Recommendations for March 22, 2015

23 Mar

A bit lake this week as it is finals time and I had stacks of grading to get through.

Video: “A Message” by Kelela

I was not as blown away by Kelela’s first release, Cut 4 Me, as many critics seemed to be, but this is very nice. Minimal production on the verses—basically just percussion— gives way to sweeping bass in the chorus, mixing nicely with falsetto vocals (is “falsetto” the right word when talking about a woman?). Her forthcoming EP, from which this is taken, also features production by Arca, who has to be one of the most interesting beat makers working right now, so that’s something to look forward to. The video may be slightly NSFW.

 

Song, sort of: Remnants of “Tom’s Diner” left behind by MP3 encoding, by Ryan Macguire

I somehow forgot to post this when I came across is a couple of weeks ago, but it’s totally fascinating, both as an experiment and as sound. The MP3 format, which is familiar to everybody at this point, is a codec (an abbreviation for code/decode) that compresses audio files, making them smaller and therefore easier to transfer over networks. One of the ways in which it accomplishes this is by actually deleting some elements of the sound, in particular those frequencies that are too high or too low to be perceptible to most listeners. However, it can actually end up removing quite a lot, especially if the bitrate of the file is low. Ryan MacGuire has taken the song “Tom’s Diner,” which was one of the samples used to test the process before its original release, and made a track out of what the encoding process removes. In other words, what’s here is what has been deleted from the uncompressed file as it was converted into an MP3. On the one hand, it’s surprising just how much sound there is, especially since the bitrate of the MP3 was as high as it ever gets (320 kbps). But it’s also a fascinating, eerie, compelling sound in its own right. I would listen to a whole album of this stuff.

More about the technology and the creation of the track here.

 

Article: “Big Data Will Find Your Next Favorite Band” by Dylan Love

Speaking of music and technology: Love profiles the company Next Big Sound as a window into the increasing interest among record labels and the music industry in general in the vast quantities of data generated by users of online music services like Spotify, Soundcloud, Pandora, YouTube, and so on. Obviously, one of the remarkable things about all these technologies is that they allow basically anyone to easily upload music and make it available to a potentially vast audience. Of course, the vast majority of that work is heard by almost nobody, but if you can track which artists and songs are getting passed around and linked to and tweeted and liked and so on, then you can— in theory— predict which ones are likely to break through into the increasingly ill-defined “mainstream.” At least, that’s the idea that Next Big Sound is based on, and the industry is starting to pay attention to their predictions. I don’t know if I should have a problem with this or not; at the moment, anyway, it seems more about measuring what people are already doing than trying to persuade them to do something, but the line between those two things is often very thin. It’s also a reminder that when we talk about personal “data,” we are usually thinking about names, addresses, financial data, etc., but all of the things we do on line also generate a much simpler kind of data, which seems less personal but may also be revealing in ways we may want to think more about.

 

Article: “The Robots are Coming” by John Lanchester

And speaking of things machines are doing that we might not want them to: Lanchester is reviewing a couple of new books that deal with the increasing possibilities for the automation of labor currently done by humans, made possible primarily by successes in machine learning. The question he’s most interested in is how the benefits of this automation, which will likely involve dramatically increasing productivity per worker, will be distributed. History suggests that they will accrue entirely to “capital,” i.e., the owners and manager of big corporations (and does anyone else find this Marxian tendency to talk about capital as a separate actor, with its own agency, both creepy and silly?). While old utopian visions of the benefits of technology often imagined a world in which individuals enjoyed dramatically more leisure time, past experience suggests that we are not actually willing to allow people to work less, even if less work is needed. So, what do people do whose work no longer has any market value?

 

Article: “The Woman Who Froze in Fargo” by Mike Powell

And, speaking of nothing I’ve talked about so far: the new film Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is the story of a Japanese woman who, with her life apparently caught in a personal and professional eddy, comes across an old videotape of the movie Fargo, which opens with on-screen text that says “This is a true story.” Taking this statement at its word, Kumiko (as she is called in the film) believes that there is actually a suitcase full of money buried on the side of the road somewhere outside of Fargo, as depicted in the Coen brothers’ film. So, speaking very little English and knowing little about where she’s head beyond what she’s seen in Fargo,she travels to America to find it. Which goes about as well as you’d imagine.

The most interesting thing about this story, though, might be the fact that it actually happened— sort of, anyway. Powell explores the relationship between the real Japanese woman, the movie about her, and the othermovie that apparently inspired her journey. (To ice the cake, there’s also an older documentary about these events). I’m not prepared to try to unpick all of this and decide where the truth lies, but I’m fascinated by how difficult and complicated that task would be.

 

Download the articles from this post as a Readlist here.

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