»  Ten for Grandpa

If only all shorts were as well directed, captivating and sublime as this one! Loved it.

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»  Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)Two days of listening to Bon Iver (the new album) by Justin Vernon’s synonymous band. Part of me admires this guy for evolving, for moving on and not capitalising on what he achieved with ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ three years ago. Yet another part of me is sad; all that made “For Emma” the jewel it is, is all but gone from this album: the emotion, the pain, the pure, unadulterated sound and simplicity of Vernon’s voice + his acoustic guitar. Without arrangements, without electronics and fx*, without guest musicians or overengineered sonic landscapes. That’s where ‘Bon Iver’ is different to its predecessor and so much like other contemporary indie/folk albums: there may be some glimpses, sporadic moments of brilliance that reminded me why I liked the band in the first place, but as a whole it’s an average album. But then again, it is clear to me that ‘For Emma’ was the exception, not only because of how it was produced (the product of a three month seclusion at a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin), but also because of the ripple it created exactly because it was so authentic yet so different to everything else that made it stand out. In that respect ‘Bon Iver’ is nowhere near ‘For Emma’ territory, but still an album that showcases Vernon’s songwriting ability and unique voice.

* Ok, there is some autotune in use in For Emma..But it really doesn’t detract from the statement above.

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»  Brett Garsed – Dark Matter (2011)

Brett Garsed - Dark MatterIt’s nine years since Brett Garsed’s last solo album, Big Sky. And while his output has more or less declined in volume this past decade, his latest album, Dark Matter is a great example of contemporary Rock Fusion, along the lines of Big Sky as well as many of his numerous appearances and collaborations.

Although I only got the album a few hours ago, I have found it to be particularly interesting in that it literally ‘fuses’ (pun intended!) several familiar — at least to me — related styles: Vintage Satch, Liquid Tension Experiment, touches of Holdsworth, Fripp, Metheny and Shawn Lane.

The tracks are more upbeat and energetic than those found in Big Sky; jazzier at times, heavier in others, with a distinct bent on fusion. I particularly enjoyed Avoid the Void, Dark Matter and Enigma, although I cannot say that any of the other tracks were disappointing.

Dark Matter may be an interesting album, yet it is somewhat typical of the genre, which has been largely stagnant for years. It may lack the exceptional feel one finds at times in Big Sky — there are no tracks like Trinity or Drowning, for example — but includes many tracks with more uplifting, polished and — I might argue — technical deliveries of interesting compositions and improvisations that lean heavily on Garsed’s signature technique and sound.

For those enjoying rock fusion, progressive rock and virtuoso guitar instrumentals this is definitely an album worth getting and listening to. Those more familiar with Garsed’s competence and compositional skills (and more demanding of their music) may have expected a bit more.

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2011.07.04

Collaborative. Digital. Action!

In 2008 Canon released the EOS 5D Mark II. This was the successor to the synonymous (Mark I) camera that made full-frame DSLRs accessible to people unwilling to spend a small fortune to get one — the EOS 1Ds usually costs around $8,000 when a new revision of it is released.

But it was also the beginning of a revolution that went well beyond still photography, redefining an ‘art’ that was, until then, totally barred to mere mortals; a revolution in cinematography. 5D Mark II, and a year later 7D, featured HD video recording capabilities with quality that rivalled that of high-end professional digital camcorders. Canon had a winner in their hands, even though, by their own admission, they never meant to create a tool for cinematographers, but allow photojournalists to take short videos. Many of the limitations of the 5D Mark II were removed by community firmware, such as Magic Lantern and Canon itself paid some more attention to later versions of the official firmware as well as the 7D.

An increasing number of (largely independent) cinematographers choose DSLRs to shoot shorts or complement the production of features. They’ve got the flexibility, the lenses, the features and the quality. Sure, there are still missing features and you wouldn’t expect a 5D Mark II to replace RED or the higher-end cameras out there, but for stuff that remain within the limits of HD they’ll do just fine — with superb results. The increased power of software in post (for syncing, grading, etc.) largely negates them.

The HDSLR (a misnomer that has somehow prevailed since 5D Mark II appeared in 2008) revolution is a bottom-up phenomenon; Canon never intended or expected it to happen. But the company is not standing idly by. In 2010 they commissioned a collaborative film contest titled ‘The Story Beyond the Still’, whereby different people collaborated by filming/producing a single chapter in a six chapter story. The winners were picked by a commercial Los Angeles-based director, Vincent Laforet, the film was edited and the final cut appeared in the famous Sundance Film Festival (and, of course, Vimeo) in January 2011. You can watch the final, complete film here (or below); despite the fact that the characters are played by different actors in each chapter, that they were completely shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D cameras, despite the fact that this is not a high-budget production, that it is the result of a collaborating community and not the work or vision of a single person, makes it — at least in my eyes — a unique achievement.

But it is much more than that; it is a prime example of how technology is making moviemaking accessible to a much larger number of people. We live at a time where anyone can cheaply create professionally looking films on a shoestring budget, distribute them for free on a website like Vimeo. Films that are artistic expressions in the truest sense, totally unrelated to the laws of the market, totally untouched by commercial concerns of profit, censorship or the star system. Films that compete on those classic values that made early cinema so intriguing, rather than the annoying techdemo exhibitions that define modern Hollywood.

