Friday, July 14, 2006

Sports writing for the 21st century

Great sportswriting is a genuine rarity these days, as every joker with a dialup connection and an opinion is offered the chance to become an expert. And while I frequent for information (looking for trades that won't happen and news on the teams I follow, and often instead finding the 30 billionth article written this week on Barry Bonds), the writing is generally subpar.

So when one finds respite from the generally neandearthal analyses, and stumbles upon a couple of gents who

1) know of what they speak,
2) write about it really, really well,
3) apply a generous dose of humor in their tropes, and
4) they happen to support the team you root for...

well, it makes one happy, that's all. And I can tick off all four qualifiers for the two who pen the sophomorically-monikered 47 Million Dollar BJ (hence named for best closer in the bigs BJ Ryan, signed by Toronto for a king's ransom this offseason -- and worth every looney).

What the 47MDBJ does really well is, it encapsulates what I'd call the two most important characteristics of baseball: a wild fascination with statistics (recently attempting to account for "behemoth" Troy Glaus' inexplicable stolen bases), and a nature conducive to storytelling and narrative that has kept this sport alive for over a century. What this game is about, always about, is stories -- every stat has a history and every player has a backstory (former Jays' hurler Cory Lidle's fear of SARS a few years back is also thrown into the most recent entry). ESPN doesn't do this well -- the stats become parodies of themselves, where a batter's slugging percentage in domes on August weeknights is actually supposed to reflect something, when it doesn't. It tells no story.

Kudos to the 47MDBJ for reinventing the genre for a team that doesn't get much pub in the division of Yankees vs. Red Sox. Sadly, they only blog accounts of games they attend. Somebody get these people some season tickets.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Your Remix in the Bush of Ghosts

I'm familiar with a few past attempts at offering source materials and individual tracks on the web for multi-user remixes, but I've never before seen this type of offer made for a seminal record. Usually it's part of a hype strategy for a new release, not one that has already influenced thousands of musicians and can be cited as one of the original "cut-up" albums. Labels do this to generate interest in music that might need all the help it can get, like the new Nine Inch Nails record.

Heroes/producers Brian Eno and David Byrne have changed all this by offering original tracks (in uncompressed .wav format [!] and cheesy .mp3) of two cuts from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts ["A Secret Life" and "Help Me Somebody"]. This is to coincide with the expanded re-issue of the record, 25 years after its initial release.

I'm a little slow on the uptake on this one (the offer's been standing for a month or two, now, and I just finally got to the site) but I'm looking forward to the fun.

I'll kill myself if Portugal doesn't win

It's World Cup time, and none too soon. Baseball is nearing the end of the tiresome, pitching-starved middle quarter, hockey has lost all its charm with the Sabres' exit and the gift-wrapping of Lord Stanley's cup for Carolina, and basketballzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Federer got served by Rafa in the French, tempering slightly the incessant talk about history and Federer's place among the all-time greats. What better time for the world's most popular tournament to arrive to bring us together in competition-slash-ass-whupping-that-will-likely-make-your-average-American-tune-out?

Jokes aside, it's finally dawned on me how good the Cup is, a showcase for a sport that's accessible to just about all the world (not just the portion that can afford the best equipment/training/beer commercials), and a real opportunity to explore the meaning of playing for nation. For all the jingoism in the post-9/11 U.S. media environment, this is a concept that doesn't really mean anything to most of today's Americans. We are regional creatures when it comes to our sports, and if we talk about anything national it's only to discuss what outcomes will play best in major-media markets but ignoring any consensus bonds, perhaps because we have so few - a discussion thoroughly covered in the political realm. Even the Olympics, our favorite opportunity to rally around the nation's athletes, mean less than they used to here. I'd attribute this partially to the loosening understanding of what passes for sport in this country. Poker players consider themselves athletes. Mountain-climbing is not a personal activity/hobby but an 'extreme sport.' Our nation probably leads the world in the invention of sports, because when we tire of one we can trade it for another. In such a highly fractured region of society, the greater bonds of national sport (and in particular a rather ancient sport) function as just one of many options rather than an occasion for national kinship, hysteria, fandom, and pride.

The other thing is we're just not anywhere near the greatest at this particular sport. In much the same way that everybody loves a winner, everybody pretty much ignores a loser, unless the losing is of epic proportions. In the history of the Cup, Americans have pretty much been losers. They have access to some of the best training and standards of living of any nation in the competition -- but lack the passion.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world delights. Netherlands tries to erase a past filled with unfulfilled promise. Germany tries to win it at home. Racial problems do exist and can't be swept under the rug. The Czechs kicked our behinds. Will Africa send a team (or two) to the second round? Is Brazil just too damned good?

