The Temple of I & I

Now, I’m aware The Temple of I & I has received some critical reviews for misappropriating the sound of Jamaica. I’m not Jamaican, nor have I ever been strongly invested in Jamaican music, so my opinion my fall secondary to someone more familiar with the culture Thievery Corporation is incorporating this album. Just a heads up.

I was already in love with Letter to the Editor, the first Racquel Jones track to be released, but after hearing Road Block too I can definitely say that she is the star of this album. She has great rhythm and it’s pretty clear that she’s well-versed enough to sing well in a slower, more reggae-style song like Road Block as well as the faster hip-hop influenced Letter to the Editor. Having gone back to listen to the music Jones has released apart from Thievery Corporation, I must say I prefer the Thievery Corporation sound backing her singing, but I’m a fan of all of it. I am excited to see more collaborations with her and Thievery Corporation in the future.

Notch, who has worked with Thievery Corporation for quite some time, certainly performed on the most songs this album. I’ve never felt strongly about any tracks he has done before, but here I loved listening to True Sons of Zion and Drop Your Guns. His performance across tracks tends to be fairly uniform in sound and my preference of them, but I think he and Thievery Corporation are able to bring out even more in one another in ways not experienced prior to Temple of I & I.

Conversely, I found Lou Lou Ghelichkhani, easily the star of Saudade, to be a bit tired here. Admittedly, her placement in the album is rough as the first song of the middle portion with the slower, more Saudade-esque songs separated by Temple of I & I and Let the Chalice Blaze, but Time + Space struck me as “just another Lou Lou Ghelichkhani song” as opposed to the distinguished Décollage we heard in Saudade. Perhaps I’m disappointed in her performance here precisely because of how stunning she was in Décollage, but Time + Space struck me as uninteresting and more bland than her past performances.

I do not dislike Mr. Lif’s music as a whole, nor do I dislike all his performances with Thievery Corporation— Unified Tribes is a phenomenal track and Culture of Fear was also strong. However, I couldn’t particularly get into Ghetto Matrix, which struck me as a weaker version of Culture of Fear, and Fight to Survive, a track I sense was supposed to be inspirational and a call to action, was the least inspiring song on all of Temple of I & I. I do hesitate to call this criticism entirely fair, for while I did enjoy his performance on Culture of Fear, that album did strike me as one of Thievery Corporation’s overall weaker albums, so by comparison I may have appreciated the song Culture of Fear more.

This leaves the singers who were just on a single track, none of which I feel strongly about. Thief Rockers I thought made a good but not wowing (as in Décollage) introduction and felt slightly better than 33 Degree. Love Has No Heart was a strong performance by Shana Halligan— I thought it was better than Depth of My Soul, but I also wasn’t impressed by Depth of My Soul at the time. Lose to Find was neither impressive nor disappointing, and felt simply average. I feel bad saying this since Elin Melagarejo’s performances in Saudade were already overshadowed by Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s, but no recent appearance of her has particularly excited me. Puma, while also overshadowed by Notch on Temple of I & I, did well in Babylon Falling. While not the most gripping song in the album, I thought it was both memorable and welcome.

I feel like I’m missing something in all of this… I covered all of the musicians, right?
Oh yea, I have barely touched on the duo who actually IS Thievery Corporation. For their no-guest tracks, Let the Chalice Blaze was so-so, but The Temple of I & I was engaging and interesting. Pretty sure I got goosebumps the first time I heard, “This is the Temple of I & I” after having been wowed by True Sons of Zion. Speaking of True Sons of Zion, I must stress that while I did like Notch’s performance alone on this song, it’s the Thievery Corporation duo that enables Notch to leave such an impact.

This is similarly the case with Letter to the Editor. Part of what made Mr. Lif’s performance on Unified Tribes so excellent was how well Thievery Corporation adapted their style to fit rapping. Letter to the Editor has so much pop and effect because of how well Thievery Corporation fit their style to Racquel Jones. It is a risk with any guest musician in any work that the guest won’t fit with the classic style of the other artists, but Thievery Corporation has repeatedly shown its strength is making their sound fit with the guest’s performance over the other way around, and Letter to the Editor is a shining example of this.

I think Saudade still slightly edges out over Temple of I & I, but another strong release by Thievery Corporation has left me eagerly waiting for the future as they continue to evolve and explore the familiar genres they pull from in greater depth. And, you never know, Temple of I & I keeps growing on me. Thievery Corporation has mostly improved with every album (I prefer The Cosmic Game and Radio Retaliation to Culture of Fear) and I don’t see Temple of I & I as being an exception to this.