Beyond The Still is not such a film. It is by no means a masterpiece, it doesn’t try to be and it probably couldn’t ever be one. It is, however, a fantastic example of what is possible with modern, accessible technology, love for film making and a collaborative spirit. It is proof that in 2011 independent film makers have little to be jealous of their commercial counterpartsm especially when it comes to the most fundamental aspects of film making: cameras, editing and distribution. I, for one, am looking forward to a world with more independent films, of higher production quality and fewer ‘stars’. Vimeo, and apparently Canon, seem to agree — even if their immediate goal fully remains within the realm of profitability.

You can watch the 38 minute film below.

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»  Unbiased.

Recent developments on physically accurate, unbiased raytracers — and more to the point, GPU powered raytracers that provide near real-time, interactive manipulation of fully textured and shaded models and environment — promise an unmatched workflow that makes the creation of super-realistic images and animations very easy. I won’t write much about the technologies behind them, but I think the video below is a great example of some of the things that become possible for a single person using commodity technology and hardware — in this case Blender and Octane Render (one such raytracer), especially given how much of the lighting setup and performance trickery, that would otherwise be absolutely necessary, are ‘handled for free’ by the renderer.

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» Back to the future.

I’m lost for words. This is unbelievably cool: recreating the same photographs, with the same people, twenty+ years later. Check it out.

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2011.03.16

Projection Mapping!

Last year was arguably the year that made Projection Mapping known to the ‘masses’. Ok, not the masses, but quite a lot of people. This is a technique whereby projectors are positioned in front of existing physical objects whose 3d form has been mapped in software, allowing the projected ‘video’ (graphics) sequences to make use of it to create unbelievably cool effects. The end-result is a blurring of real and projected, an unbelievable sight, similar to that of seeing a hologram for the first time =)

The ‘effect’ has been part of artists and advertisers (luckily people of exceptional skill and æsthetics — something quite rare) and it has livened up what has traditionally be works of arguable value. I’d normally say here that I hope this will stay within the realm of competent, æsthetically coherent people, but I’m sure that hip ‘video artists’ that are content with repeatedly playing back short sequences of video or projecting triangle meshes on screens as well as moronic advertisers will find out sooner rather than later and make projection mapping the tool for unprecedented kitsch experiences. You still have time to watch some impressive examples of the technique below.


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2011.03.04

Inside Job (2010)

The Inside Job (2010)The Inside Job is a documentary like few of its contemporaries: mainstream and accessible enough to win an Academy Award, yet sharp, piercing and well-researched enough to actually convince even the most sceptical among the viewers. This is a film narrated by an A-list hollywood star, Matt Damon, that dares to shred the current global economic system to pieces, along with the financial organisations that comprise it. A film that presents — in (perhaps over)simplified, digestible fashion — all those aspects of the financial crisis of 2008 that torment and dehumanise billions of people globally; that exposes the incomprehensible greed of those in the U.S. financial sector, the history behind financial deregulation from the 1980s onwards, the excesses, the abuse and the corruption that remains to this date unchallenged by the political powers, in the States and elsewhere, despite the damage the the system (not the crisis itself) has caused to both U.S. and European countries.

A matter of reputation

What really stuck in my mind after watching Inside Job, is how — throughout the film — the importance of credit rating organisations is highlighted and showcased in several occasions; organisations like Finch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s that provide ratings for anything ranging from corporations, bonds and sovereign states. Corporations that gave AAA ratings to CDOs based on subprime mortgages, allowing them to be bought by large institutional investors with strict requirements with regards to their portfolio contents. Corporations that had a determining role in the ‘creation’ of one of the greatest global financial crises of the past century and that continue to do so, through collusion with large financial organisations and as seen through their effects in the recent — partly unfounded — rating downgrades of various european states based on their national debt.

Surprisingly, those organisations were not affected by the crisis, despite their role and their position in the market. When asked, they all stated that their ratings only reflect their ‘opinion’, somehow deflecting the real issue — their de facto institutional part in a system of ‘free market’ that is largely guided by them. Despite their monumental failing, their antisocial, anti-investor, borderline illegal masking of the true value of subprime based CDOs in the mid 2000s and up until the 2008 crisis, those organisations continue to provide ratings as if they have a perfect reputation. I cannot imaging any other profession or industry when a person or corporation has consistently failed so bad at their core function and have remained in business, let alone maintained a dominant position that largely determines the actions of the largest institutional investors and with them the market.

For someone without intricate knowledge of economics and the way the financial sector in the U.S. works, Inside Job is worth watching even if it were only for the interviews and the simplified explanations of the crisis — which occasionally border on oversimplification. It serves as an eye opener that showcases how little has changed since the 2008 crisis, how consistent the actions of recent U.S. presidents (including Obama’s) have been with regards to turning a blind eye (or even supporting) Wall Street’s reckless course for profit, how the system is still as fragile, dangerous and completely inadequate, run by the same people and organisations that caused the 2008 crisis and (un)regulated in the same way. If anything Inside Job is approachable and basically sound, which is more than one can say for most other works out there that often border on sentimentalist, populist drivel similar to Moore’s works or high-brow academic works that alienate the intellectually-challenged.

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