Friday, September 21, 2012

"Digital Artist"

There's a pop singer in Japan that's taking the oriental islands by storm. She's been around for a few years, and her empire gets bigger and bigger every year. She's toured in her native Japan, the United States, and Singapore. Her fans number in the millions, she has her visage on a race car, and there's currently a petition to get a doll that looks like her into space. Her name is Hatsune Miku. All of this, and she's only sixteen.

Well... kind of.

That's the unique thing about Ms. Miku: She doesn't exist. Not in the corporeal sense, anyway. Her voice is made by using a sound program, and her appearance was created by an illustrator. From the ground up, she's completely digital, artificial.

Yet, she's a star-and-a-half. She's made her parent company gobs of money, and has fans all over the world.  It makes you think about the argument that one day, computers will make artists redundant. Granted, Hatsune's music and stage presence is all done by composers and animators, so you arts majors can breathe easy.

Justin Bieber of the future? 
Oh, wait, I said "artists."

Whoa, whoa, stage presence? Yep, she holds concerts; SOLD OUT concerts in Japan and the US, with thousands of fans, light shows, and a live band to boot.

Hit the pause button on the music player to
the right. You've got to hear/see this.

That's some mind-blowing stuff. You've got a crowd of people cheering to a voice that isn't (exactly) real, and to a "singer" that's not even there. Dungeons & Dragons, Renaissance Fairs, and Fantasy Football don't seem all that weird now, do they?

I bring this up because I have to ask: What does this kind of thing mean for the entertainment industry? We have amazing CGI capabilities, but that hasn't replaced our need for real-life actors. Will music follow the same path? Or are digital artists the way of the future?

I certainly hope not. R2-D2 singing "Ave Maria" would sound awful.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments, if you feel so inclined.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hey, guys! What'd I miss?

Through the lens of popular culture, going on a mission is a lot like being dead for two years. Because of the internet, TV, radio, and the fact that everyone can use these on their phones means that the latest and greatest from America's artists and stars spreads like wildfire. And since missionaries don't frequent any of those, they're a lot like that one guy up in the mountains that douses his property with water. None of that cultural wildfire there.

That's the Elders. Right there.

That being so, when I left my green patch last December and walked out onto the charred, cultured world (so to speak), there were a few things that caught me off guard. Turns out, American culture waits for no man, and while I was a-proselytin' in South Carolina, the media world decided to roll along without me. I'd heard a few things here and there about what was going on in the "real world," but now that I was supposed to experience them? It was like walking out of a "do not open until December 2011" sealed can. 

Bless my stars, a hipster!

Some things blew me away more than most. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the android Data is often confused by human behavior, and has to have it explained to him by the crew. Have you ever had to tell someone what a yawn is? (You probably just yawned. If not, then the previous sentence probably just did it.) Or why humans love music? That's probably what it was akin to when my poor friends and family were telling me what a hashtag was.

So, a few things I had to have explained to me:


Of course this was going to be a tough one. Even to those that were here 2009-2011, she's strange. I think that's her point, though... Still pondering that one. I remember someone telling me that she wore a "meat dress" to a red carpet event. I imagined a deep red evening gown maybe, with a few pieces of fried chicken hanging from the hem, or something like that.

50 wasted steaks, right there.

Good grief, the entire thing was 100% pure, real MEAT. After the Janet Jackson wardrobe planned stu... eh, malfunction, I thought we'd seen the weirdest clothing-TV spot in history (as well as stuff we wish we didn't see). But instead, we get ("get" being used liberally) to behold a pop star decked out in cow innards, who would later go on to sing "Born This Way." If you were born to wear meat in public, be glad you weren't around in the 1800's. They institutionalization folks like that.

This woman is world famous, selling more records than most of your favorite artists. That took some explaining.


I only missed James Cameron's "Avatar" by two days: I entered the MTC on December 16th, 2009, while the oversized Smurfs took to the theaters on the 18th. I spend a few months hearing about how amazing and visually stunning this film is, but never seeing it. 

I get home, and within a few days, my dad is telling me that I HAVE to see Avatar. He says that it's one of the coolest-looking movies since Star Wars. He was right: it was really, really fun to watch. I was blown away by what they could do with motion capture, CGI, sound, etc. I immediately started talking to my friends about how enjoyable this movie was.

My friends who had seen it two years ago.

It's exciting to be able to watch two years worth of good movies, all at once, if you wanted to. That makes it all the more disappointing when you realize that you can't really discuss many of them with your friends, and they've already moved onto bigger and better things. Like Justin Bieber.

Sorry. Moving on.

