Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Rest Of Us" by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld

I came across this spellbinding video the other day...I had seen Colin Stetson perform with Laurie Anderson a few years ago, but had not known of him as a solo artist. And I had not heard the work of violinist Sarah Neufeld. But what a wicked conflagration they make together!

Stetson plays the bass saxophone--well, play is not quite the right word. He wrangles it, he coerces it, he masticates it. Using the mindboggling technique of circular breathing, he is able to produce sounds, some melodious, but also use key clicks as layers of percussion. All the sounds heard in this video for the instrumental song "The Rest Of Us" were created by Stetson and Neufeld without using any delays or loops. The sound heard is the actual sound produced in the studio. And the piece is one of restrained savagery...it is all rhythm, repetition, and flying notes. The visuals are remarkable as well, possessing the visual clarity and oblique narrative of a Matthew Barney film. Let your imagination weave together the three different threads...

The song is from their most recent collaboration "Never Were The Way She Was."


Monday, May 25, 2015

Just watched...

...the debut film from director and writer Alex Garland, 2015's "Ex_Machina."

Alex Garland, novelist (THE BEACH), screenwriter ("28 Days Later" and "Sunshine"), and now director dreamed up this engaging science fiction story about the inevitable coming of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. It is told with a sparse cast of four in a single setting but it sure packs a wallop.

Surely by now, we are all used to the idea of Artificial Intelligence. It has occupied a place in pop culture films for quite some time with Hal 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Blade Runner" to Sky Net from "The Terminator" films to the stunningly brilliant "A.I." by Spielberg to "I, Robot" with Will Smith to name only a few. The idea is that we as a species will eventually create a computer or software, or wetware as it is referred to here in "Ex_Machina" that will not only act and interact with us exactly as a human being would, but will be able to act volitionally...that is to think and feel for itself as well. Ultimately this would mean that the AI would develop beyond its programming as a machine and synthesize original thoughts, ideas, emotions, and actions--it would be sentient.

This film takes this as a given and does not concern itself with the hows and technicalities of AI although we do get some pretty convincing laboratory shots and schematics for the actual robot. No, the film concerns itself with the ethical, moral, emotional, and psychological aspects of the existence of AI. Surely thoughts give rise to feelings. Feelings give rise to thoughts. And feelings, even for us humans, can be both enriching and destructive.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for the biggest search engine in the world called Bluebook (a stand-in for Google). Nathan is the creator of the algorithm Bluebook runs on and CEO of the company. Nathan (Oscar Issac) has invited Caleb to his isolated retreat in Alaska to perform the Turing Test on an AI robot Nathan has created. The Turing Test (named after genius mathematician and cracker of the World War II Enigma Code, Alan Turing) is an assessment of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. When Caleb encounters the robot for the first time, he is met by Ava (Alicia Vikander), a humanoid form made of carbon mesh over hardware and wetware but with startlingly lifelike feet, hands, and face.

Part science fiction and part psychological thriller, "Ex_Machina" explores a tight, tense, uncomfortable, claustrophobic scenario. The special effects are just jaw-dropping. Ava is beautifully designed and rendered in a spectacularly flawless way which is all the more amazing considering that the effect was achieved without green screen or motion capture technologies. Everything was created in post-production. The small ensemble cast delivers flawless performances as well...subtle and pitch perfect characters from each actor. But the dilemma comes from the idea that, once AI arrives, and in this case, in the form of a human being, how do we treat them, what do we do to and with them?

If an AI is indistinguishable from a biological human being, how can we say that is still "just" a machine? If it tells us that it think and feels and has emotions, who are we to say--and how dare we say--it does not? How do YOU prove that you have thoughts and feelings? You tell me you do, and I believe you because you act like me. By the same token, how would an AI "prove" such a thing? Is there a difference between identically replicating sentiency and actual sentiency? And if there is, how do we tell? Emotions have positive and negative poles and creating an AI that can feel love means it will naturally be able to feel hatred. If it feels admiration it will naturally be able to feel jealousy. The film leads us--or at least me--to wonder what the point is of making something that looks, thinks, behaves, and feels like a human being if it is only going to be treated like a vacuum cleaner or a laptop..."just" a machine. And ultimately, how one treats a humanoid AI really will have nothing to do with the AI itself but will actually be a kind of "Turing test" for us, testing our very humanity. The film ends up in a very dark place that was quite disturbing to me, just as Garland hoped, I am sure.

Recommend? An enthusiastic yes for the concept, acting, special effects, cinematography, and art direction. A yes with reservations for the emotional fallout. I was and still am fairly burdened by the implications of the story and behavior of characters in the film.


BEAUTY: Painting--Joël Penkman

Oh, how I love donuts. Joël Penkman's Cakes & Biscuits series portrays in a romanticized realist style, delicious cakes, donuts, sweets, and cookies.

