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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Cage Legacy: Pioneering Music Theory Finds A Home In Video Games "The computer game industry is a bit like the early days of opera: Composers are exploring untested ways of combining music, story, and visual spectacle. Fifty years ago, avant-gardists like Earle Brown and John Cage were leaving the ordering of musical events up to the players. Now this once-arcane technique is being used by game composers for far more commercial purposes. Composers call it 'branching music' — musical themes or tags linked to specific game events, designed so that any tag can lead un- jarringly to or from any other tag, creating a continuous flow, whatever the player's choices." Seattle Weekly 04/30/03

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

New Energy Needed For Cultural Studies Cultural studies have yielded a great deal of understanding about the behaviors of those around us. "In this pervasive view, key aspects of life can best be understood by exploring the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of a culture and (in some formulations especially) the language in which they are expressed. Recently, however, the fascination with culture seems to be waning: Historians, for example, are conducting symposiums and editing volumes about "what comes next," and erstwhile culturalists are publicly bemoaning the decline of interest in relevant theory. Aside from demonstrating that humanists are not immune to faddism, the transition invites some comment about the state of cultural research more generally." Chronicle of Higher Education 04/28/03

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Disaster That Is The Digital Millennium Copyright Act "Five years after it was enacted, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is living up to critics' worst fears. The antipiracy law has become a broad legal cudgel that's wielded against legitimate reapplications of intellectual property, from mix CDs to off-brand toner cartridges. Representative Rick Boucher (D-Virginia) has written the Digital Media Consumer Rights Act (HR 107), which would make it legal to, among other things, create an archival copy of a CD or DVD. Good fix for a bad law - but why not just blow up the DMCA instead?" Wired 04/28/03

Why Has Music Dropped Off The Intellectuals' Map? Why are people who pride themselves on being educated and up on the latest books, movies, and even art, so uninterested and uneducated in serious music? "There is a startling ignorance about music among contemporary intellectuals who value the latest literary and philosophical thinking. It was not always like this. Gradually music has become more and more marginal to intellectual endeavour, and this separation may be traced to the first half of the 20th century. Until this time, writers and thinkers saw reflection on music as a culturally central consideration, a view that can be traced right back through the works of Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates, St Augustine, Galileo, Newton, Goethe and Nietzsche..." The Guardian (UK) 04/26/03

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Destruction Of Culture - Holding American Leadership Accountable "There is much we don't know about what happened this month at the Baghdad museum, at its National Library and archives, at the Mosul museum and the rest of that country's gutted cultural institutions. Is it merely the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years, as Paul Zimansky, a Boston University archaeologist, put it? Or should we listen to Eleanor Robson, of All Souls College, Oxford, who said, 'You'd have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale'? Nor do we know who did it. Was this a final act of national rape by Saddam loyalists? Was it what Philippe de Montebello, of the Metropolitan Museum, calls the 'pure Hollywood' scenario — a clever scheme commissioned in advance by shadowy international art thieves? Was it simple opportunism by an unhinged mob? Or some combination thereof? Whatever the answers to those questions, none of them can mitigate the pieces of the damning jigsaw puzzle that have emerged with absolute certainty. The Pentagon was repeatedly warned of the possibility of this catastrophe in advance of the war, and some of its officials were on the case. But at the highest levels at the White House, the Pentagon and central command — where the real clout is — no one cared." The New York Times 04/27/03

Thursday, April 24, 2003

When Business Takes On Education "Whether the commercialization of higher education has reached the crisis point probably is a matter of definition, but there can be no doubt that it is at least headed there." A new book by former Harvard president Derek Bok argues that the rising influence of commercial interests on campus puts universities on a road lined with compromises... Washington Post 04/24/03

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Conceptual Construct - The Art Of Learning Performance Art How does someone learn to be a performance artist? Can you learn how to smear that chocolate over your body or lock yourself up in a suitcase? "More students are studying performance practice, and more are studying its history and theory, in a range of departments: art history, performance studies, anthropology, curatorial programs. Still, even with performance as something of an entrenched category in the current cultural climate, it’s a lucky student who can find a sympathetic mentor in most traditional art schools." ArtNews 04/03

