Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Go Do Stuff: Social Gravity

I don't believe in God, I don't believe in fate, but sometimes chance throws you some extraordinary coincidences.

I just posted about Santa Monica’s Glow. It was amazing, go read my thoughts to help set the context for this post.

Early in the night, my friend Kate and I found ourselves relaxing at the very front of one of the most prominent art pieces.

Almost immediately, I noticed a friend from Berkeley present with one of his friends. Introductions all around, and our group doubled in size. Ten minutes later, still in the same spot, we encountered two of Kate’s friends from the Bay! More introductions, and then we had six. Another ten minutes, and two more people linked up, these being friends of my friend’s friend!! In the span of twenty minutes, our group had quadrupled in size, just from our standing around!

We subsequently traipsed around the pier/3rd street area, enjoying local sights and each other’s company. Everybody got along marvelously and the night’s enjoyment was boosted to the next level for (dare I say) all participants.

I was reflecting on this later, and I initially blamed serendipity for our having convened. Of the tens of thousands of people at the event, we had somehow managed to encounter people we knew who would be interested in joining us three separate times!

But the more I thought, the more I realized something. Coincidence though it was, Kate and I set ourselves up for that sort of experience quite accidentally.

Kate and I are both social connectors: supremely extroverted, relentlessly social beings. On top of the throngs of people we each know, we are both more than happy to make conversation with strangers. We had also planted ourselves in a very conspicuous place. It was only a matter of time before we were bound to run into someone we knew!!

I coined a term for this: social gravity. Our group, with a core of two extremely social animals, picked up more people in the same way that stars congeal from early stellar goop. Or, in other words, the more socially connected you are, the easier it is to forge new connections.

If you are someone who enjoys being social, get off your ass! Go do stuff!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Go Do Stuff!!

The best things in life are free.

My friend Kate and I excitedly went to Glow last weekend. Glow, in short, was THE free cultural event of Santa Monica.

Quoteth KCRW:
A collection of international artists will transform the iconic Southern California spot into a premier art destination from dusk until dawn, with a dazzling array of effervescent sights, sounds and interactive activities.

GLOW is the ONLY event to have ever received permission to use the historic Santa Monica Pier and beach as an all-night venue and more than 25,000 people are expected to attend.
I'm not the type of person who can sit and appreciate any one piece of art for more than a couple minutes; I'm too caught up in my ADD sociality. But, that being said, THIS IS COOL:

The event itself was spectacular. The art was beautiful and very stimulating, but for me what made the night were the people! The sense of the event I had going into it could be summed up in a word: RAVE. All elements -- the presence of live DJ's, the end time (7am), even the name Glow -- created the expectation that ecstasy children would be bouncing around hugging everybody. So when I got there, what really floored and excited me was the sheer variety of the people! There were ravers, families, old couples, hippies, hobos, yuppies, puppies, artists, bar-hoppers, and me! Such a broad cross-section of local residents came together to share fun and positive energy... I've never felt so connected to my city.

Whether you live in the sprawling metropolis of my Los Angeles or a small farming community, there exists a glorious buffet of cultural events for you to sample. The price of admission to this buffet is only your motivation:
-Open the oft-overlooked culture/calender section of your local newspaper
-Google "(your city name) calender"

Glow was the most fun night I've had in recent memory, and it cost me almost nothing. I left committed to taking fuller advantage of local cultural events, no matter where I end up.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Electronic Music 2: BT Will Be Your Host

I was a freshman in college the day BT changed my life.

The groundwork had been laid for my conversion; a steady diet of classical music and progressive rock had provided fertile ground for the seeds of EDM to take root.

All I needed was the right seed, one singluar super-strain of electronica that wasn't too far towards the extreme of any one genre, the utmost in quality and inventiveness, and with an extensive catalog already available. I don't know what made Mark tell me about BT in our dorm hallway, but to him much is owed, for BT is all that and more.

BT, or Brian Wayne Transeau, is in all ways exceptional. He began playing piano at the ripe age of TWO. A musical virtuoso, he enrolled in the elite Berklee College of Music, but dropped out after a few semesters because his interests rested more with music electronics and synthesizers than formal musicianship. BT exploded onto the U.K. dance scene with early hits like "Loving You More," and "Blue Skies" (feat. Tori Amos).
His early work is unambiguously progressive house and trance, but it is third album I present to you for the most consideration.

