Archive for June, 2008

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Laraaji – Ambient 3: Day of Radiance

June 29, 2008

Sometime in 1979, Brian Eno met a man in Washington DC named Edward Gordon performing in a park on a zither, an eastern stringed instrument. Eno liked what he heard so much that he decided to utilize Gordon’s talents in his Ambient series. It almost seems too perfect to be true, but Eno did record with Gordon who then became known as Laraaji. The result of their collaboration was Gordon/Laraaji’s first internationally distributed release, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. It could be said that Eno discovered Laraaji and was the spark to ignite his long, prolific career in new wave music, particularly through the use of eastern stringed instruments.

What is unique about Ambient 3 is that it is the only member of the Ambient series to not be recorded under Brian Eno’s name. Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror was penned under the names of both Brian Eno and ambient guru Harold Budd, while Ambient 1 and Ambient 4 are both credited solely to Eno. However, Ambient 3 is treated in much the same way as Ambient 2. Both Harold Budd and Laraaji are the sole performers on Ambient 2 and Ambient 3 respectively, while Brian Eno produced both albums with great care. Eno may have had some more input on Ambient 2, because the production on said album is much more present, and sometimes the lush production and sound effects cannot be attributed to a piano. Although Eno produced Ambient 3, it is still credited soley to Laraaji. The fact that Ambient 3 is the odd duck suggests that its music will be different, and it is.

It was Brian Eno’s theory from the start that ambient music should be as ignorable as it is listenable. This was the idea that he laid out in Ambient 1, what many consider to be Eno’s ambient manifesto. Out of the Ambient series, Ambient 3’s first piece, The Dance, segmented into three parts, is the only piece that simply cannot melt into the back of your mind, with the possible exception of a single track on Ambient 4. The beginning of The Dance #1 foreshadows an ambient experience. Beautiful chords cascade down Laraaji’s fingerboard like water, and if this continued on for a half hour, it could be quite an ambient track. Instead, Laraaji takes a different approach utilizing the utmost of his talents with his instruments.

At 0:53, the downward flourishes stop, and loud, fast arpeggiations on the hammered dulcimer start. The far eastern instrument is as ethereal as it is muscular, and strong melodies unearth themselves between the multiple parts upon each listen. Brian Eno’s production only does the already breathtaking sound more good. He echoes each strum and pluck carefully, and yet the notes keep on coming through the river of sound with the same quickened intensity. The effect is downright hypnotic in its complexity. The movements of The Dance descend in tone, in that the first movement is the fastest with the highest tones, the second is slightly lower with more string parts to support the solo dulcimer and create even more intertwining melodies, and the third is the lowest, slowest, and densest of three. All three are excellent on their own terms as variations of the same melodic structure.

This is not and cannot be the ambient music that Eno describes, as it demands and will inevitably receive full attention. This is not music you can fall asleep to. Yes, perhaps dance to. Daydream to. Live to. The life force that spirals outward from The Dance is simply wonderful and the piece is one that will stick in the listeners mind for a long time and will likely never be forgotten. This still says something for Eno’s ability to arrange such a wonderful musical occurrence…This music evokes images and creates an atmosphere, but is not the same kind of ambient music found elsewhere in the series, and thus feels out of place. Make no mistake, The Dance is an extremely accomplished work. Laraaji has complete command over his instruments, the hammered dulcimer and the zither. This will be a compelling work, especially for Eno fans who most likely already have extremely open minds and would enjoy world music like this in the first place. But this is not Ambient music in the sense that we might know it as. Whether we need to change our definition of ambient music for it to fit in is completely up to us.

The second piece, Meditation, is also titled to fit its intention perfectly. Its two movements are different in form, but could both be considered ambient music in the classical sense of the word. Meditation #1 is the albums longest song, and moves continuously, at a snails pace to keep the music relaxing. The high notes in the repeated phrase can be somewhat distracting when subtlety is the goal, however. Meditation #2 is similarly slow and, well, meditative, this time with the strings moving almost exclusively in glissandos that range from extremely quiet to very loud, which may also work against ambient sensibilities. Eno’s production shines here moreso than anywhere else. Even after a particular flourish has stopped, it echoes into the silence, making every moment feel complete. This is the piece that is worthy of Day of Radiance being included in the Ambient series. It can be listened to passively despite its compelling nature, but it is so interesting that it becomes hard to be discreet.