Monday, April 21, 2003

I Feel, Therefore I Think (Or Something Like That) Many philosophers have divided us up into thinking and emotional sides - each often at war with the other. But "for more than a decade, neuroscientists armed with brain scans have been chipping away at the Cartesian façade. Gone is Descartes' lofty Cogito, reasoning in pristine detachment from the physical world. Fading fast are its sophisticated modern incarnations, including the once-popular 'computational model,' according to which the mind is like a software program and the brain like a hard drive. Lately, scientists have begun to approach consciousness in more Spinozist terms: as a complex and indivisible mind-brain-body system. The philosopher anticipated one of brain science's most important recent discoveries: the critical role of the emotions in ensuring our survival and allowing us to think. Feeling, it turns out, is not the enemy of reason, but, as Spinoza saw it, an indispensable accomplice." The New York Times 04/19/03

A Free Market Solution To Looting? Many of the ancient artifacts in today's museums were removed from their places of origin before countries declared bans on the exports of cultural heritage. But those artifacts are protected in the museums. Is there a way for the free market to give collectors incentives to find and protect artifacts and shut down looting? "Archaeologists like taking the high moral ground against selling antiquities, but it doesn't solve the problem of looting. I would like to use market solutions. Sell very common objects, like oil lamps or little pots, and use the money to pay for professional excavations." The New York Times 04/20/03

Sunday, April 20, 2003

When Theory Gets You Shut Out Of Society's Decisions For much of the past 25 years, academic humanists have lived in a world of theory. But theory has had less and less impact on the direction of our culture, and some academics are wondering if a new direction is called for. So recently, an intellectual "town hall" was convened in Chicago to talk things over. "Has theory forsaken 'sociopolitical engagement' for a 'therapeutic turn' to ethics and the care of the psyche? Should humanists devote themselves to securing 'some space for the aesthetic in the face of the overwhelming forces of mass culture and entertainment'? Have the Internet and biotechnology rendered both human nature and printed dissertations obsolete?" Boston Globe 04/20/03

Saturday, April 19, 2003

The Power Of (War) Art War is awful of course. But "war can produce gorgeous images and striking effects that furnish the raw material for sublime works of art. To anyone who has experienced war's ravages firsthand, that idea may sound naive, grotesque, even absurd. Yet over centuries of human brutality, the aesthetic has seldom been at odds with the horrific..." Los Angeles Times 04/20/03

Friday, April 18, 2003

The Inevitable Tragedy of Urban Memory Lapse It happens in every city, particularly in North America: things disappear. They become other things, or sometimes they become nothing. But they disappear, either because no one wanted them, or they were dated, or dilapidated, or just plain ugly. Eventually, you walk past something that was once something else, and you can't even remember what it used to be. And that moment, says Geoff Pevere, is one of the saddest aspects of modern urban existence. Toronto Star 04/18/03

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Email Patterns Show Who Counts In A Group Turns out you can tell who's important in a group of people by tracking the email traffic within the group. "Researchers have developed a way to use e-mail exchanges to build a map of the structure of an organization. The map shows the teams in which people actually work, as opposed to those they are assigned to. The technique can also reveal who is at the heart of each sub-group. These people often correspond with company-designated leaders such as project managers. But unofficial de facto leaders can also emerge. The approach might even help to pinpoint the heads of criminal or terrorist networks." Nature 03/20/03

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

What's In A Voice? Why do those radio announcers with melodious vocal timbre so often turn out to be singularly unattractive when you meet them in person? "While there is a clear connection among age and sex and the pitch of a person's voice, there's no connection between pitch of voice and height, weight or any other dimension of an individual's size... However, there are 'telltale' signs of body size in the 'shape' or resonance of the voice." A university study is examining the connections. Calgary Herald 04/16/03