It's all too fun to ignore, even for an American.

more terror problematic

According to the New York Times, the recently (and thankfully) deceased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was able to -- you guessed it -- use Iraq as a breeding/training ground for terrorists. All the talk of fighting them abroad kind of becomes moot if, in so doing, we sow seeds that will shift the fight not just to our own turf, but to that of any allies we may wish to be making/keeping in this fight.

About the only thing that sucks more than being right is being part of a minority opinion that's right, or of a majority that doesn't care enough to effect change in leadership.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

SSM goes public + update

By all accounts, the CHANNELS exhibition, part of the Media Space|Public Space project at the New School, was a success. Our opening brought in a good number of visitors, Friday's SONIC CHANNELS show attracted over 60 people, and I am guessing a few hundred people were able to experience the F-Train edition of the Sonic Subway Map for the first time.

Nothing was perfect. I found that kids can be the best testers of an installation (or anything, really) by virtue of the fact that they just don't follow the rules. So, one gets an idea of what can go wrong when one mashes a keypad, or pushes a button on a mouse that the designer never uses, but a user might. All quickly remedied problems. The design of a system-specific touch interface for the next time out will be helpful.

For now, I take a deep breath (and break) with it as I begin to seek out funding and other spaces to show it in.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Red signals ahead

Being locked in a 30 footlong metal box with 40-50 other people has a way of bringing out the worst in human beings. We begin to want to lash out at anyone and anything. In the hour and a half taken to go roughly 5 miles, the woman playing Ms. Pac-Man on some portable electronic device with the volume on 11 becomes less a mere nuisance and more of an evil soul worthy of all the hate one can muster. Her husband screaming at the gentleman who can't take it anymore becomes, well, frightening. There's enough rage going round to make the lights flicker, heads banging the walls to the point where they shake. The ugly feeling that anything could happen -- that people might follow one another off the train and come to blows -- takes a moment to subside before cooler heads prevail and the anger recedes back into the more tepid usual response of rolling eyes.

The frustration of being slave to public transit has hit me twice this week, and I've realized it's in part because the MTA is so poor at communicating. When a message is shared, it's over speakers that sound something akin to Edison's first phonograph. Most of the time, there just is no message. It's left to the rider to figure out after an hour that, no, there are no trains coming.

Or, there's a message but it's meaningless. The phrase "we have a red signal ahead" doesn't really tell me anything. Is it because your signals are screwed up? Is it because there are problems on down the tracks? Should I get a cab? Does "momentarily" really mean 90 minutes? Could you tell me if it will take less time to swim the East River, shower, wash my clothes and then head home than to take this train four stops? If so, could there be some signage indicating this so I can take another train before it's too late, or book a hovercraft rental? In this age of endless information saturation and availability, the MTA's reliance on redundant, meaningless messages and cryptic explanations wear thin, to say the least.

I'm a strong proponent of public transportation, particularly when it is not powered by fossil fuels. All the same, a little reliability goes a long way and the New York City transit system pushes it often.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

this is what i saw. this is what i saw.

the sky was pink-lavender tonight
like I'd never seen.

faint traces of yesterday's billowing black
yielding to Orwell/Barbie monochrome
like I'd never seen.

for a short instant:

a rainbow pouring out of an
(1BR [only] $500K)
making promises of a future
at the

for somebody.

far away [but not really] over the cement-lot ballgame
ruins chain-smoking themselves to


ready to yield to the phoenix of luxury
soon to rise from the ashes

I'm breathing this in.
I'm taking it all in.

the neighbors are back,
collecting their belongings.

the across-the-street windows are no longer glowing
no one is screaming.

they are just taking it all in.
they are just breathing it all in.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Commonwealth Blues

Thursday, March 02, 2006

caught in the webbing

So after a few years of not having a web presence, I've made the crucial step of purchasing my own space at It doesn't look like much yet, because design is still in the process. But I can promise that when it's done, it'll have a pretty decent survey of what I've done, a CV and the integration of ongoing projects.

I'm hoping that Tom from 1000 Year Plan, who also happens to be a pretty good friend, can help me make my web presence a big next step. He's already designed my Sonic Subway Map page / proposal for the Media Space|Public Space event. With any luck the jury will see his work as highlighting the best of my work and this thing gets an audience.