Ambient 3: Day of Radiance is the most lively album in the Ambient series, and is probably the hardest to treat as ambient music, thus causing it to stick out like a sore thumb. Although it is questionable whether or not Day of Radiance should have ever been in the Ambient series, it is a glowing piece of world music from an extremely talented musician treated by an equally talented producer, and is a timeless classic of its genre. It should also be noted that the album gave Laraaji his true start as a professional musician. This fact along with the music’s sheer quality justifies the release, but even if you feel like it doesn’t belong, Ambient 3 raises even more important questions about the nature of ambient music.

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Harold Budd & Brian Eno – Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror

June 25, 2008

After Ambient 1: Music For Airports, Brian Eno decided to immediately bring another ambient artist in for the second album of the series. The choice was Harold Budd, a pianist who had played minimalist music in the past and had recently released his first album, The Pavillion of Dreams, produced by Eno. On Ambient 2, Eno is seen as the producer and overseer, while Budd is the solo performer.

And to be sure, Budd takes the spotlight extremely well. Very little in the ambient world can compare to Budd’s playing. He is classically trained, and thus tastefully restrained, but at the same time his versatility is great and he never seems to do the same thing more than once on Ambient 2. At times he focuses his energy on the subtle melodies, while other times letting the notes loose in harp-like glissandos. What stays constant is his talent. Every note seems to matter. Some notes ring out, sounding warm yet hollow, while others feel like necessary side notes in decorative flourishes. Signposts and hooks however are few and far between. In fact, a lot of the album feels improvised, mostly due to the pacing, which says all the more for his talent and restraint considering how easily the music can melt into an environment.

And in fact, he did improvise a significant amount. What Eno has said of his producing of the album is that he would often create complex production setups that Budd would experiment with improvising on piano. The two artists would then bounce ideas off of one another. One such occasion is undoubtedly the first song, First Light. Budd’s notes are echoed and spread out like ripples over a subtle background of ambient tone. Eno plays the same card later on Above Chiangmai, and equally impressive song with just as much density and detail. But this is one of the few occasions where he tries the same thing more than once, and the album is anything but overproduced. The second song, Steal Away, is conversely left bare, in fact, and it is almost always Budd at the focal point of all of these songs.

The closest Eno gets to the spotlight is Not Yet Remembered. Eno utilizes a synthesized vocal part which Budd wrote and Eno cleverly reversed to somehow miraculously make one of the album’s most memorable tracks. Although this vocal part sometimes overpowers the piano, the melody is still the backbone of the song. Budd is the solo performer and the highlight of the album, but The Plateaux of Mirror feels like more of a collaboration than any of the other albums in the series, even Ambient 4 which featured a multitude of guest artists such as Daniel Lanois and Jon Hassell. Ambient 4 is actually foreshadowed here. We hear many drones and electronic touchups meant to represent nature here, and they all came back in full force on Ambient 4. They are much more subtle here, in the form of an occasional side drone or the sound of a bird, but they still add to the experience.

The album follows the same piano based theme throughout, but there is actually a lot of variation. The songs are played mostly on acoustic piano and occasionally on electric piano. These two styles foreshadow many of Budd’s later solo albums that used either acoustic or electric piano. Many songs feel content and tranquil, others sad and melancholy. Occasionally a dash of jazz or a romantic suspension is included to add to the variety. The result is an emotionally fluid album that can at once seem to draw on past memories, while evoking a sense of contentment with the present, and also a sense of tension towards the future. Actually, this is one of those rare albums that seems to agree with whatever the listener is feeling at the time.

What is truly striking about Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is that all of the songs are interesting and memorable. All of them. And we have Budd to thank for that, but Plateaux is also one of Eno’s most notable production jobs, and the two stand side by side in its creation rather than Eno taking the backseat. Harold Budd and Brian Eno are both talented, humble artists that know how to work together, and Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is a perfectly formed album, and probably the best album in the series, because their chemistry works so well.

