or that the album is more a victory for the producers than for Spears, I see it differently.

Thankfully the pop music landscape has changed in recent history, and I think for the better. Thanks to the efforts from female artists such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Robyn, and as always Madonna, female driven pop music blends more styles and takes more risks than ever before. Sadly, these innovations made still relatively young Britney Spears something of a pop music dinosaur. Despite her releasing some songs that could compete, overall she hadn’t managed to break through to the new era.

“Femme Fatale” rips open with “Till the World Ends”, a pounding booty shaker and it never lets go. The album draws heavily on the ever encroaching electronic/techo sound (Yay!) with a heavy helping of thumping beats. Don’t call it a comeback, Spears could always make you dance, and thanks to her long time producers, everyone is being reminded. Oh boo hoo, it’s a whole album of music that makes you want to dance. What a waste of time that is! You know what, sometimes I don’t want a ballad, sometimes I don’t want to dissect songs for deeper meaning, in short, sometimes this middle aged white girl just wants to feel good, and “Femme Fatale” delivers.

I can’t consider this review complete with directing your attention to some videos. (Note that both videos have a 15 second advertisement in front of them.)

This first one is for the opening song “Till the World Ends”. As an occult fangirl I was tickled at the use of the ever popular December 21st 2012, even if it’s already getting a little played out. Also, there’s some pretty shots of a city getting wrecked. I don’t know who actually choreographed the video, but it’s got the fingerprints of Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted Snake” all over it. (Remember the part where they pull the blinds down? Yeah, that part.)

The other video I’m going share is for the song “Hold it Against Me”. Let me start by saying, I don’t really care for the video. If you’re looking for an awesome dissection of the video for hidden meaning I have got to send you over to Vigilant Citizen. He explores the ideas of mind control present in the video supported by his thoughts on Disney and Spears’ career. It’s always a good time over there! With all of that out of the way, here are the two things about this video that I want to share.

One, watching the video on YouTube was the first time I heard “Hold it Against Me”. While listening to it from the beginning I thought, this is a great dance song, I can’t wait to hear a techno remixer chop it up because that would be awesome. And then at 02:46 it segued into the exact sound I had been hoping for! So a tip of my hat to you noble producers. Second, at that mark starts a sequence that features the generally hokey person fighting themselves scenario. Now I’m not going to proclaim Spears the next female action hero (which was my response to Madonna’s “Die Another Day” video) but thanks to some decent camera work and choreography it looks pretty decent. Also, the close up of her little feet in stiletto heels shuffling for position makes me giggle.

If you’re bummed and looking for a party in an album, look no further than “Femme Fatale”. As they say in the movie “Protocol”, it’s a “guaranteed good time.” (Okay kids, it’s a movie. Starring Goldie Hawn. You do know who Goldie Hawn is, right? Fine, I get it. I’m old and you’re not. Damn kids.)

Catching Up with HipGnosis

It was a year ago that through my bizarre little Twitter inspired idea/experiment that I met Eric Young, aka DJ HipGnosis. It was a wonderful bit of luck that he thought so highly of The Magical Buffet that him featuring it on his assorted Twitter lists inspired me to reach out to him. And what timing, since this was at the same time that he was realizing the true emotional bonds that can be forged online. If we had connected at any other moment it’s hard to say if it would have resonated so much for us and our readers. You can read our first meeting in the article “What I Learned from Twitter (or How Talking to Strangers Can be Good)”. Even after all this time I still smile when I read HipGnosis describing himself, “To my own introduction, I am known as HipGnosis: I am a musician. A performer of music. A producer of music. A purveyor of music. You bring the booze, I’ll bring the beats, I guess is the general theme of this part of the presentation.”

Since our meeting I’ve been a big supporter of all things HipGnosis. Although I don’t get to listen as much as I’d like, I follow a lot of his work on his SoundCloud artist page, on Facebook, and of course on Twitter. People who follow him or The Magical Buffet on Twitter will see fairly regular exchanges between us doing the Twitter equivalent of the drunken “I love you man” that is better known among Twitterers as “Follow Friday”.

All of this is leading up to something, and here it is. I am so proud/excited that HipGnosis’s work on Adrian Molina’s “Build 2020 Manifesto” has gotten him some attention from The Denver Post’s Reverb! Part one of the two part profile on “Build 2020 Manifesto” says:

Inspired by futurists like Ray Kurzweil — who famously theorized that the 21st century would bring the equivalent of 20,000 years of technological progress — Molina created “Build 2020 Manifesto” in the hopes of creating a new movement of social progressives who will seize the power of technology to create a better world for everyone. His concern is that, left unchecked and unguided by conscientious humans, the rapid pace of change will have dire social, political, economic and environmental ramifications.

“One of the premises of this manifesto is that governments, think tanks, bankers, corporations, technological developers have a plan for 2020,” he explains. “They know what they’re building. They think in terms of paradigms, agenda setting and we don’t, and we need to because shit’s getting critical.”

“What are you creating? What reality are you pushing?” Molina asks. “It’s a frightening thing to meditate on, but also a very powerful thing to realize that you manifest reality. Every conversation you have, you are creating reality. You are creating the future. Every time a kid on his or her cell phone tweets or updates their Facebook status, they’re publishing content in a way that enlightened thinkers never could’ve imagined. A 13-year-old girl with a cell phone in her hand has a lot of power, and we have to take control of that to create a healthier world for the next generation of babies.”

Part two describes HipGnosis’s work and contribution as:

HipGnosis comes from the world of experimental electronic music. His interest in psychoacoustics (the effects that certain sounds have on the brain) and technology, coupled with his passion for social justice and grassroots movements, made him an ideal collaborator. His contributions to “Build 2020 Manifesto” create an ominous, glitchy and futuristic mood that are an apt complement to Molina’s words.

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading part one and two discussing the album. It’s an interesting profile and some thought provoking work on the part of Adrian Molina, which as expected HipGnosis is right in step with. If you go to http://build2020manifesto.bandcamp.com/ and opt to name your price on a download of the album you will “support a physical printing of this project. Physical copies of the album will be made available free to youth advocates, scholars, college student organizations, and youth activists.”

FYI, the cover art for “Build 2020 Manifesto” is by Dustin Neal and I totally snatched the image from the Reverb site.