December 2009 archives

December 31, 2009

Favorite recordings 2009

Antony and the Johnsons-The Crying Light
I have yet to encounter an Antony album I haven't liked, and their third full-length record is no exception. Beginning with Antony's plaintive vocals, accompanied by his piano and a cello, the album unfolds with beautifully sparse arrangements in support of plaintive melodies. At times, the album comes across almost like Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call, but with greater fragility. This year I also had the opportunity to see Antony and the Johnsons perform live. The band was tight and played magnificently, shedding new light on the material. I could barely believe my ears.

Au Revoir Simone-Still Night, Still Light
Still Night, Still Light captivates me with its occasional strange shifts in key and harmony, and the dreamy pop tunes that preside over the recording. While this Brooklyn-based, Casio-centric synthpop trio has delivered a melancholy album, the overall downcast pallor is leavened by occasional bursts of energy that leaven the proceedings and propel the album forward.

Ella Fitzgerald-Twelve Nights in Hollywood
I tend to fall on the Billie Holiday side of the Holiday/Fitzgerald divide, but there's something about her energy and exuberance that wins me over during the holidays. This new live recording sees her in fine form, as she makes her way through a series of standards on these loose 1960 and 1961 club dates. She sounds amazing; her vocal lines are incredibly agile and rhythmic timing is impeccable.

JJ-JJ N° 2
An enigmatic Swedish duo, JJ's bubbling synths and delicate harmonies conjure references to everyone from Paul Simon and Toto to Lil' Wayne and the Cowboy Junkies with a dash of the Postal Service. And that's a poor description. When I returned to New York from China, these 27 minutes of music were all I could handle. It was the soundtrack of my decompression and re-emergence into the city.

Lady Gaga-The Fame
I came late to Lady Gaga but once I heard the album I couldn't stop. It's been a while since I've been so taken with a pop/dance record, and while I may not like a song when I first hear it, she always manages to blow open a song with the chorus so that I want to be completely encompassed by it.

Major Lazer-Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do
In the absence of a genre-hopping tropical infused album by the likes of, say, MIA, Diplo teams with Switch to bring forth Major Lazer, a genre-hopping reggae-infused album by an alter ego who "a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. He supposedly fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket powered skateboard." Sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.

Pastels/Tenniscoats-Two Sunsets
A collaboration between a band from Glasgow and one from Tenniscoats, the album emerged when the Tenniscoats suggested the two bands book some time in Glasgow to see what might happen. It's a pastoral album that feels like summer sunlight collected for a frigid winter afternoon. I shudder at the comparison (and the somewhat cheesy turn of phrase), but here something has definitely been found in translation.

Roll Deep-Street Anthems
A collection of sides from the grime/hip hop collective that brought us Dizzie Rascal, this compilation collects the hits that demonstrate why they're considered the forefathers of the grime scene. As fresh as it must have sounded when it first emerged onto the scene, the music continues to sound fresh, and it's great to have this record to look back on the development of this subgenre of music.

Vijay Iyer-Historicity
I wasn't immediately taken by this recording of Iyer's piano trio, but as I found myself returning to it again and again for his interpretations of recent pop songs (MIA's "Galang"), 70's hits (Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother"), Broadway tunes ("Somewhere"), and Andrew Hill ("Smoke Stack"). A muscular player, Iyer demonstrates his understanding of a wide range of music and musical styles on this record, and he's a pianist I'll be following in years to come.

Pink Mountaintops-Outside Love
The Raveonettes-In & Out of Control
Crystal Stilts-Crystal Stilts
I'm a sucker for bands with a strong kinship to the Jesus & Mary Chain, and this year posted the above three albums that scratched this itch. The Pink Mountaintops tackle the walls of sound from a country bent, the Raveonettes emphasize the 60s girl group aspect, and the Crystal Stilts (on their EP) from the stanpoint of a lo-fi echo-chamber.

By eugene at 12:34 AM | 4 comments | Tags:

December 30, 2009

Favorite iPhone apps of 2009

Sadly, a much smaller list of apps than the games list. I guess I'm not as productive on my iPhone as I could be . . .