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Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports

June 20, 2008

Brian Eno was not necessarily the founder of ambient music. I am not an expert on early ambient music so I cannot cite any earlier artists except perhaps Tangerine Dream and Cluster, but by the time Brian Eno created his first ambient album, Discreet Music, music as atmosphere was an idea that had already been toyed around with in modern music. In fact, even Brian Eno had experimented with ambiance before Discreet Music, in particular with his atmospheric instrumentals on his other 1975 album released two months earlier, Another Green World, and on his 1973 joint effort with Robert Fripp entitled No Pussyfooting.

However, it was not until 1978’s Music For Airports that people started taking notice of Brian Eno’s ambient music. I would even go so far as to say that Music For Airports was the breakthrough ambient album that skyrocketed the genre into the public conscience. Why, then, did Another Green World, No Pussyfooting, Discreet Music, or any of the other ambient works created before 1978 such as Evening Star and Music For Films do the same job? In fact, Another Green World might have. It reigns as Eno’s masterpiece, but it was not focused in one direction, and while it did experiment with ambiance, it was also a vocal pop/rock album. No Pussyfooting was a bit of a departure. It is the first known piece of “system based music” coming from Eno, as he and Robert Fripp pioneered the “Frippertonics” technique that involved bouncing recordings off of one another. Discreet Music was also created in a similar generative technique with minimal intervention from the musician.

All of the aforementioned albums are important, or at least quality recordings. It is hard to overshoot Brian Eno’s importance in most any of his early work, in either his solo releases or collaborative releases. But Music For Airports is often considered his definitive ambient statement because it was the first to ever be created for a practical purpose. It is in some ways generative, but unlike Discreet Music it is less of an experiment and has a stated goal that it pursues and fulfills (and unfortunately Discreet Music is occasionally impossible to be discreet). Yes, for many previous ambient pieces the practical purpose was to relax, but “relax” is a fairly general, subjective term. Music for Films may have been made for cinema, but this is also a pretty broad purpose. As he states in an old interview, Eno started to consider what it meant to make ambient music for a specific environment.

“So I thought it would be interesting to actually start writing music for public spaces…And I started to think; so what kind of music would that have to be? Obviously it must not interfere with human communications, so it has to be either higher or lower than voice sounds are. It should last a very long time, because you don’t want changes all the time. It should be possible to be interrupted by announcements and so on without suffering. So I started to imagine a kind of music that would work in public spaces.”

O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is hands down one of the most stressful places on the planet. The place is huge, and might be the busiest airport in the nation. If it isn’t, it’s a close second to Los Angeles. It is also extremely loud. If you are like me and only take flights once or twice a year, you enter off of the busy street not knowing where the hell you are. You most likely end up standing in line for an hour to get your bags checked and tickets cleared. Then, you go through security for what feels like another hour, being whisked in and out of lines. You take your shoes and belt off too, that’s always fun. If you are lucky, ethnic, disabled or otherwise funny looking, you get screened individually. Then you walk a lot to get to your terminal. It’s possible that you might start your flight anxieties by then. By the time I get on a plane in O’Hare, I’m drained and kind of angry at everything.

However, O’Hare Airport is one of my favorite buildings. I love going there. I love sitting in my terminal and watching people. It is also a gorgeous building. Most airports are gorgeous. High ceilings, walls and ceilings of glass, marble floors. Inside, we have a representation of our busy, fast moving, diverse world, and outside we have wide open spaces that are filled with some of our finest technology that will bring us essentially where ever we want to go. O’Hare International Airport is the kind of building that we will look back on one thousand years from now and learn a startling amount about people today.

O’Hare International Airport is missing two things.

1. Rows of public rocking chairs in front of big glass windows.

2. Music For Airports.

If the airport had these two things, the stress of flying would virtually disappear. Rocking chairs really are that comfortable, and Music For Airports really is that good.

Is it his best ambient work? Hell no. Ambient 4 kills it. Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks is also considerably more enjoyable. However, the album fulfills everything it works towards, while Ambient 4 and Apollo sometimes falter. Music For Airports is a work of art as well as a perfectly formed tool.

The album is divided into four parts. These parts are long, and only 2/1 dips under the ten minute mark. Each song consists of mostly repeating loops of something or other. Pianos, vocals, and synthesizers make up the entirety of the album. However, the songs are played slowly enough that the repeating does not show. This is also because different parts, such as the piano parts on 1/1, are looped at different speeds so that the parts intertwine at different intervals. Eno created each track according to the aforementioned rules, and thus we have a musical album of non music.