Top to bottom: Biscuits In A Line; Dougnut Dozen; Fondant Fancy; Jam Tarts; Krispy Kreme Dozen; Pair of Wafers; Party Ring


Sunday, May 24, 2015

BEAUTY: Clothing--Scarves

It is the end of May but here in Northern California, we are still having some cool, grey days and quite chilly nights (well, the nights are usually chilly so nothing new there, but the days...that is a different story). I usually bust out my linen shorts around this time of year, but I find myself still wearing things to keep me a little warmer, and nothing beats a scarf. I am a huge fan of this wonderful accessory and have two storage bins of them in my closet. But a few of the scarves in this post look to be made of lighter cotton and could be a summer scarf as well (I have several thinner cotton scarves that do well in warmer weather!). Take a look at what a scarf can do, no matter what the season!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

We're all Irish today!


Aidan Crawley/European Pressphoto Agency

In the name of equality, fairness, decency, dignity, and humanism, Ireland has become the first country IN THE WORLD to legally recognize, by referendum, the marriages of gay men and women.

Hope this is a big shout out to the Supreme Court here in the States. They can still eff it up, but you have just shown them how it is done. THANK YOU IRELAND!

Just RE-watched...

...one of the most classic film noirs of all time, "Double Indemnity" with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

I saw this legendary piece of cinema when I was in film school in college, many, many...many years ago, and while it may take place in a time where there were no cell phones and no internet, it still deals with issues that are timeless like love, lust, jealousy, betrayal, and hatred. This film and perhaps "The Big Sleep" and "The Maltese Falcon" are considered the quintessential film noirs.

Walter Neff played by Fred MacMurray (looking surprisingly handsome and sexy for those who are old enough to remember him as the kindly middle-aged father from the television show "My Three Sons") is an insurance agent who falls for Phyllis Dietrichson played by Barbara Stanwyck. The only thing standing in the way is Dietrichson's husband whom she professes to despise. A murder plot and insurance scam is cooked up and the wheels are set in motion. Classic film noir premise. But the quick banter (seems all the main characters at some point get to crack wise with at least a golden line or two) and smokey atmosphere never seem to get old. And of course, as I mentioned in my recent review of 2011's "Drive" with Ryan Gosling (seen here), the city of Los Angeles is the true uncredited star of the film...just like "The Big Sleep." The city is a silent player, changing and shaping the other characters, effecting how they behave and think, its topography and architecture as important as any living person

The film was adapted for the screen by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler from a novella by James M. Cain. Ya can't get more noir than that. In 1992, the film was chosen for preservation in the prestigious National Film Registry in the the U.S. Library of Congress.
"Double Indemnity" is also featured on the AFI "100 Best American Films of the 20th Century" list and occupies a spot in their Catalog of Feature Films.

Recommend? Sure sure, suppose ya watch it. And suppose ya like it. And suppose ya get a hankering for more films that feature Los Angeles in the 1940s and darkened rooms with Venetian blinds...

BEAUTY: Photography--Alejandro Almaraz

Playing off of yesterday's post about the misty memories of painter Helen Carter's work (seen here), Alejandro Almaraz mines public sites and gathers many photographs of famous churches and monuments to form a sort of kaleidoscope of specific memories about particular places...a collective group perception collage if you will of, say, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona...

Top to bottom: The Basilica of Saint Peter; La Sagrada Familia; Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides; Pantheon; Sainte-Chapelle; The Siena Cathedral; The Sistine Chapel


Friday, May 22, 2015

BEAUTY: Painting--Helen Carter

Helen Carter's paintings that make up her series "There We Have Been" look like what I imagine half-forgotten memories to look like... foggy, misty, with only a few broad-stroke details like a once-familiar walkway or arches in a building. Her work feels like a place that is slipping away from our consciousness, a place we can no longer go...

Top to bottom: Aether; Before It Ends; Fifteen and Seven; Remains With Me; When The Dust Settles


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dreams Are The Heart Of The Universe

"Long years ago I gave pain by saying, with the arrogance of boyhood, that it was foolish to tell one’s dreams. I have done penance for that remark since. . . . I have cultivated, so far as I care to, my garden of dreams, and it scarcely seems to me that it is a large garden. Yet every path of it, I sometimes think, might lead at last to the heart of the universe."
— Havelock Ellis

“Myths are public dreams. Dreams are private myths.”
— Joseph Campbell

“The answer is dreams. Dreaming on and on. Entering the world of dreams and never coming out. Living in dreams for the rest of time.”
— Haruki Murakami

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"What Makes Us Human" by Lamb

Lamb (Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow) have released a video for their song "What Makes Us Human" from their October 2014 collection "Backspace Unwind." I just love Lou's voice.

We are all made of carbon.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What Time Is It?

These humorous clocks by Dan Golden are great!

Top to bottom: Who Do We Appreciate Clock; Facial Hair Clock; Ish Clock; Perpetual Clock; Snack Time Clock; Time Travel Clock

To buy these clocks from Blik, visit: