The Mist

Good review on Open Left of the movie The Mist. Saw it yesterday and found it a compelling and creepy blend of John Carpenter's Thing and Arthur Miller's Crucible.

To those who love the Stephen King novella on which the movie is based, yes, Mrs. Carmody still gets hit in the chest with a can of peas but she has taken on special significance as a character in the Bush era. One critic of the movie says "What scares me? Cancer. Osama bin Laden. Teenagers. But not a giant land octopus." Well, what scares me is a fundamentalist Christian in the White House appointing zombie end-timers to scores of government posts. The movie presents a twin abyss: the Lovecraftian horror of unexplained, utterly malevolent forces and the dark human tendency to listen to people with voices in their heads when things get frightening.

An interesting interchange occurs in the back of the alien-besieged supermarket after the land octopus and other critters have struck: a small group of characters confess to each other they have no faith in human nature, and believe that everyone else in the store will eventually succumb to the non-stop persuasions of a Christian millennialist who sees the aliens as harbingers of the apocalypse. This is increasingly plausible: millions of Americans believe they will be levitated into space when Jesus returns, and we have seen Biblical zealots (some phony, some not) reach the highest levels of government power in the last decade--Tom Delay, anyone?--with a special boost from a particularly mind-boggling mass crime.

By the end of the movie only a handful of people remain who have some belief in rational, empirical, Enlightenment-style principles. They are literally embattled, surrounded by knife-wielding religious converts. The creepy crawlies delivering face bloating stings and bursting out of chests and such could be taken literally, but one could also see them as an occult double of our political culture, an increasingly ugly world where torture is official policy and statesmen must swear fealty to an invisible, omniscient God or be tarred as "anti-family."

McCain or Paul: Who is the "Nut"?

From Juan Cole's blog, a CNN transcript of the most recent Republican presidential debate. Note that the man saying that Iraqi insurgents are people who must be stopped before they become another Hitler is John McCain and the person saying we need to trade with other countries, not invade and kill them is Ron Paul, who David Neiwert and Paul Rosenberg believe is a "whack job." I think these earnest lefties have their priorities backwards and don't really understand politics very well, but that's just my opinion as a civilian:

McCain: . . . I just want to also say that Congressman Paul, I've heard him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home, and about the war in Iraq and how it's failed.


And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II. We allowed...


We allowed ...

(Audience booing)

Cooper: Allow him his answer. Allow him his answer, please.

McCain: We allowed -- we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.

(Audience booing)

And I want to tell you something, sir. I just finished having Thanksgiving with the troops, and their message to you is -- the message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is, "Let us win. Let us...


Cooper: We will -- please. We will get to Iraq...


All right. Let me just remind everyone that these people did take a lot of time to ask these questions, and so we do want direct questions to -- the answers. We will get to Iraq later, but I do have to allow Congressman Paul 30 seconds to respond.

Paul: Absolutely. The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active duty officers and military personnel?


What John is saying is just totally distorted.

(Protester shouts off-mike)

Paul: He doesn't even understand the difference between non- intervention and isolationism. I'm not an isolationism, (shakes head) em, isolationist. I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel. But I don't want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live. We would object to it here and they're going to object to us over there.


Paul on Iraq:

Paul: The best commitment we can make to the Iraqi people is to give them their country back. That's the most important thing that we can do.


Already, part of their country has been taken back. In the south, they claim the surge has worked, but the surge really hasn't worked. There's less violence, but al-Sadr has essentially won in the south.

The British are leaving. The brigade of Al Sadr now is in charge, so they are getting their country back. They're in charge up north -- the Shia -- the people in the north* are in charge, as well, and there's no violence up there or nearly as much.

So, let the people have their country back again. Just think of the cleaning up of the mess after we left Vietnam. Vietnam now is a friend of ours -- we trade with them, the president comes here.

What we achieved in peace was unachievable in 20 years of the French and the Americans being in Vietnam.

So it's time for us to take care of America first.



Q & A Re: Paul Slocum Sample Remixer

paul slocum sample remixer

Below is an email interview about the sample-remixer Paul Slocum recently described on his blog:

I’m working on new software for Tree Wave that is designed to create abstract remixes. It is a software sampler that loops portions a very large source sample, usually an entire song or songs, and allows many layers of loops to be played simultaneously... It can be used with any source sample, but I’ve found that the aesthetics of contemporary Christian music work best for what I’m trying to do (more on this later…) Eventually it’ll also include a simple drum machine. It incorporates a random generator to aid finding interesting loop points in a long sample. And it is designed with the idea that loops don’t need any relation to the original sample’s tempo as long as the loop lengths all fit a consistent tempo.

And here's the Q&A:

What determines the tempo of the individual "loop lengths" on your sample-remixer? You said they don’t need any relation to the original sample’s tempo--meaning the tempo of those underlying sounds isn't detected or taken into account at all?

You set a global tempo. A track's loop-length is a standard note length of your choosing based on the set tempo: quarter note, 16th note, whole note, etc. It does not detect the tempo of the original song that you're sampling from. I think it's a lot more interesting if the tempos don't match.

You said the program looks for "interesting loop points"--what is interesting to your random generator? (This sounds skeptical but I'm just trying to grasp the methodology--I like the idea of self-designed art-making tools being almost an art in themselves.)

It just randomly selects a loop point, and then you determine if it's interesting or not. I've found that the best/quickest way to find cool loops is to eliminate any preconceived notion you have about what would be a cool loop point. But it does also allow you to move loop points around to wherever you want.