1/1 is played with both piano and electric piano, and is probably the most optimistic and well known piece on the album. It’s effect is the most readily felt. Even at loud volumes, the lead piano part somehow avoids being annoying. 1/2 and 2/1 are vocal tracks, the former comprising of only vocal drones and the latter vocal drones and piano. These pieces are somewhat more melancholy than the other two. The last piece, 2/2, consists solely of synthesizers.

Yeah, the pieces are excellent if you like ambient music. I am listening to the album very loudly right now, because it is just my kind of sound. But if you gave the album to a random person in an airport, they would most likely play it, be bored with it, and throw it out upon dismissing it as muzak or the kind of music that people played in documentaries in the 80s (1/1 was in fact used in the 1985 PBS Special “The Creation of the Universe”). Music For Airports was never intended to be an album for close listening. It was meant for Airports. It was meant to play softly in the back of your mind, for the listener to not notice it, and to act as a sort of relaxant for the stress that an airport can cause. The happier pieces, 1/1 and 2/2, are not so happy that they are unrealistic, which Eno claims that most airports end up being. The more melancholy pieces, 1/2 and 2/1, are less sad than they are tranquil.

It’s one thing to consider that these pieces actually work on their intended purpose with wonderful success. What really matters is that this is music for airports, and that is somewhat of a statement, or maybe a question, about what music does and is intended to do. This is the start of a beautiful series of albums and an ambient masterpiece.

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Favorite Classes

June 15, 2008

I am now officially done with high school. I have taken a grand total of 32 classes plus a couple doubles through the years (gym and orchestra). Some of these classes have been very good, and some of them have been very bad. I want to take some time to talk about my favorite classes from high school. I could never have the time or will to talk about all the good ones. Every year I had at least one or two classes that I liked, but classes that I loved were rare treasures. I could also talk about classes I hated, but I’m not here to do any bashing. That isn’t right. I won’t remember the classes I hated. I will remember the classes I loved. All of these classes seem to be in the area of English and Social Studies. Science has never been my forte, although I have had some decent teachers, and Math is something I am marginally good at but can never really get myself to be inspired by. Hopefully in a year all of my classes will be as excellent as these select few.

From Freshman year through Junior year, I was in Orchestra every day, fourth hour, conducted by Mr. S. There are two Orchestras in the school, the lower Strings Orchestra and the higher Chamber Orchestra. I never made it into Chamber Orchestra, but then again I never tried out. I guess I knew I could not have been good enough, and lacked the willpower to do anything about it. For a long time, there was some kind of resentment towards the Chamber Orchestra, probably to mask jealousy or insecurity. Despite my hidden anxiety, fourth hour was always a period I looked forward to. All respects to Mr. S, the class was not really about the teaching. It was about the music. Picking up my violin every day and letting my fingers do the work that they were so good at while my mind wandered was one of the only things that could really lift any anxiety I had, and I almost always had anxiety. The Strings Orchestra played myriad music, of more variety but lesser difficulty than the Chamber Orchestra. The Chamber almost always showed us up at concerts, besides once or twice when the Strings played marvelously on interesting songs while the Chamber unluckily got stuck with some more boring pieces. It was not about competition. It was about making music with your hands. By the time I left Orchestra Senior year to take AP Music Theory, I had spent half of my life playing the Violin. I made friends I’ll never lose and stimulated myself artistically to a degree that I doubt I will ever achieve again. Although the violin is not my passion, it is a part of myself I will never be able to remove.

The first truly great class I encountered that was in the vein of a traditional curriculum was my AP US History class with Mr. R Sophomore year. In many ways, looking back on that class is to me like viewing my ideal of what a High School social studies class should have been. Everyone needs to take US History and pass the Constitution test, but I felt like US History was less of a requirement and more of a privelage. Yes, I had my typical problems of motivation that prevented me from working to my full potential. There will always be worksheets I am too lazy to do, pages I am too lazy to read, and tests I am too lazy to study for. But I was always more motivated to work, read, and study for US History than any other class. This was due almost completely to Mr. R, who is nothing short of a brilliant teacher. The man could be a speech writer for christ’s sake. He stood in front of the class every day and delivered lectures that I will always remember for their passion, and the way he led class involvement was through full class and small group discussions about whatever issue in US History we were covering. His delivery was concise. This is what happened, these are the factors and questions we need to consider, let’s have a discussion. My notes for that class are defining of my personality. A tornado of notes, footnotes, drawings, thoughts, and feelings. I’ll remember US History not just for Mr. R, who might be my favorite High School teacher, but for how it felt like genuinely the first class in higher level education, as most everything in the previous year was BS.