Monday, April 14, 2003

Moby Bush? Jason Epstein equates Moby Dick to the current Bush Administration. "Melville's great novel is prophetic even if the resemblance of the Pequod to George Bush's White House is imperfect. Though Ahab's missing leg and the destroyed Twin Towers are symbolically comparable losses, as is Dick Cheney's lost opportunity to kill Saddam Hussein in 1991, Iraq will not crush and sink the United States as the whale crushed and sank the Pequod. Nor is George W. Bush a grizzled monomaniac whose mere glance strikes terror, but the callow instrument of neoconservative ideologues, obsessed since the end of the cold war with missionary zeal to Americanize the world, as previous empires had once hoped with no less zeal to Romanize, Christianize, Islamicize, Anglicize, Napoleonize, Germanize, and communize it." New York Review of Books 05/01/03

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Echoes Of Other Language "Is there such a phenomenon in poetry as a 'shadow language,' that is, a concealed or tacit foreign language which exerts a strong and sometimes fruitful pressure on the native tongue of a poet? In one sense, of course, the answer is an obvious yes. Much of traditional English poetry would have been the poorer without the pressure of, say, Latin or French." The New Criterion 04/03

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Science And Our Growing Illiteracy Arguably, science has never been more important in our lives. "Science offers a way of finding out about, and changing, the world around you. As such, it is increasingly central to all our lives. It touches everything that we hold dear, from communication, to nutrition, to reproduction - and now promises to take us into a strange world of cyberspace, biotechnology and nanoscience. The pride and scorn for science, that saw most people through the 20th-century, is now giving way to fear. Why the change? Jargon and methodology, more than ever, are raising the wall between the cognoscenti and Everyone Else." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/03

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Battle For The Soul Of American Science Traditional science is under attack in the US. "A new climate has emerged under the Bush administration: one driven partly by close relationships with big business, but just as much by a fiercely moral approach to the business of science." Instead of attacking theories like evolution in favor of creationism, critics propose alternative "scientific" ideas like "intelligent design." "The approach is not exclusively religious, nor exclusively rightwing, but is spreading worry as never before through the nation's laboratories and lecture halls. These aren't the old wars of science versus religion. The new assaults on the conventional wisdom frame themselves, without exception, as scientific theories, no less deserving of a hearing than any other." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/03

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Has Conceptualism Hit A Dead End? Battles over the legitimacy of conceptual art occupied a good part of the 20th Century. In the 21st Century those concluding that art has taken a wrong turn with conceptualism are a growing chorus. "The world of fine art now appears exclusively concerned with semiotics, ?the crisis in representation? and other academic matters. Visiting a gallery in the hope of being made to stare in wonder is, according to the prevailing critical theory, 'sentimental' and 'naïve'. Beauty, it would seem, is merely something to be analysed in a cloud of righteous deconstruction. However, the rapidity with which conceptual art evaporates from our consciousness undermines such grandiose pretensions. Once the tribal rituals of endorsement or derision have passed, the oeuvres of our more prominent artists actually evoke very little sense of meaning or avant-garde unease." Eye: the International Review of Graphic Design 04/03

Education - Ticket To Nerd-dom Some communities in America have great distrust of "mindwork." "There was lots of room for people who wanted to learn to become mechanics or electricians, for those were tangible, practical jobs that existed in the world. Mind work, beyond figuring the price of cotton or how to pay bills or the technicalities of being mechanics or electricians, was troubling, not well understood, and generally to be feared. There was a strange inconsistency in that persons educated out of practical usefulness still served as a source of pride to their families. Folks could respect you, for example, for earning a doctoral degree and could exclaim loudly to neighbors about your success; they just had little practical use for you and many times didn't know what to do with you. To become thus educated is to become a nerd, and black nerds are strange creatures indeed." Chronicle of Higher Education 04/07/03

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Stupidity As Science Did you know that: crosswalks increase pedestrian accidents, many tanning lotions contain carcinogens, computers vastly increase the consumption of paper, and that better hygiene creates susceptibility to bacteria? A new book catalogs stupidity and the detriments of ideas that were supposed to help. The Independent 04/06/03