 

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Thievery Corporation’s The Temple of I & I : What to Expect

As of the time of writing this, Thievery Corporation has released two tracks to their upcoming album The Temple of I & I.

They are both definitely not the music from Saudade, but this isn’t to say they’re falling back on a more classic style after the mixed response from the album. “Let The Chalice Blaze” sounds like the musical style we’re used to similar to anything from Culture of Fear or earlier, but “Letter to the Editor” is most definitely not. It’s a strong hip-hop track (and Racquel Jones is killing it) backed by a more traditional Thievery Corporation sound, which judging from the album cover and title is more what we can expect to come.

I & I, for those who don’t know, is a Rastafarian message of talking about equality— “me” and “you” are different words, so they’re innately in some fashion not equal, but saying “I & I” means we are the same. This stands with Thievery Corporation’s political themes (since Radio Retaliation, anyway) of favoring a more democratic and open system, and ‘fighting the government’ and so forth.

Saudade is by far my favorite Thievery Corporation album, I’ll be honest, because it is the most distinctly representing a culture. Prior to Saudade, most of their albums may have felt influenced by certain cultures, but it wasn’t particularly brought to attention in the fashion it was in Saudade. Or, perhaps more accurately, Bossa Nova and a Latin musical style was always prominent, but it was never the focus of a whole album.

Rather than feeling like a mix of styles swirling about in one album (particularly noticeable in Radio Retaliation), Saudade went directly for a specific style, a specific culture, and a specific sound. If Temple of I & I lives up to its directly Rastafarian title, that’s what I’m going to be looking forward to the most.

Also, I liked hearing more singing in Saudade. We’ve had plenty of tracks with some vocal work but emphasizing the Thievery Corporation sound over the lyrics (I’m thinking Heaven’s Going To Burn Your Eyes, Pela Janela, Stargazer), so hearing both a sound radically different from what they traditionally did and a much more prominent vocal track was refreshing. And, to be clear, I don’t dislike that prior style, but something different was welcome.

Now in The Temple of I & I I think we’re going to hear more of those parts that make Saudade great: noticeable evolution from past albums, more emphasis on the culture of their album, prominent vocal tracks. However, it brings it back closer to the instrumentation of Thievery Corporation we were accustomed to.

Anyway, this is just me being excited about their upcoming album and procrastinating on writing essays. Those are my thoughts on the matter. Tell me what y’all think!

Video Games Are The Apex Of Art

Broadly speaking, there are three types of learning: visual, audible, and kinesthetic. These categories are generalized so when people say they’re a __ learning that’s an oversimplification of their information consuming progress, but I digress. I encourage you to think of art in these three forms, though, for a moment.

Visual art at its most fundamental level is easily defined— paintings, drawing, etchings, sculptures, et cetera. Kinesthetic is too— basically dance. I’m going to expand by definition of audible art to include most forms of storytelling, though, because a story is a linear recollection of events, real or fictional, which is most innately similar to how we process sound. Furthermore, storytelling is largely based off of words or can at least be described in words, and the first words and story were entirely told audibly. So, by this logic, a book is audible art, even though we use our eyes to read it. The key here is that it is linear— you can have a painting tell a story, but your eyes aren’t typically drawn to different parts of a painting in a certain order.

Image result for cave painting

A defining trait of modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern (whatever you call contemporary) art is the multimedia shift (paintings on sculptures, digitization of photographs, there are endless combinations) and this intersects with the “three types of art” categorization in an interesting way. Prior to the 20th century, graphic novels were generally pretty fringe, the only exception to this I know of being the Bible (if I remember my history class right, they’d do lots of drawings in the margins of Bibles back when they were handwritten). Therefore, the only combination of two different categories that comes to mind is dancing to music, combining kinesthetic and audible forms of art.

Image result for handwritten bible medieval

Graphic novels and movies, however, introduced the combination of visual and audible art for the first time— you had visual occurrences telling a narrative. Yes, still images can tell a narrative too, but not to the same linear extent. The exceptions to this would works like Michelangelo’s paintings and other serial works. But combining words with pictures and pictures with motion was truly when audible/visual combinations began. Other ways of combining these categories sprang into existence too— music videos, hands-on art, the sort. However, it wasn’t until the 60s or so that even the f0undations of a medium combining all three categories existed— games. The modern video game satisfies the audible side by often telling a cohesive narrative and also having music, it satisfies the visual side by having things happen on a screen, and it satisfies the kinesthetic side by being something that the consumer *does* as opposed to sees. With a game, you experience the art rather than view it from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this is the first time such a combination came into existence while also being effectively one single medium.