Movement in Still Life, released in '99, was BT's seminal album, and my first true introduction to the world of EDM. It is unquestionably electronic: every song features an abundance of synthetic, energetic sound. Yet is it BT's effortless mastery of everything unelectronic that makes the album so delicious. He masterfully combines the electronic with the organic: electronic beeps next to acoustic guitar, soothing vocals laid over aggressive breakbeat. The album is a sonic journey, going from high-energy dance tracks to euphoric chillout, from trance, to house, to hip-hop. Only BT, a classically trained musician and relative genre outsider, could hope to produce a work as genre-defying and transcendent as this.

In retrospect, it was by far the perfect. Single. Album. to mark my introduction to the EDM as a whole. Normally I would single out worthwhile tracks to obtain, but this is the rare such album in which EVERY SINGLE SONG is amazing. I spent over a month being obsessed with one track after another. Go buy it, download it, iTunes-store it, however you prefer to consume it. And then listen to it. A lot. You really owe it to yourself.

In keeping with his excellence, BT's time is currently spread between being a superstar DJ, movie score composer, and recording artist. We as a species are blessed that such an extraordinary individual would choose to devote his life to music and share it with us.

Once you're done with Movement In Still Life, (and believe me, it will take a while) feel free to move on to these other favorites of mine:

**Not Over Yet (BT's Spirit Of Grace) (get the full 12 minute version if you can... the first 3 minutes is a spectacular from-ambient build that you don't get off the 8-minute version)
Flaming June (bt & pvd edit)
Remember (ESCM 12" mix and/or single mix)
Forbidden Fruit (BT & PvD's Food Of Love Mix)
Lullaby for Gaia

**In competition for my personal favorite EDM track ever.

Stay tuned for next weeks installment when we will examine my favorite genre: TRANCE.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Children of Men: Symbolic Bitch-Slap to Mainstream Hollywood

One of the ways Children of Men stands in stark contrast to most other Hollywood movies is its use of symbolism on par with the written medium.

There are so many things that could be said about Children of Men that I didn't know where to start. I was talking to my brother about it (he, incidentally, is a very talented student filmmaker and astute analyst of movies, and thinks just as highly of Children as I do) and he recommended that I pick an impacting scene and analyze some of the symbolism. I immediately knew which scene to analyze.

At around the 35 minute mark, Theo (Clive Owens) is summoned into the barn to speak with Kee (Claire Haite-Ashitey). He arrives to find Kee flanked on both sides by cows rigged to automatic milking machines. Beneath and in front of her, between her and Theo, is a tightly-packed group of smaller, younger cows. Visually, this foreshadows Kee's pregnancy: she is located at the nexus of both motherhood and infancy. Additionally, the infant cows are separated from their mothers; this foreshadows the threat of Kee and her child's forced separation. Before the camera even pans onto the visual symbolism, Kee initiates the conversation by saying,
"You know what they do to these cows? They cut off their tits! They do. Zzzzt! Gone. Bye. Only four. Four tits fits the machine. It's whacko. Why not make machines that soak eight titties, eh?"
This monologue is designed in all ways to disrupt the viewer and contrast with the calm maternity of the cows. Kee uses many monosyllabic words and brief sentences; it comes across as harsh and stacatto. The literal meaning of her words is a gruesome description of the physical damage to the mammaries of the cows. Beyond its emotional impact on the viewer, this monologue introduces symbolically the central struggle of the entire movie. The cows are symbolic of Kee; having their tits cut off to fit an ill-devised machine is symbolic of Kee's pregnancy and birth being hijacked to fit an unnatural agenda. Furthermore, the symbol of cutting off the cows' teats references the defeminization inherent in taking away Kee's baby. The aspect of gross physical damage to the cows also alludes to the potential physical harm threatened to Kee herself: the self-interested groups have no use for her once the baby is delivered.