Another class that I took sophomore year that I believe was a real higher level class was Debate with Mr. D. Every sophomore follows the same sophomore English program. For one semester, a sophomore takes a standard English class where literature is studied by varying curriculum. The other semester requires that the student take either a speech or debate class. I chose Debate, and I found myself sitting in Mr. D’s room. Mr. D is a man I will never forget…With the towering appearance of perhaps a lumberjack, or as he put it, Hagrid, he was a man of presence. When Mr. D talks, you listen. Debate was a lot of work. I’ll remember how silent the class always was when we were not actually debating, and then how each presentation lit the room on fire for just a few seconds only to have the flames die down again. It was not a fun class to do work for. There was a lot of paperwork, but there was also a lot of group work. We were forced to work together in studying difficult issues and learned how to create coherent arguments about any given topic, on either side. Mr. D is an extremely leftist individual, but surprisingly enough, he was able to keep his opinions balanced. I will never forget his speeches on gun control, wellfare, taxes, war and countless other issues. I will also never forget going up on stage, desperate for points, after the school macho man who had just made an extremely organized speech on something or other, and receiving a massive amount of points simply for stating my opinion and how it was in conflict with his. It taught me that just being there and speaking out really means something. This class more than achieved its goals.

In Junior year, I once again had Mr. R for a social studies class, this time Sociology. I confess, the only reason I signed up for Sociology was because I wanted to have Mr. R again. Luckily, Sociology was just as rewarding of a class as US History. I knew by Junior year that I was interested in pursuing Psychology in college. However, I had not yet taken a psychology class. I was hoping to take one over the summer before Junior year, but an irreconcilable road trip to Washington D.C. got in the way, and by the time class registration rolled about, there was no way to switch to Psychology from any other class. In Sociology, I was one of three Juniors in a class of Seniors. I felt somewhat like an outsider. However, the work and learning was still there. This was a good introduction to psychology because it worked with possibly the most applicable school of psychology right off the bat. It was a study of how societies and cultures worked, and also about specific societies and cultures, and their characteristics such as norms, linguistics, and taboos. The three Juniors were not outsiders in practice…We participated in class discussions that Mr. R was so wonderful at setting up. But in spirit, we were observers, which was probably the best thing we could have asked for. It seems like implausible irony, but the Seniors were in constant conflict and there was always some kind of drama within the class. The class was not a microcosm to aid our study, but I did feel like it was an exploration in social psychology that helped me appreciate Sociology much more. Particularly memorable was a discussion on class conflict that brought an individual to tears. Possibly the height of my social studies experience in high school.

The Junior English curriculum also allows for some options. In fact, now that I think about it, the English department might allow more options than any other department in the building, save perhaps Social Studies which matches its versatility. One could opt to take a Junior English class known as Interrelated Arts which was a study of just about every kind of contemporary art form, taking advantage of the great city of Chicago for lots of the studying. I however opted to take Junior English Honors, and I ended up with Mrs. R (no relation to Mr. R). It was not completely obvious to me right away that the class was as great as it really was. I disliked a considerable portion of the class…There was a row of about five people that did not seem to be able to quiet themselves and always drew unnecessary attention and distracted from the class. Mrs R was late to grade many papers and at first came off as irresponsible, which is an assumption that I now cringe to think about making. The truth of it was that Mrs. R was a full time mother of two as well as a full time teacher, so she had more than a full day of work to deal with within any 24 hour block of time. My other English classes before then, save Debate, were aimed toward the studies of classic works, some of which were enjoyable and some of which not so much. Yeah, I enjoyed reading The Lord of the Flies in Freshman year, but beyond that, none of the readings in High School had truly inspired me until Junior English. We studied myriad short stories of both the romantic movement and the realism movement. This alone was a breakthrough for my learning. I never really knew what it meant to be romantic or realistic in literature before then, so it was wonderful to be able to learn one of modern literature’s most important concepts straightaway. We also read the wonderful book The Great Gatsby, a fantastic combination of romanticism and realism, Hamlet, and The Scarlett Letter. Admittedly, I hated reading the Scarlett Letter save the odd chapter that would inspire me (A Flood of Sunshine makes no sense in the course of the book, at least in terms of its brilliance compared to the inconsistency of the rest of the book), but I learned a lot from reading it about myself and my tastes. Also very memorable was our experience with a Kindergarten class in the district, in which all of us found pen pals. Every few weeks, we would receive and write letters to our pen pals who were learning to read at the time. The act of discussing things with them was part of their reading and writing education, and by the end of the year, I definitely saw improvement in my pen pal, and was very happy to visit him and the rest of his class. I had never really experienced teaching firsthand before then. It gave me a good idea of what it really means to teach, and made me consider how different teaching Kindergarten and High School must be. An infinitely rewarding class despite its shortcomings.