Image result for undertale

That’s all I had to say on this, at least for now. #showerthoughts

Yuri!! On Ice Is Poorly Animated?

Everyone around me seems enthralled by the beautiful animation that is Yuri!! On Ice, but to me the animation is the most flawed part of the show. Why? Because there aren’t enough frames. Let’s take a step back:

When anime first began in the 60s it was founded on budget-cutting methods such as reducing the number of frames, having long intros and outros, repeating certain animations, angling figures so their mouths didn’t have to be animated, etc. As anime took off and became a larger industry, high-budget shows diverged from Western cartoons in a big way: rather than re-adding the frames that had been cut out, they instead put an emphasis on having better drawn stills and the general quality of the individual images being animated. This means that there are generally fewer anime out there that have a super fluid frame rate, though to be clear there are some exceptions.

Yuri!! On Ice’s main goal with the ‘beautiful’ scenes in the show is to depict a dance choreography on ice. Yes, it’s true, if you were to take a still of any one of these scenes it’d probably look gorgeous, but the low framerate makes it feel choppy and less interesting. I am a dancer and I love watching people dance, and for me while the feet are definitely not everything to a dance I want to be able to see a clear tracing of how the feet are moving. Yet because of the speediness of the moves and the low number of frames, I can’t clearly see the path traced out. Sure, my brain can infer it, but there is visual appeal in having fluid motions for dance. Generally a big thing dancers try to avoid in most traditional dances is having any jerky, sudden movements, yet it feels like everything in the dances for this show is.

Normally the lower framerate for a high-motion and speed show isn’t problematic. A show like Haikyuu! probably has the same number of frames as Yuri!! On Ice, but since the characters are supposed to be throwing a ball and putting as much speed and power into their movements as they possibly can, it’s totally fine. Furthermore, Yuri!! On Ice skips on the big techniques most animators use to make things seem more fluid. One, motion trails and blurred motion. If you look at how the blades move in Samurai Champloo, when the blades move fast the still animations show the blade becoming wider, basically, than it really is.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/21/7c/29/217c29c25579e94e2307245473b6b0c5.gif

Two, shot angling. One of the things I love about Yuri!! On Ice’s directing but also makes the animation frames problem more evident is that it often stays on a single shot for a while, panning that around so we can keep the skater in the middle of the screen. Conversely, look at how Kuroko Basuke will switch shots to make it more fluid in the following gif. We see Kuroko pass from an isometric perspective so it’s easy to track where he’s pointing the ball, and then it immediately cuts to the ball landing in Kagami’s hand. By doing this, they don’t have to worry about animation Kagami’s arm rising up to catch the ball as it’s moving or anything, you just see the impact.

https://i0.wp.com/images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/34800000/Shot-Pass-kuroko-no-basuke-34891022-445-250.gif

Three, speed. Yuri!! On Ice tends to do everything in real time, which while again, makes things easier to comprehend, is kind of cool, and gives you a better sense of how the choreographed dance fits with the music, it makes it harder to have things look fluid. Take this scene in Haikyuu!!, for example. Arguably everything is slowed down, but definitely Nishinoya receiving is slowed down a lot so you can see very fluidly how his body responds to the impact.

https://i2.wp.com/pa1.narvii.com/6005/db5068322dfa3097c6d73758401acf78fd97e15f_hq.gif

Now, to be clear, this isn’t a problem with all of Yuri!! On Ice. I just think that because it does not utilize these techniques to supplement the lower animation frame rate, there are times that the fluidity could be improved. And keep in mind I’m talking about the animation here, not the art. I’m thinking about how the frames move together rather than how they stand on their own.

Series

So right now we are studying series in Calculus and I’ve been listening to the podcast Serial, and it’s got me thinking about series. Several of my recent posts have been about Revolutionary Girl Utena duel songs, and I’ve found them to be in a certain sense easier to write about because I know the subject already. I’m curious if others have this experience. Looking at Geoff Thew of Mother’s Basement with his “What’s in an OP” series. Is it easier to make that than an analysis about whatever like how Digibro does? I feel like it is, since rather than doing an actual thing, you’re simply taking a concept and molding it through the formula you’re looking for. I’m not saying this is any worse artistically or lazy, mind you. I’m simply curious about the difficulty of making a series versus single pieces.