A beautifully designed app to keep track of lists of things to do. A free version allows for three lists, but I quickly realized I needed more. In addition to lists of things to do, I have lists of cheeses to try, wines I like, galleries to visit, things to blog. . . . I never thought I liked keeping lists as much as it turns out I do.

All the information from the Internet Movie Database in a handy app that loads quickly and efficiently. Oddly, I had trouble locating running times the other night. The addition of a web browser (so you wouldn't have to leave the app for Safari when reading reviews) would make this all the better.

Pandora Radio
Although I've had the app for a while, it wasn't until Christmas rolled around that I started using it. It's great for creating those specialized radio stations of music you love to listen to, but don't necessarily want to collect.
All the lastest runway images from New York, London, Milan, and Paris in the palm of your hand. An indispensible way to keep up on the latest shows and trends, all with the flick of a finger.

By eugene at 4:16 PM | 3 comments | Tags:

December 30, 2009

Favorite iPhone games of 2009

I don't buy that many apps in general, so this isn't pulled from an exhaustive list of games I've played. These are just games I stumbled upon, bought for one reason or other, and found myself returning to again and again as I sat in hotel rooms or stayed up past my bedtime on school nights. The list leans heavily on sports-related games, though I'm not sure why...

Baseball Superstars 2009
Play as a pitcher, batter, or a full team as you work your way through season after season in this "cute" baseball game. A 2010 edition is out, but I haven't tried it.

Bejeweled 2
The game that keeps me up at night. A classic match three gems game with great sound effects, my only initial gripe was the lack of integration with Facebook's Blitz version. Once that was rectified, I find I can't stop playing this as I keep trying to top my friends' scores (sometimes to no avail).

Dance Dance Revolution S
I love DDR. At first it seemed impossible that such an immersive game could be made to work on the iPhone, but this version a great job of it.

The Deep Pinball
I love pinball games and I remember playing Night Mission pinball for hours on my Apple IIe (though I could never top the scores my mother posted). On the iPhone, this is my pinball machine of choice.

Fans of 1942 will be right at home with this vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. Using the tilt sensor on the phone, you control a figher plane to destroy the enemy's secret weapon prototypes.

Fastlane Street Racing
While no longer my go-to driving game (that honor goes to Real Racing, mentioned below), I have to give props to Fastlane as my first racing game addiction. It was also the first time I saw the potential for gaming on the device. The only problem was how difficult it was to advance to the next levels. Still, I appreciated it for the beautiful way in which it rendered the landscape and for the accuracy of the physics.

Real Racing
This is the game that took over from Fastlane Street Racing for me. Slightly less challenging game play, but with a greater number of cars and tracks, this is the game that keeps me attuned to the race track.

Real Soccer 2010
A fantastic 3D soccer game, made all the better with a multiplayer option across wifi. The 2010 update makes the game that much more fluid, and actually alters the weather and lighting conditions during season play.

Homerun Battle 3D
Don't feel like pitching or fielding? This game focuses on swinging for the fences. Build up your player as you hit more homers. The option to play against people from around the world is a bonus.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour
Current personal woes notwithstanding, this golf game impressed me with the rendering of the courses and the smoothness with which I could control my player's swing. Once I got the hang of the game, however, it became a lot less challenging. Still, it's a good way to get to the links without leaving your home.

By eugene at 1:40 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: ,

December 29, 2009

Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event

Two weeks ago a friend invited me to see La Danse, a documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet by Frederick Wiseman. Unfortunately, I had plans that evening, and the film closed before I had the chance to see it. She later told me that the film was wonderful, but seemed to lack editing. She said it was as if the director wanted to include everything.

Her invitation and comments me of Tacita Dean's Craneway Event, a 16mm film about a site-specific dance created by Merce Cunningham. Another friend had invited me to see the work at the Danspace project in New York. Dean follows the dancers as they prepare, make, and rehearse the piece under the watchful eye of Cunningham, who is never far from the frame. It's at once a documentary on the process of creating the dance, a record of the dance itself, and a reimaging of the dance as her own work through her choices of what to reveal and where she places her focus.