By the time I took Psychology in Senior year, I had already decided I wanted to be a Psychology major. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was just starting to figure out how my brain worked that made me interested in psychology. It just seemed like such a basic, important study to me… The study of people. Taking Sociology the previous year only encouraged my interest. Lucky for me, my first Psychology class was perfect to start me off in the subject. The class was taught by Mr. G, a smart, fast thinking, smooth talking teacher who seemed to have captured the hearts of many of my female friends at the time. He was not fluff. His teaching style worked because everyone listened to him. Yes, there was a fair share of psychology videos, and nothing substitutes for reading the book thoroughly, but Mr. G always did the best he could to explain the main concepts as best as he could within class time and was always available to go in depth if we needed him to. I also loved the multitude of projects we were assigned within the semester. I loved the development project we partook in which made us explore our own development in particular. And I’ll never forget my own involvement in the teaching of classical conditioning…I was seated in front of the entire class. Mr. G read off a list of words. Whenever he said the word “can,” I was squirted in the eye with water from a spray bottle. I guarantee I will never forget the principles of classical conditioning. But I think what really made Psychology fun and memorable for me was the subject itself. I love Psychology, and learning the subject from the ground up was very rewarding.

The English department at my High School pulls something new out of it’s sleeves every year after the relatively standard Freshman English program. Sophomore year requires a Speech or Debate class. Junior year offers Interrelated Arts. But Senior year is the trump card, offering myriad options including Logic and Rhetoric, Creative Writing, Religious Quest, and my second semester choice, Film Criticism. My initial thought on Film Criticism was that it would be a rewarding class for me, an amateur writer and critic already, and I would be able to spend a class period a day enjoying one of my favorite mediums of art. I changed my mind soon after. Film Criticism started to sound like a disaster. A class full of second semester Seniors with little to lose, and little reason to do anything but screw off for an entire class period a day. The catch was that Mr. D, who was also my Sophomore Debate teacher, was the teacher for Film Crit. Like Debate class, Film Criticism had a massive, inordinate amount of paperwork. Yes, for about four days a week are spent watching movies, but as a student on the honors system in the class, I was required to read around five reviews or articles on a given movie per week, write extensive notes on the current film, read from my film criticism textbook, take a test on the odd day we weren’t actually watching a film, and write a report on each film. There was simply no time to slack off in the class, and because of how the class was built, we had to pay close attention to each film. Luckily, Mr. D was brilliant at choosing films and units of films to watch. We started off watching Minority Report, a light action adventure film with some deeper meaning that can be explored. The “Future Anxiety” unit continued, getting progressively more challenging, and the films in the unit got more ideologically complex as well as cinematically exciting. Even Mr. D questioned the quality of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, but it forced us to take sides in an issue that high school seniors just don’t think about very much. We also watched Blade Runner, one of my favorite films, and Mr. D’s commentary on the films style and themes was extremely enlightening. The films only got more and more challenging. The next unit was the “Gender and Power” unit, with films ranging from the brilliant Afghani independent film Osama to the cheap thrill ride of Thelma and Louise. Then, the exhausting, brutal six film war unit, including Dr. Stangelove, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Path’s of Glory. Finally clinching the year with one of the most challenging films I have ever watched, Dead Man Walking. What was most impressive about Mr. D was his unfailing ability to provide insight on every issue in frank, nonbiased way. After every film, the class would sit and have a discussion. We were usually quiet, not so much because it was nine in the morning but because we might have been speechless, and nothing we could have said could possibly have held a candle to anything Mr. D said. The big trick with Senior Film Criticism was that it was essentially a philosophy class in disguise. This was just how Mr. D operated. He drew us in with the medium of film itself, but what the class was really about was issues that we have to deal with in our modern world. He provided support for every point of view, and the passion with which he spoke about film was inspiring, and he made it clear that there was nothing he would rather be talking about than the art of film. I hope I can someday be as passionate a teacher as Mr. D, perhaps even in the same class, but realistically I don’t know if it gets much better than him.