I'm not certain what direction this blog will take as my already strained web energies get diverted into the company page. Perhaps it will be more vertically integrated into that context and leave Blogger. We'll see. For now, I'm excited.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Unfaithfulness to blog = productivity

As usual, I'm hitting one of those deadlines and having fun doing it. This time, it's a score for Jeff Cioletti's Galaxy's End: Revenge of the Myth, a documentary mostly about Star Wars nerds aficionados and just what they're going to do with their lives now that there's nothing to live for. As with most of these kinds of projects, the creative spark has taken a while to hit. Now it's just coming along effortlessly.

Other projects and plans are on the horizon. Having the studio set up semi-permanently at home has proven to be a real boon for work. I've really been focusing on the design for the VIA Metro project, which is going to be absolutely fantastic. New School work continues, though a real drought with regard to my thesis needs to be quenched, and soon, if I am to have a proposal in to begin work for the fall.

Hearkening back to this humble blog's beginnings, I'm having the MAX/MSP Sonic Subway Map entered for consideration for the Media Space|Public Space exhibition. My good friend Tom Yagielski is designing a site that will showcase the project's strengths and downplay its weaknesses. That proposal is due on March 3, so as usual I'm running down to the wire.

Long term project planning includes a new band with some good friends (who happen to be fantastic musicians), and, finally, a website for Mt. Rainier Audio to establish a real presence "out there" for my work.

Speaking of work, best to return to it...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When I get to Cairo...

My father called me this past fall and told me that I really needed to listen to some old blues recordings for inspiration, and I replied in such a way that it was pretty dismissive: "Oh yeah, I know a lot of that stuff." And I knew a fair amount. But I've taken it upon myself to learn a whole lot more lately.

In the past few years, Mississippi Fred McDowell has become one of my favorites. His guitar styling can become monotonous for one who just sort of has his music "on," instead of really focusing on it. Closer listens reveal a man shredding his guitar in his living room for the sheer thrill of it -- a bottleneck about to bust through the strings. There are family murmurings in the background, and the recording I have (a self-titled record from 1962 out on Rounder records) documents a day probably pretty similar to most days that McDowell played "out." By "out," I mean at weekend barbecues and little one-offs, as a semi-pro who never saw a limelight he absolutely deserved. Then again, there's that sheer thrill that makes one wonder whether the limelight was of any consequence for this musician. He toiled, or perhaps found joy, in obscurity for the 20s, 30s, 40s, and finally in the 50s people started noticing. I'd love to read a book on him. Or write one.

My dad was a little more persistent in bringing up the subject of "old blues" a couple of months later. I could tell that what he wanted was for me to put together a collection of recordings for him. I've long known there were a lot of other artists out there like McDowell, artists who preceded him, who did things differently, who were infinitely stranger, simpler, more and less talented, more and less documented. So as a gift to my dad I started collecting some of these recordings and relevant information on them. It's been a great journey and a real education, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of the documentation with my dad after having already given him the music.

Through this process I've had the pleasure of coming across tunes like Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues." It was easy work for me, given that John Fahey actually spent the time tracking down this recording and others like it for his American Primitive II collection (just released posthumously). It's a G-flat major tune that features a guitar line that sort of spirals up and down and then hits on a Major-major B7 chord off the beat. Primitive is the last word I'd use to describe it. The guitar, both alone and in its support of Spaulding's aching falsetto, evokes a time when "the blues" might have held meaning. By "meaning" I don't propose "that time when music was raw" or "authentic," though many have argued it before. What I mean is something in the vein of "feeling like crying your eyes out," which, for as good a musician as he was, Stevie Ray Vaughan has never made me want to do.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

MtR this week

Recording Idatel from Ithaca this weekend. Whiskey and accordions for all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Note to self:

1) Tune piano
2) Write more music
3) Play all instruments more

A MAX blog no more...

... just a regular old one. I may discuss MAX matters from time-to-time but I won't be relying on it exclusively for material...

...which should be kind of strange for me, considering I haven't done any of my own web publishing in ages, dating back to those days in high school with my own website (woohoo) and bbs messages when I was terribly self-centered and naive, and felt that what I had to say was [u]really important[/u]. Now I am just working at trying to make statements of importance or impact. A little less self-righteous, a lot more acknowledging of my own personal journey -- not a journey that screams "look at me," but rather, "check this out if you'd like and let's see if we can figure something out together."

I suppose that's partially why I've never been much of a businessman. I lack killer instinct or intense belief in self that accompanies such a profession. Rather, I just enjoy creating and sharing and hopefully this blog will be part of that cathartic process.