Alfonso Cuaron, in the span of fifteen seconds, delivers the central conflict of the movie in entirely symbolic terms and on multiple levels of symbolism (visual, auditory, literal, connotative). How's that for art? :)

By the way, if you haven't seen this movie yet, you know what to do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Electronic Music: Welcome, Enjoy Your Stay

America is weird. (As if you didn't know that.) In fact, it's REALLY weird. What makes it so weird is that it's the only industrialized country that hasn't consciously embraced electronic music yet. Elsewhere, club music dominates the media, and club music tends to be Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Each culture has local flavors: Germans like techno, Israelis like Middle-eastern flavored dance, and everybody enjoys a good house set. The common element is that the music is electronic -- fed to the masses by DJs instead of performed by bands -- and designed specifically for dancing.

America has, however, subconsciously embraced electronic music. Car commercials, movie action scenes... hell, I even heard someone play Paul Oakenfold at a hockey game to pump up the crowd -- and they loved it!

Electronic music is a genre as amazing and diverse an any other. My intent, with this series (hell yes, it's a series!!) is to lead you gentle yet irreversibly down the electronic path. Because, when it boils down to it, there's tons of good stuff. Furthermore, EDM gives me something different, fulfills me in a different way than rock or classical music. My hope in the short term is to get you to appreciate EDM, but the long-term project is to encourage you to become more aware of your own wants and needs as a listener.

Before I make any true recommendations, we need to give you a primer. EDM 101, if you will.

Here it is, Ishkur's guide to electronic music.
Clear your schedule.

If you're hungry for some track recommendations, here's a few gems from the first artist I plan on profiling in the next installment: BT.

Flaming June (bt vs pvd edit)
Running Down the Way Up
Never Gonna Come Back Down

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Get Your Punch On: Part 2

In part 1, you picked a martial art of choice and compiled a list of gyms in the area, now it's time to go for a look. The optimal time to visit is an hour or two after the end of the local work day. This is the time when the locals come to sweat out the work day. When you observe the class, keep the following criteria in mind.

This is the easiest and one of the most important criteria to judge the martial arts studio. Are people conversing before the class starts? Are the people friendly? Is anyone smiling? Would you feel comfortable spending hours in this environment?

Unfortunately, the majority of the time the answer to these questions will be no, and the students will be coated with the distinct patina of douchbaggery. Flee the gym before it coats you too.

Is The Trainer a Fatty?
Don't trust a skinny chef and don't trust a fat trainer. Sure, fat guys can be good at martial arts, but a good trainer runs around on his feet all day long so even if he's cursed with fat cells the size of Tyra Banks' forehead, he will at worst be chubby. If the trainer can't kick above his waist and looks like fat Elvis straining over a toilet the place sucks.

The Respect Factor
The modern martial arts studio is not the
Shoalin Temple, so all the "you must unconditionally respect and obey your master" bullshit has got to go. If the class constatly being interrupted for various forms of propriety, senior students chastizing newbies on the trainer's behalf, or any hazing of newer students occurs, it is a good indication that the trainers are more interested in self-aggrendizing than teaching. You're an adult, and you're paying for the training, so you don't owe the trainers any more respect or alliegence than they earn by being profesionals and decent people.

This is not to say that the class should not have a certain level of formality. Students should not interrupt the class, be required to wear a uniform, will probably bow upon entering the gym and salute (not the military solute, retard) their teacher before class. Other small rituals may occur signaling the students to leave their baggage behind and get to training. Basically, I could have summed up this section with four words: you want a balance.

Do not train in the dinky storeroom of a Chinatown restraunt regardless of how "authentic" the training is. Again, you're paying for a service, and the gym should have enough self respect to pretty itself up for you. You didn't hit on that girl in the bar because of how authentic her "training" was, you hit on her because her tits were spilling out of a bandana she mistook for a tube top.

The gym should be clean, large enough for comfort, and well ventilated (so it smells like a hint of sack rather than a face full of taint). Weights, elipticals, and boxing rings are also a sign of quality.

Be on the lookout for gyms with several young trainers. I know that this sounds counterintuitive since age does bring experience, but young trainers are a good sign of retention. Great martial arts studios recruit from inside the organization. Trainers start out as young talented students and are eventually hired as teachers after years of training. Young teachers mean that the studio was not only able to train somebody to an exceptional skill level, but inspire them to devote the rest of their lives to martial arts. Before you join a gym, ask the trainers how they got into martial arts and ended up where they are. If they started where they're currently training, get out your checkbook, pledge your first born child, and get your punch on.