Only 200 US Colleges Reject More Students Than They Accept "In the ongoing debate about affirmative action, with the Supreme Court expecting to decide a case involving admissions procedures at the University of Michigan, the term meritocracy is a canard. American education is not meritocratic, and it never has been. Merit, defined as quantifiable aptitude and achievement, is just one of the variables that decide educational outcomes. Success in college admissions, as in almost every sphere of life, is a function of some combination of ability, connections, persistence, wealth, and special markers?that is, attributes valued for the difference they make to the mix. There are more than two thousand four-year colleges in the United States. Only about two hundred reject more students than they accept. The vast majority of American colleges accept eighty per cent or more of those who apply." The New Yorker 04/07/03

"War Porno" And The Voyeurization Of America The constant barrage of exciting video, exploding tank columns, belligerant journalists who make themselves the story, and endless nationalistic jingoism from the American media have congealed into a phenomenon best described as "war porno," says Joanne Ostrow. "Here we are in the middle of Act 2, just past the rescue of Jessica Lynch as a riveting subplot, awaiting the promised climactic act break in which we monitor the siege of Baghdad around the clock. We are at our posts, remotes in hand. You can tell you're a glutton for war porno when you arrange your day around Pentagon briefings to track Donald Rumsfeld's crankiness." Denver Post 04/04/03

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Learning To Love Literature - Are Today's Students More Sophisticated? Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, recently attacked the way English is taught in schools. He attacked the "educational rat wheel" that taught young people to read set texts and pass exams, but did not teach them to love literature, and gave a list of classics his students did not know. But maybe instead of leaning great literature by rote, today's students are better, not less, equipped to read. Perhaps "it is unrealistic to expect A-level students to have read great swaths of English literature." Maybe "schools can only give them their bearings and an ability to read the compass if they want to make the journey later. It's making it accessible and saying 'you have got the skills to go away and read anything - and you will cope with it, you will make sense of it, you will enjoy it'." The Guardian (UK) 04/01/03

Art As Therapy "In contemporary culture, the idea that the practice of art making is inherently beneficial to the human psyche is a surprisingly controversial one. It is only slightly less verboten in the mental-health professions, where it is grudgingly accorded a support role to more serious verbal or pharmaceutical therapies, with the caveat that if things get too touchy-feely, it's back to kindergarten with the finger paints and the modeling clay. Nevertheless, due to its repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness, art therapy has managed to adapt itself to every corner of the mental-health profession." LAWeekly 04/03/03

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Can Tragedy Live In Today's World? There was a time when tragedy meant something. Now it describes missteps of the most trivial nature. On the other hand - have critics elevated notions of classic tragedy too high? "It is the critics who have disdained modern life's suitability for the tragic mode, and have made an aesthetic virtue out of suffering in the past, persuading themselves that what was horrible then can be metaphysically pleasing now and that present-day suffering is undignified and uninteresting. Past pain is thus sanitised while that of the present is dismissed as beneath attention - a useful strategy for those who have lived through the bloodiest century in human history and would prefer not to look at it too closely." The Guardian (UK) 04/01/03

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

From Apolitical To Artistic Activism "For the past decade, the New York art world seemed to have retreated into an exceptionally apolitical version of postmodernism, convinced by a combination of theory and action movies that a digitally enhanced future would favor spectacle over reality. Now, with the advent of an all-too-real war presented as mere spectacle by television, artists are suddenly faced with the very surrealistic task of making reality real. So it's not surprising to see—both in works on view at galleries and in the strategies of the burgeoning anti-war activists — a reprisal of the imagery and the sincerity of earlier periods of art history." Village Voice 04/01/03

A Marketplace of Reputation Of what are artistic fortunes made? Why do some artists' reputations move up, while others fall? "Beethoven has definitely slumped as Mozart has soared. Is this because we prefer humane elegance to transcendental striving - or is the potent myth-making of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus to blame? When I was a student 25 years ago, E M Forster was considered among the most profound and influential of 20th-century novelists. Now that homosexuality is no longer much of a battleground, his liberal humanism holds little appeal, and we have become mesmerised by the more aggressive complexities of Kipling instead." The Telegraph (UK) 04/02/03

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