These are my favorite classes from High School which I singled out for their educational value, and I will probably never forget them. While the majority of my High School education was sub par in comparison, they made the whole experience worth it, and I can only hope to have as rewarding classes in college. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes once it comes to it.

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Alabama 3 – Hits And Exit Wounds

June 6, 2008

This best of compilation from One Little Indian’s Alabama 3 is as at first glance representative of something ignorant. Anyone who names a song after Johnny Cash or Woody Guthrie is either ignorant or silly, and luckily Alabama 3 are the latter. Any chance of a London based acid house band staying true to musical Americana is slim to none, and if they tried, they would fail. Instead, they shamelessly bastardize it. The key to enjoying Alabama 3 is not taking them too seriously, because if you do, they will probably just anger you.

Alabama 3 are a dance group at heart, and their trick is that they dress up their dance beats with harmonicas, acoustic guitars, and growling country vocals. But less impressive than their style is their biting sense of humor. Throughout the course of this Alabama 3 retrospective, the band openly toys with the ideas of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and macho militant sloganeers, and the state of modern music through dirty lyrics and vocal samples. This sense of humor does little to interfere with the band’s dance sensibilities.

Most of the time, they are in full on ass swinging mode. In particular, Hypo Full of Love, Woke Up This Morning, Mao Tse Tung Said, and Monday Don’t Mean Anything are particularly memorable not because of what they have to say, but because of how danceable they are. But the collection isn’t without its acoustic ballads as well. These two modes of play are fairly interchangable, and some of the bands more tender moments might be dressed up in catchy beats. I don’t know how much I can say for the album as a collection because I am not really familiar with the bands discography, but what is here is fun for what it is, and fans of dance music or anyone with a sense of humor about American styled music should check it out for sure.

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Nine Inch Nails – The Slip

June 3, 2008

The price of admission for a Nine Inch Nails album has hit all ends of the spectrum. From high prices for The Fragile and Still to a fascinating marketing campaign for Year Zero, to a choose your own price and format trick following in Radiohead’s footsteps (which Reznor subsequently trash talked), and now to the ultimate price, free.

Yes, that’s right, you no longer have to pay anything for a Nine Inch Nails album, but unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t have paid that much for it anyway. The sad truth is that The Slip sounds like a rehashed With Teeth, except worse in almost every respect. In fact, I’m sure we could line up tracks from either album back to back and anyone who had not heard either album before could not distinguish any stylistic differences. The music features pounding drums like With Teeth, tired riffs with the same tonal leaps and dull modulations, and lyrics that once again work against Trent Reznor’s for the most part excellent vocal talent.

Almost every song is disposable. The album starts out like it might actually be doing something worthwhile. A first impression might sense that Reznor has decided to keep each track moving at a fast pace, improving upon the With Teeth style flaw that was many slow, boring passages. However, both 1,000,000 and Letting You are fairly forgettable. Even the single, Discipline, has nothing new to offer. But nothing much anyone can say will ease the blow of the downright embarassing Echoplex.

The album is not without it’s successes. The victories come in through the hushed soundscapes of 999,999, Corona Radiata, and Lights In The Sky, which says something about Reznor’s knack for his recently taken up ambient style. But until Ghosts V-VIII, we have The Slip to listen to, and the ambient tracks will not save it.

Anyone except a Nine Inch Nails fan would want to skip this album, even at the free price. And fans will be disappointed too. The style that With Teeth established was never that great to begin with, but The Slip makes With Teeth look like The Downward Spiral. The fact of the matter is that Trent Reznor will never make any albums as good as Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral, or The Fragile ever again, and it is time to stop believing that he can.