Wrap Up
You might have noticed a conspicuous omission in this guide (if you didn't, that just proves my point even more), I never mentioned analyzing the actual technique being taught. There are two good reasons for this. First, I'm assuming that you're new to martial arts, so asking you to evaluate technique is like asking an aspie to explain emotions. Second, even if you could spot some tight-ass-shit (technical term), that's not what you'll be doing. You're going to be flopping around like a fish and getting your ass handed to you for weeks if not months. Don't worry, it will be fun, but for you starting the journey is more important than the destination (cue cheesy music).

- Stas

Monday, June 9, 2008

Get Your Punch On: Part 1

Want to get into shape and stop shitting yourself every time a stranger passes you at night? Watched UFC or some Discovery Channel martial arts special and considering entering the business of punching faces? I commend you sir/madam/other, but unfortunately, finding a good martial arts studio is harder than finding a baby at a Planned Parenthood. The problem is that without experience all martial arts generally look cool, so how do you distinguish face-melting awesomeness from Taekwondo?

Having read Will's last post you might be thinking, What qualifies this asshole to give me nutritional martial arts advice? I have a combined 13 years of training in Kung Fu, full contact kickboxing, Karate, Muay Thai, jujitsu, and Krav Maga. I’ve got black belts, stupid trophies, eyebrow scars, and can catch a fly with chopsticks. That out of the way, let’s find you a place to train in an unspecified number of easy steps!

Are you a douche?
Answer the question honestly. I’m talking to you drunk guy I threw out of the party. Stop telling me that you can kick my ass. If you could you’d be bouncing my head between your knees and fists while I cried in falsetto instead of trying to engage me in some cryptic simian chest-bumping ritual. If you regularly get into fights and constantly try to prove your manliness to an invisible cheering crowd, you don’t need martial arts. You and your ilk need to be deported to Elba where all of you can strut around like little Napoleons comparing penis sizes and having pushup contests. You make martial arts studios suck. Go away.

Not a douche? Then pick your poison.
There are dozens of martial arts to choose from, so which is the best for you? Here are a few

Kung Fu: Kung Fu is my personal recommendation for beginners. It will expose you to a wide variety of techniques, the movements feel "natural" so you can develop very fluid movement and fighting technique, plus there is an inexhaustible amount of epic moves to learn. Jet Li, Jackie Chan, that’s all Kung Fu. In addition, swords, spears, staffs, fans and benches (!) are just some of the weapons you’ll have the opportunity to master.

Karate: Good for developing strength and resilience. Karate is more stiff and blocky than Kung Fu, but its philosophy is geared towards the one fight-ending technique. If becoming a human tank packing boomstick punches sounds like fun, this one’s for you.

Full Contact (kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA): If you already have some martial arts experience, this will definitely step up your game. Full contact will transform you from a good technician into nut-stomping monstrosity. Take a few techniques, perfect them, then throw them as hard and fast as you can at the person facing you. The only drawback is that if you go this route with no previous experience your technique repertoire will be somewhat limited, so if you need a lot of variety, this is not for you.

Juijitsu: Like wrestling and submissions? Look no further. This is the most hardcore ground fighting there is.

Krav Maga: Want to transform yourself from wuss to raging rhino in a couple of months? Krav Maga is for you my friend. Pure unbridled, near psychotic aggression is what you’ll learn. Your technique repertoire will consist of biting off Adam's apples, pelvis-shattering groin kicks, joint breaks, head butts, and good old fashioned dirty fighting. None of it is pretty, but all of it extremely effective.

Taekwondo: DO NOT TAKE TAEKWONDO. This is not a martial art but sword-less fencing. But Stas, you say, what about all the pretty kicks? Those fancy kicks are useless in a fight. Furthermore, the lack of emphasis Taekwondo puts on hand technique and practical blocking means you’ve invested hundreds of dollars and countless hours at being really good at getting your ass kicked.

Can’t make a choice? You don’t have to! Just compile a list of your local studios and we’ll go comparison shopping next time. Stay tuned.

- Stas