Saturday, February 16, 2013

FILM REVIEW: PressPausePlay (2011) - David Dworsky, Victor Kohler

Technology is great, but the industry is dead. All things are possible, but all things are potentially pointless. This seems to be the thesis behind PressPausePlay, a documentary on how technology has turned the world into photographers, filmmakers, and musicians, and inevitably, how we're faced with the harsh reality of what that means for art culture, as a whole.

The film itself remains unbiased despite it's varied, biased interviewees, containing a good blend of positivity and pessimism. For this reason, I found the film to be incredibly disheartening and reaffirming at the same time. It's disheartening to see so many artists, and people who I respect have such a bleak perspective on the future of art, but I feel this comes from an inherent misunderstanding of art that is found in both elitists and colleges that teach art.

Often, I find myself at odds with professors, because I disagree with the way they teach their students. Personally, I find myself getting the most heated in regards to screenwriting and fiction writing. We teach students about structure, and about conflict, and about what's integral to a story, but along the way I find other students losing sight of what's really important - is this something that connects, that resonates? I understand why professors teach structure to begin with - to provide students with foundation, but I find more students getting confused by it, because they lose their way from telling a good story to just telling a story that fits within a certain pathway, and that's the last thing that art is.

One of the more ironic points the film makes is how technology can sometimes dilute art. In regards to music, it talks about how auto-tuning and fixing every little sound with some sort of patch strips away the performance. I agree with this, but this begs the question of audio editing and sound design as a form of art. Is there a difference between superb audio editing to the point of superficiality, and something so stripped down and raw and flawed? Why is it that we berate amateurs for not having crystalline sound or audio quality at the same time that we lambast larger artists for adding glitz and glam to their songs? Where is the point where we, as artists, can stop saying, 'This is poor art, because I don't like it,' and instead say, 'This is interesting. Why did you do this?' and this is in regards to all art, not just music. Just because something is poppy and artificial doesn't mean it's necessarily bad, just as something that's stripped down and raw doesn't mean it's necessarily poor.

The film addresses how since everyone can be an artist, then audiences are inevitably going to be left with this sea of mediocrity and amateurs, and I find that statement really pretentious. Nobody starts off as a professional. Many people who post their music or their art online are looking for critique, and they know they're not perfect, but that's the great thing about being an artist and working with art is that with each project, you get a chance to improve yourself. A great antithesis to this is when one of the interviewees comments on how Bon Iver wrote and recorded his hit debut in a cabin. He questions, "Does that make it any less of a great record? I think that record was amazing!"

It's especially difficult to hear people talking that way about passionate amateurs, when there's so much mediocrity in the limelight. Personally, I'm not concerned with amateurs who think they can make art and can't - I'm concerned with professionals who think they can make art, have the means and funds to do so, and can't.

It's like working a muscle - each time you go to work out, the end goal is always to do better than last time. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you fail, but the important thing to take away from that is to not stop trying, and for a bunch of seasoned artists to make statements about how all of that effort is mediocre seems quite lazy to me. Maybe it's like teachers who start off as vibrant and fun, but become bitter with age, but I almost feel personally attacked by those artists who still can't get excited about art. Yeah, there's a lot of it now. Yeah, there's so much you're never going to be able to get to all of it. I fail to see how that makes it less exciting. However, I am still young. Perhaps I'll get bitter with age, and become an elitist like some of the people interviewed in this film, but I'll try my damnedest not to.

One of the points that does hit home for me, and has the potential to possibly make me into a bitter artist, is the subject of the death of movie theaters. That's a very viable concept that could happen within the next couple of decades, and if it does end up happening, you'll probably find me in a situation much like the Unabomber, where I'm holed up in a cabin somewhere, planning revenge on Netflix and iTunes. Don't get me wrong, I love having such easy access to all of this content that's being created, because it gives me more opportunities to be inspired, but there's just something magical about going out to see a film. One of my favorite things to do is treat myself by going to the theater by myself. It's incredibly relaxing to sit, enjoy, and digest a movie by yourself (it's doubly enjoyable if you buy two hot dogs to enjoy the movie with, although it does leave a gaping hole in your wallet).

The film ends on a positive albeit ambiguous note, stating that the future of art truly cannot be predicted, but that we live in an exciting time where we have access to the tools that allow us to create and connect to one another. It's a great film that I recommend to both artists and critics if for nothing else than the charming music and beautiful cinematography.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

MUSIC: How To Destroy Angels Debut Album New Song and Video 'How Long'

It's hard to believe that a single unit could contain the genius of Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Rob Sheridan and mix it with the glitzy made-for-pop range of Mariqueen Maandig, Reznor's wife.

While Reznor always dabbled with the obscure and surreal, ever since Year Zero he's spent more time with focusing those energies in emotive minimalism instead of angst-ridden trip hop (although elements of both remain consistent in his style). This has culminated in Reznor and Ross collaborating on multiple, gorgeous ambient projects, two of which were film scores, one of which won them a Grammy, and eventually resulted in the formation of How To Destroy Angels, their current project.

They released their first, self-titled EP back in 2010, and it showed a lot of potential, but was lacking a certain punch that was present in Reznor and Ross' other work. It was apparent a large focus of the band was on the drums. By comparison to how Florence + the Machine use heavy live drums that have the strength of an army march, How To Destroy Angels focus their electronic programming to have both a dance and funk vibe.

They released their second EP, 'an omen,' in November of last year, and came out with 'Ice Age,' a track that will also appear on their debut album. The track features string plucking that sounds like it could be straight off Nine Inch Nails, 'The Fragile,' and yet, the track feels entirely modern and new. A 7-minute minimalist epic, the track features some of Angels best and most poignant lyrics to date.

Now, the band is set to drop their first album, 'Welcome Oblivion,' in March of this year, and they've just released their next video for a track titled, 'How Long,' which seems to find their unique minimalism and poppy undertones coalescing into something that's a mix of new and old, and yet remains entirely catchy and sing-a-long-able.

If you've been a fan of any of Reznor and Ross' work, I strongly suggest you guys check these out. Welcome Oblivion is set to release March 5, 2012.