To Dean's credit, watching her film reminded me of my first encounter with Cunningham's choreography. I was in college and secured a ticket to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. I was fairly unfamiliar with modern dance, and unprepared for what I encountered. The work was slow, and I had to force myself to concentrate on the work before me. It wasn't until much later that I realized its beauty. Dean's film didn't take so long to resonate with me, as I admired the way in which she constructed her shots and sequences, and the way in which she framed the action and nonaction. It had been a long time since I had encountered Cunningham's work, and I was glad for this document of it. Sadly, the film marks Cunningham's last appearance on film.

By eugene at 10:26 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: ,

As part of a recent profile in the New Yorker, the magazine has posted a slide show of Hadid's new building, the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, just outside of Rome. It's her largest building completed to building to date, and opened last month before any art was installed.

I first learned of Hadid when the Guggenheim staged a retrospective of her work in 2006. I was initially captivated by her paintings, in which she tries to represent the sum of each building in an abstract manner. As I continued up the ramp I became more and more entranced by her work after viewing models and watching video walkthroughs and interviews. For the BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, I was particularly struck by the way in which she brought the blue colllar production line through the white collar office space. In an interview, one office worker spoke of how wonderful it was to be so connected to what the company was building. Her job was no longer abstract.

Then, she seemed to have few completed projects, and was just beginning to get more. I'm excited to see that she has so many projects underway, and I'm glad to see her so recognized. I can't wait to actually inhabit one of her buildings myself.

More can be learned at her studio's site.

By eugene at 7:18 PM | Leave a comment | Tags:

December 27, 2009

See: Tulpan

Sergei Dvortsevoy's narrative film debut opens a window onto the lives of a family living on the Kazakh steppe. Asa, fresh from a stint with the Russian navy, attempts to assimilate back to the land. He lives with his sister and her husband and their three children in their yurt. He's out of place; when we first see him he's in his sailor's uniform attempting to woo Tulpan, the only single woman in the area. The dry desert spreads out around them; sandstorms rage off and on. It's an inhospitable place, made no more hospitable by the contentious relationship he has with his brother-in-law.

A documentary filmmaker, Dvortsevoy is unafraid to let the camera linger, and Jolanta Dylewska, his cinematographer, is adept at capturing the action as it unfolds. Some of the best scenes occur as characters move in and out of frame, performing their daily tasks. A woman churns milk, the men herd sheep, the children sing and listen to the radio and pretend to ride horses. The rhythm of their existence is the rhythm of the film, and the film develops according to their lives. It's a keenly observed film, and I was captivated both by the characters and the landscape they inhabit.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

By eugene at 7:24 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,

December 26, 2009

The death of music packaging?

Last night I downloaded the new Ella Fitzgerald box set Twelve Nights In Hollywood from Amazon. I was hesitant at first. It seemed strange to purchase something so substantial in such an insubstantial form. In college I saved up to buy box sets and then I would pour over the packaging, carefully extracting each piece; I read the liner notes studiously.

These days I'm not sure I want the clutter in my apartment (and the cover art on this particular set isn't particularly inspiring). I'm ambivalent about CDs in general; if the music is digital, there's seems no need for CDs except as a form of conveyance. They're the floppy disc of music.

That said, I have decided that in 2010 I am going to buy at least one vinyl record a month. After dusting off my turntable the other day, I put on Bettye Lavette's The Scene of the Crime. I felt as if I was rediscovering the album. It sounded amazing. There's something about vinyl that renders music beautifully, and the size of an LP really shows off artwork in a way CDs just can't.

Recently, a friend of mine told me he worries about his job as a book jacket designer. He wonders in the age of Kindles and rumored iSlates what his role will be. I can't imagine that cover art would go away; the Audible ads in the subway still sell books by their cover art, and there's something about a book cover (or album cover) that helps set the tone for what one is about to read. I can't imagine books disappearing either, though perhaps that's my own prejudice. In the future, physical books may become rarefied objects, like vinyl is today, but they won't disappear entirely. In fact, there seems to be a resurgence in photobooks lately.

And speaking of the Ella Fitzgerald set, I wonder where the rest of the music is. Twelve nights don't really fit on four CDs, do they? I wonder if Mosaic Records will one day publish a full set. Sadly, a quick look at their site seems to indicate that they've stopped releasing their box sets on vinyl.

By eugene at 11:42 AM | 2 comments | Tags: ,

December 26, 2009

Hailing art in NYC

Photo illustration by Show Media and Art Production Fund

For the month of January, Show Media in partneship with the Art Production Fund will replace the ads atop 500 New York City cabs with artwork by Shirin Neshat, Yoko Ono, and Alex Katz. I'd love to see a Bill Viola video piece cruising along 5th Avenue at night. The NYTimes has more on the subject.

By eugene at 12:08 AM | Leave a comment

The day before Christmas Eve, Karen told me that one item she most wanted was the Charlie Brown Christmas record. She had seen it at Urban Outfitters and was determined to get it. I reserved a copy of the record and planned to give it to her the next day, Christmas eve.

That morning I asked her what her plans were after work. She said she was going to Urban Outfitters. I made haste to get to the store and bring it to her office. She thanked me for intercepting her.

At the same time I bought a copy for myself. I waited until this morning to open it, and have been listening to it all day. The record leaves the turntable only as long as it takes for me to flip it. It's brilliant. Interestingly, the copy I have is a mix of the two covers above. The type is that of the left cover, and the illustration is that of the right.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish readers of this young blog a Merry Christmas. Thanks for bearing with me while I figure out its format and voice. Ho! Ho! Ho!

By eugene at 8:08 PM | 2 comments | Tags:

The Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue is currently hosting an exhibition of photographs by Roger Ballen. The photographs were made in a three-story warehouse that functions as a boarding house for the disenfranchied and impoverished families in Johannesburg. Although the photographs function as a document of a sort, the carefully constructed photographs more closely resemble the boxes of Joseph Cornell in the meticulous arrangement of artifacts for composition and re-interpretation. The images are printed in a large format (50x50cm to 80x80cm) and it's worth seeing the prints in person. Alternately, Phaidon has produced a book. Ballen also features some of the images on his website.

An aside: The gallery is also featuring an exhbition of "Modern Masters" on the fourth floor. Included in the exhibition is Mark Rothko's Plum and Black, a large dark canvas that mesmerized me in the way Kapoor's work often does. If I win the lottery, I might have to treat myself to it as a Christmas present to myself. :)

December 18, 2009

See: A Single Man

Tom Ford's A Single Man is a visually rich adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel: "one of the first and best novels of the modern gay liberation movement" according to Edmond White. With shades of Mrs. Dalloway (and echoes of The Hours), the film focuses on a single day in the life of its protagonist, an English professor, as he remembers the life he shared with his lover, interacts with the students around him, and shares an evening with a woman he has known the better part of his life.

Stylistically, A Single Man feels at times like a Wong Kar-Wai film filtered through early Terence Malick by way of Todd Haynes. I mean that as a compliment. It's a beautiful film (shot by Eduard Grau), carefully wrought, in the service of its material. Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are both excellent, and each surprised me with the nuance of their performance. They flesh out their characers and suffuse the film with a depth and an emotion that might otherwise have been lacking.

Unortunately, in the way a filmed play never quite makes the transition from one medium to another, A Single Man feels like a filmed book. The ideas are meticulously captured and presented, but the film falls shy of feeling like a work whole unto itself. It made me long to have the novel before me so that I could read the original prose and plumb the depths of Isherwood's thoughts. It's perhaps an unfair criticism, but I felt there was a step lacking that might have made the film complete unto itself. That said, the film is a wonderful work of art, and an auspicious debut for Mr. Ford.