A sad example: A few days after getting home, I went to the Sprint store to snag a phone. When I left, it seemed that the only people with "real" smart phones were doctors, lawyers, and the pre-teen daughters of said doctors and lawyers. Now, they're like those floating spider webs: plentiful, scattered everywhere, and causing many an awkward social moment.

Anyway, I pick the phone I want, and the salesman goes on to point out some of its features. When he got to the part about apps?

How the... when did... how... I...

You can use Google Earth to see any spot on the planet from space. On your phone. You can video chat anywhere there's a WiFi or 4G signal. On your phone. You can translate French into Latin. On your phone. You can record a song and have the internet tell you what it is. On your phone. You can have a cat tap dance while singing the national anthem. On your PHONE.

As a tech-junkie, I was giddy. I need to share this with people! I need to spread this app-fueled elation with those around me! I downloaded an "air horn" app, which lets you use your phone as a train horn, a fog horn, or those annoying vuvuzelas you saw at the World Cup. I thought the comedic effect provided by this technological marvel would last for weeks on end.

You can imagine my despondency when I was told that the air horn was old hat, and by trying to use it for comedy was putting me into the same drawer as "hey, I'm still hip!" 40-year-old-parents. After a few more pathetic attempts at using the air horn to accentuate a point or two, I resigned myself to the fact that I'll just have to skip 2010 and 2011 DVR-style, and move on with everybody else. 

I still can't get over the BP oil spill, though. I mean, three months?!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why, back in my day...

Concerning today’s music scene, there’s no shortage of older folk who are all-too-quick to sneer at modern music, and complain about how the youth don’t appreciate “the classics” of “way back when.” Everyone gets attached to the music of their youth. If those past-jams are the sweet sounds of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Louis Armstrong, or Scott Joplin (if they’re very old), that's their the musical “safe zone," I imagine. It’s the reason you get dirty looks from the more wizened generation whilst listening to dubstep, Imogen Heap, or Nicki Minaj. (Note: If you’re listening to Nicki Minaj, you probably deserved it. Just sayin’.)

I hope y’all are sitting down, because I have a secret to reveal: I’M one of those folks; the ones that shake their head at the unwillingness of whippersnappers to listen to the “classics.” I love the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, and heck, even Mr. Joplin. But the neglected classics I’m referring to are the most classic of classics:

Classical music.

Everyone who’s seen a Tom and Jerry cartoon has heard it, and most Zales Diamonds commercials piggyback on it, but fewer and fewer people seem to actually seek it out and enjoy it. Chill out, everyone, I’m not about to start a face-melting rant about how everyone is uncultured because they can’t tell the difference between an aria and an arpeggio. See, that’s just the problem: when others find out I’m a sucker for classical, they may assume that I’m also a prude. “Oh, he listens to Rachmaninoff. He thinks he’s smarter than me. Elitist jerk.” All that, and all they had to go off of was the fact that I liked a little Mozart now and then!

When you think of a classical music enthusiast, what comes to mind? Probably some egotistical self-proclaimed intellectual who listens just to display it on his “look how cultured I am” trophy case.

"A bow tie separates the cultured from the common-folk..."

Or a guy who likes to listen to Brahms while eating the poor sap he just killed, while enjoying a nice Chianti.

"The liver was a bit on the rare side."

Old people? Old people like Chopin, right?

"You kids can't appreciate the classics! You're all so distracted,
what with your cellular phones! And those... those Facebooks!"

Or maybe a hipster, who listens to Schoenberg because no one else does: all other music is too mainstream.

"I find his total lack of key and tonality invigorating. You probably
wouldn't understand..."

Have you actually ever listened to Schoenberg? There’s a reason it’s not mainstream… Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The point is, we’re mighty fine at labeling others. There’s a positive purpose to this, I believe. If a person is crying hysterically, screaming at a wall, and wearing a high school football uniform while biting themself, the guys in the labeling department of my brain look that all up, and come up with, “Do not approach. Probably insane and dangerous. May bite. Recommend not making eye contact.” I'm making a judgement on that person, but it just may be saving me from a round of rabies shots in the near future.

Labeling seems to be especially prevalent right now, with the election coming up and all. Republicans are laughing at the herbal-tea-swigging, tree-hugging, Prius-driving, religion-bashing, work-hating Democrats, when the reality is much less extreme. Or when Democrats are scoffing at the closed-minded, gay-hating, wealthy-boot-licking, anti-intellectual, backwards-thinking Republicans, when, once again, that usually isn’t the case.

Couldn’t we label people with good things? “She stays in her room and reads a lot. I bet she’s a good writer!” Or, “That guy wears a suit every day. I imagine he’s very professional.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it well when he said:

“Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.” ― Jeffrey R. Holland

Right on, Elder Holland.

But seriously, classical music. Look it up. Chopin is fantastic.