Also, what is the database that the sampler is using to look for loops?

It currently supports four samples per song of your choosing, and the samples can be pretty long. The way I use it is to load an entire song in as each sample. So when it randomly selects a loop point, it's selecting, say, a 200ms loop out of a 3-4 minute song.

200ms is short! That could just be a tone without any attack or other distinguishing features. I thought the point was long loops, which could include the potential for a lot of beat "train wrecks."

Just an example, if you set the loop length to 1 with a tempo of 60, it can be up to, I think, 8 seconds.

Is the sampling non-destructive? As in, is the sequencer reading the audio direct from pre-defined points?

Yes, the entire samples are loaded into memory and the sound is built from those samples each measure as the sequence plays.

How would you say it's different from a standard sequencer like Cubase or Ableton that handles audio?

The interface is very different, and it focuses on a very small subset of what those programs do. It's geared towards a very specific, weird way of using sampling. I've never used Ableton, but according to a friend who does, it has some similarities. My program allows you to take a portion of the source sample and start playing it in a loop, mess with it, then paste the new setup into the sequence. He says Ableton does something like this.

Can you explain that a bit more?

The sequence determines which loops are playing when. But since there are 40 tracks, it could be a bit of a work to switch to performance mode and turn on the exact same loops at a given point in the sequence. So I put in a key command to do this for you. It also doubles as a rough copy and paste function since you can "copy" a column of the sequencer into performance mode then "paste" it into other columns with another key command.

Okay, that's how the remixer relates to the "hi-fi" end of home audio, how about the "lo"? What are the similarities to tracker music, specifically tracker music used to trigger ultra-fast breakcore samples a la Venetian Snares? See this discussion from Marius Watz's blog and my old blog. Is it the ability to self-sample, this "rough copy and paste" function you described, that makes it different?

From my perspective, a tracker is a sequencer with only an "event list" interface. If I open a Sonar midi track in the event list editor, it's similar to a tracker. And I believe trackers emerged because it's the easiest user interface to program for a sequencer. Doesn't require any graphics so it works well with only a text-based display. And the way you edit the data relates more directly to how it's stored in memory.

My program takes interface cues from both trackers and sequencers, but maybe more from trackers in that it's a text-based interface and doesn't support the mouse.

I think the most unique thing about my program is that it's specifically designed to take lots of samples from one very large sample source without modifying the source at all. You can't even detune samples currently. And it assumes that you don't know what samples you want out of the file. In contrast, most programs assume you want to load a lot of short specific samples, or isolate some predetermined small bit of a large sample.

It's basically a WAV file player that allows you to dramatically alter the path that the player takes through the file. Normally a player plays the file linearly from start to end. This one allows you to set up many repeating, overlapping paths through the file.

You mentioned on your blog that you've been using contemporary Christian music as source material.

I have a few particular songs I've been using. I don't have a great library yet, but I've been listening to that stuff on the radio constantly for months now. My goal is to make completely neutral music from it. I don't want to reinforce or condemn its message. It's primarily about the aesthetics, but of course it's not just about the aesthetics since I'm specifically trying to sidestep the message. Anyway...

Is it contemporary Christian rock? (I only watched enough of the Casting Crowns vid to see that they look like gentle metal dudes.)

Yeah, generally light/alternative Christian rock.

Update: more here.

More on Art About the Art World

More from the thread on Paddy Johnson's blog where I suggested that Brooklyn's Momenta Art had better things to be doing than a show called "Air Kisses: Art About the Contemporary Art World." I threw out some reasons this might be the case and got some mud slung my way. Then Laura Parnes of Momenta weighed in:

Hi Tom,
Did you actually see the show?
I agree that there are incredibly pressing issues to deal with right now, however the artworld is fueled by the richest people in the world. Many of whom are responsible for these “other” pressing issues you speak of. The absurdity of the artmarket and the sick power games that occur are symptomatic of something much larger. Understanding our relationship to it as arts workers is worthy of examination.
Laura Parnes

My reply (not on Johnson's thread, just here):

Hi, Laura,
I wasn't reviewing your show and didn't claim to--just offering my thoughts on the press release you sent me in advance of the event. I can do that, right?

In any case, you don't have to convince me the art world is a corrupt, insincere place. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone.

Occasionally someone makes a good self-reflective work about his or her own industry. The movie The Player is a great example. Or Network. Or your own Hollywood Inferno, with Guy Richards Smit as a silver tongued media devil. But movies and TV reach millions and understanding how they warp the body politic is a matter of some urgency.

The art world is comparatively tiny and while its most egregious consumers are influential, they are not the ones who will see and be most affected by a self-reflexive show--instead it's artists themselves, who already know, or a public inclined to view artists as self-absorbed complainers rather than innovative agents of social or aesthetic change.

But more importantly, the art world is steeped in self-critique, and things never get better. Our most ingenious efforts haven't stopped something like that Deitch reality show where artists line up to be made into "stars." You yourself have been eloquent on the impossibility of transgression in a world saturated in media irony.

To me the best response to the Bush tax cut millionaires' obscene painting-buying spree of the '00s is to opt out and attempt to change the dialogue by cultivating a medium that cuts out middlemen, promotes transparency, and might actually lead to a redefinition of art. I'm talking about cyber-practice and self-publishing. The gallery still has a place in that--the intersection of the virtual and the actual is a fascinating place to be working.