★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

By eugene at 11:45 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,

To promote her recent book and an exhibition of her pins at the Museum of Arts and Design, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright stopped by the 92nd Street Y for a conversation on world affairs with Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. Known for the pins she wore while serving under the second Clinton administration, she would carefully choose her accessories according to her thoughts on the agenda of the day. When asked by a reporter for her thoughts on a certain policy negotation, she adapted George Bush's "Read my lips" quotation to her pins. When she sent a copy of her book to President Bush, he wrote back to Secretary Albright to tell her he liked the title.

The better part of the evening was given over to discussions about the Middle East and central Asia in light of recent events. She spoke eloquently on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, and mentioned that she hoped to teach a course on the unforseen effects of foreign policy decisions. As an example, she spoke of the US support of the mujahadein after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and of the US weapons that are still in the hands of various factions in the country. She lauded President Obama for the care in which he took to make decisions, and for the careful way in which he weighed the future consequences of his foreigh policy actions. She worried about Pakistan and Iran, and noted that the Bush administration squandered an opportunity when it decided to ignore North Korea during the majority of its tenure after the Clinton administration and Albright herself had begun talks to end testing on its missle program in the late 90s.

She gave credit to Saddam Hussein for convincing her to use her pins as an editorial voice, and told a story about how a poem that circulated in Baghdad at the time referred to her as (among other things) an "unparalleled serpent." Shortly thereafter she took to wearing snake pins in reference to the poem. Once, when asked about discussions with Syrian president Assad, she told reporters that "details of negotiations, like mushrooms, develop better away from the light." She soon took to using shorthand in deflecting questions, saying just "mushrooms," and searched high and low for a mushroom pin without success. Later her security detail would give her one fashioned from coins from the area, with a tiny diamond in the back to symbolize hope.

She was a fascinating presence, speaking in clear concise Engliish, interested in informing as many people as quickly as she could. She boiled complex history and relationships down to their essence. When walking into American classrooms, she remarked that the map usually presented North America in the center with flaps for the rest of the world. She'd always request a globe to show the rest of the world whole. She'd point out that the majority of the population lived on "the other side" of the globe, and that what happens there impacts everyone. She was humorous and erudite, and when she finished her last story I was sad to see our audience at an end. The afternoon had passed all too quickly.

December 13, 2009

The Road

John Hillcoat's starkly imagined adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's excellent book is initially something hauntingly beautiful to behold. The world the Man and Boy inhabit is fully realized; the photography (by Javier Aguirresarobe, who shot the last Twilight film) and art direction (by Gershon Ginsburg) at once immerses the viewer into their experience. A grey, desaturated palette permeates the landscape, only occasionally leavened with warmer tones (though at one point oddly so).

The story centers around these two unnamed characters as they navigate their post-apocalyptic world. The event that triggered the apocalypse is never explained or shown; the current reality is merely presented as the fate of the world. The Man and Boy have survived, and are moving south, in search of warmth, in search of food, and in search of other "good guys." Bad guys abound.

The black cover and sparse typography of the original paperback perfectly encapsulate the prose contained therein. When I first heard of the film adaptation, I was surprised and feared for the material when I saw the original previews. I thought the film would become an odd action piece. The filmmakers have stuck closely to the material, however, and for the first 30-40 minutes I was enthralled. I soaked in the details of their world and and wondered at how similar some of the scenes were to photographs of recent and current natural disasters. Indeed, one scene was a digital rendering of actual destruction from Hurricane Katrina in Empire, Louisiana.

The few actions scenes were handled well, and even though I knew the outcomes from reading the book, my heart was racing. The actors are well-suited to their roles, and Kodi Smit-McPhee does an impressive job as the Boy. Occasional flashbacks flesh out their past, depicting the Man's relationship with the Boy's mother, and how they as a family were brought to this point.

Unfortunately, the film relies too much on music to underscore emotion, and by the time the half-way point was reached I found it distracting. The cold emptiness of the world was at odds with the very idea of a soundtrack; each time the music began, it intruded on the story and the emotional core of the film. Not to say the soundtrack is poor; for the most part I enjoyed the music independently, but it seemed inappropriate to the material at hand. The music took me out of the film so that by the end I had become disengaged. Sadly, music could have been a single strength in the film, as a piano figures prominently in the Man's memory of his wife.