Ping Pong -> Old Man and the Sea

The narrative of The Old Man and the Sea is, in essence, the tale of a last stand of the hero figure from that hero figure’s perspective. The boy, Manolin, admires the old man, Santiago, as a hero figure who was once great but who due to physical inability or whatever else has lost that admiration-worthy quality. It begins with some banter between Manolin and Santiago, and the audience is left to wonder, “Why does the boy like Santiago so much? He’s just a useless old guy.”

Ping Pong the Animation is the tale of a hero’s last stand, in narrative, as well. After the events of the show, Peco goes on to be a pro athlete. But for the purpose of the main story’s last arc, it’s Peco with his bad knee fighting to be the hero for one last time before his knee gives out on him. Smile sees Peco as, “the hero.” And his depression largely stems from the hero having left him.

For Manolin and Smile, both, these narratives are about waiting. They are waiting for their hero to return. Manolin believes, deep inside, that Santiago can catch the biggest fish ever. And Smile believes, deep inside, that Peco is the best ping pong player ever. By circumstance, Smile comes to consciously deny his admiration of Peco. Manolin’s father would likely attempt to deny his admiration of Santiago similarly, but it seems Manolin is feistier. But either way, all they can do is wait passively for their hero to reemerge in these people they respect so much.

Peco is young, brash, and lost his esteem after being defeated by Kong and Demon. Then, he works really hard to try to improve, but eventually finds himself outmatched by the ultimate opponent: a Dragon. And just when he’s up against a Dragon, his knee is really feeling it. Santiago is old and jaded, and while he humors Manolin to his face, ultimately he’s not entirely confident in his abilities. He tries, and tries, but it has been over eighty days without a fish. But he eventually finds himself outmatched by the ultimate opponent: a really, really, really big fish. And just when he’s up against this really, really, really big fish, his hand cramps up and he’s old and ain’t got all the strength in the world.

Then, both of them get, as I love to call it, D E T E R M I N A T I O N. And they both become able to move mountains! And the old man catches the fish!! And Peco flies, flies far above the Dragon. They are both victorious! But then, their victory is cut short: Santiago must fight back some nasty, nasty sharks that start eating is fish, and Peco must defeat Smile.

In the end, the old man can’t beat back the sharks, but Peco does beat Smile. But are these two part of the same story? Peco is the Old Man at eighteen, and the Old Man is Peco at seventy. They both struggle the same, but their only ultimate difference is that the Old Man’s last stand is truly his last, and his inevitable destiny is failure, but Peco’s destiny is success.

P.S. How’s the fact that the characters aren’t referenced by name much either? Aside from the coach and his “Mister Tsukimoto,” everyone call them Smile and Peco. And Hemingway always tells of The Old Man and The Boy, rather than Manolin and Santiago.

What is Proficiency?

If art is entirely subjective, what is the definition of being a skilled artist? Does it mean one can recreate the image they are picturing in their head accurately?

I was recently at a bar my cousin plays at, and all the audience was well over the age of fifty. But they still danced along with the music at exciting points. Watching them made me think, “Who is to say they are any worse at dancing than anyone else?” The fundamental element of dancing is expressing the music and emotions of the dancer in some manner. I think that since the music was generally “dad rock” and music of past generations, the method in which the music was expressed was actually perfect. There’s something unashamedly authentic about that kind of dancing. Sure, no move that these people performed was something I myself could not do, but I was not the one performing the dance, and even if I had performed the dances they were doing myself, I would not have been authentic about it. I am not the generation which grew up listening to the originals of the songs my cousin was covering. I could not have captured the emotions that any of those dancers captured. So even though I am more technically proficient at nearly any aspect of dance — physical fitness, balance, dance experience — I would not have danced as well to that music.

What is good music? Right now as I write I’m listening to a five-dollar solo blues album by some big guy wandering around downtown with missing or yellowed teeth and a basket of his CDs. He doesn’t keep a consistent beat on the drum. The lyrics to his songs don’t have a consistent rhyme or meter. But the music is enjoyable to listen to. They capture a music I cannot. It’s the music of someone who grew up with blues and grew up in a totally different culture than I did. No matter how great I got at the drums or harmonica or singing blues, I could not replicate this music as proficiently because I have not had the emotional experiences that this musician has had.

For these people, just because their performances are not by mainstream convention technically good, I would say their music involves an extreme proficiency. They practiced for their music in their past experiences. They’re performing based off of a real and authentic kind of raw emotion that no technical proficiency can replicate. Is that not too proficient, in its own form?