An aside: one thing I noticed while watching the film was the need for people to create their own mythologies in order to stay alive. The Man tells the Boy of the fire they must keep and hold onto while searching for the good guys, and it is this belief the Boy has in his fire that carries him forward towards the ocean and towards his salvation.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

By eugene at 10:23 AM | 2 comments | Tags: , ,

December 11, 2009

George Lois in Blackbook

Blackbook recently featured a conversation with George Lois, designer of the iconic Esquire covers above, in which he laments the state of magazine design. In some ways it could be framed as an article on the dearth of ideas. He blames (among other things) the web. Sample quotation: ""Magazine design is almost an oxymoron with most magazines today. It goes for even a great magazine like Vanity Fair. If you get even one inch of white space to breath you're lucky. Everybody's just packing in the information. Most magazines you pick up -- you choke to death."

More covers can be found on his website, along with many samples of his other work.

By eugene at 10:37 AM | Leave a comment | Tags:

This morning we launched a new site for director / cinematographer Eric Lin. Two weeks ago Eric asked me to move some temporary pages we had created to showcase his work to a new domain. I took the opportunity to design a completely new site for him.

I've worked with Eric on a number of short films, shooting stills on films he directed (Fishkill) and on films he shot (Hyoe Yamamoto's At Night and Kit Hui's Missing). The latter film was accepted into the short film competition at Cannes in 2005, and the director invited the crew along to join in the celebrations.

In 2005, Eric's documentary on New York's last Chinatown movie theater, Music Palace was nominated for a student Academy Award and screened as part of MoMA's New Directors/New Films series. He's currently developing a feature film, titled Why We Pull the Trigger.

By eugene at 8:33 AM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,

Three days after Simone's son was born, she invited me to visit her in the hospital. I sat with her, her husband, and her mother as the baby was passed around from mother to son to grandmother. At times his face looked already wizened, as if his hours had passed like years.

I stayed for a few hours, perhaps three, taking photos while she told me about this birth, comparing it to the birth of her first child, a daughter. She had had a cesarian section, and I didn't want to tire her. After her mother and husband left, I quietly took my leave. She would return home the next day.

The other day, while visiting her for the first time at home after seeing her at the hospital, she graciously allowed me to post the photos on my photography site.

By eugene at 11:41 PM | 2 comments | Tags: ,

This morning I read in the NYTimes that Cormac McCarthy is auctioning off his Olivetti Lettera 32. The auction is being handled by Christie's, if you would like to bid on it. The proceeds will be donated to the Sante Fe Institue. He agreed to retire his typewriter when a friend offered to buy him another. The replacement cost around $30, with shipping making up almost 2/3 of the total cost.

I have a soft spot in my heart for manual typewriters. I love the sound of the keys, and for a time in college had the Desk Accessory for my Mac that added the sound of a typewriter to each stroke of the keyboard.

Growing up, I typed reports on an old Alder "portable" typewriter that I almost needed help carrying, it was so heavy. Once I laid out a tri-fold brochure on careers in long-distance trucking and carefully typed out each side carefully on the machine.

It wasn't an easy typewriter to use. A certain amount of force was necessary to press the keys, and occasionally my fingers would slip and get caught between the keys. Extricating my fingers was a delicate operation.

For years I wanted to buy an Underwood typewriter just to have on my shelf. Unfortunately, my apartment's too small to have knick knacks like that lying around, but someday it'd be a nice thing to have. When I was just starting out as a jacket designer I even remember admiring the cover for Stephen Dobyns' Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry for its use of a closeup photograph of typewriter keys juxtaposed with a bed of nails (perhaps it reminded me of all those writing workshops in college).

My mother had an electric typewriter. I was be amazed at how quickly she could type and also at the strong electric hum that would emanate from the typewriter whenever she switched it on. It seemed then the height of technology, and I longed for the day that I would be able to command it.

By eugene at 7:55 PM | Leave a comment