June 15, 2014

Reading: “Mass Effect,” the Singularity, Nicaea, Website Comments (Again), Iceland & More

Reading: “Mass Effect,” the Singularity, Nicaea, Website Comments (Again), Iceland & More

Back in 2012, Kyle Munkittrick claimed that the Mass Effect video game series was “the most important science fiction universe of our generation.” More: “Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity. Amid the entertaining game play, the interspecies romance, and entertaining characters, cosmological questions about the value of existence influence every decision.” It’s just a shame that the series ended so poorly and undermined much of this thematic exploration. Via

For decades now, technologists, philosophers, and writers have been forecasting the arrival of the “Singularity,” that moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and ushers in a new era of existence. Erik Sofge, however, argues that the Singularity is little more “a secular, [sci-fi]-based belief system” that ignores fundamental truths of how robotics, computers, and the human brain work.

Luke T. Harrington considers the the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches convening in 2025 for an ecumenical council: “…it would be an incredible witness to the world if one of Christianity’s largest, oldest, and deepest schisms could be healed.”

Adam Felder did an informal study on how comments affect readers’ perspectives, and the results are (not) shocking: “Respondents who saw comments evaluated the article as being of lower quality — an 8 percent difference. In other words, authors are judged not just by what they write, but by how people respond. The presence of comments did not make a statistically significant difference in a person's likelihood to read more content by the same author, nor did it make an appreciable difference in respondent self-reported mood.” Via

The good people at Treble have compiled a list of the “10 Essential Iceland Albums” which features the usual suspects (e.g., Björk, Sigur Rós) as well as some possible surprises (e.g., Blur, Julianna Barwick).

What happens when scientific knowledge is made an absolute good? Tony Woodlief writes that you end up with a situation like that in Alabama where scientists failed to adequately explain the risks of a medical study involving premature infants. “I am not saying these are evil people. My point is that their restricted sense of what qualifies as knowledge enabled them to obscure from parents the very risks they considered significant. They now justify their obfuscation with an epistemological sleight of hand: we didn’t know because there was no mathematical proof.”

The fact that there’s growing evidence that fathers really do matter is — to this father, anyway — both very encouraging and very convicting.

Meanwhile, Hannah Anderson discusses why the Bible refers to God as our “Father”: “When the Scripture speaks of God as Father, it is not affirming His maleness or some form of culturally established patriarchy; it is affirming His character. It is affirming that He has not abandoned the children He has created. He has not walked away from us.” I’d never really thought of God’s father-ness in this way, so I really appreciate Anderson having written this piece.

Amy Peterson gives me another reason to hate reality TV, in this case, a “Christian” game show titled It Takes a Church that aims to help Christians find true love with the aid of their church. “[T]he presentation of romantic love and fulfillment in It Takes a Church was deeply problematic, presenting a syncretistic ‘American’ version of Christianity, adopting our culture’s obsession with romance and personal fulfillment and calling it Christian.”

Mat Blackwell discusses the “the tricky ethics of enjoying art made by bad people” (in this case, serial killers): “So here, then, is the crux of the issue at hand: the grey area between dark imagery on one hand, and the reality of that dark imagery on the other. It’s a difficult terrain, this grey area. It’s a taut material stretched thin between the exciting frisson of darkness over there, and the socially-necessary responsibilities of “being a decent person” over here. Basically, it’s the tension between wanting our artists to be able to deal with dark themes, and to deal with them authentically, and also wanting them not to turn out to be child-murdering fucktards at the same time.”

June 11, 2014

Deaf Center Announce New Mini-Album “Recount”

Deaf Center Announce New Mini-Album “Recount”

It’s been three years since Deaf Center released their dark-ambient masterpiece Owl Splinters. Since then, the band’s two members — Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland — have kept busy with various side and solo projects (including Totland’s debut solo full-length). The duo, however, have recently announced a new Deaf Center mini-album titled Recount, due out on Sonic Pieces in August (preorder). Based on the few previews I’ve heard, it seems like Recount won’t be as noisy or harsh as Owl Splinters, but still very lovely and evocative in its own right.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Totland’s Pîno, which is full of lovely solo piano pieces.

Update (6/17): A short preview of the track “Oblivion” has been posted on Soundcloud. It’s not as harsh or oppressive as Owl Splinters, but rather, drifts about like a dark, alien mirage.

Here’s 3 more hours of shoegaze and dream pop for all of your bliss-out needs

Here’s 3 more hours of shoegaze and dream pop for all of your bliss-out needs

About a year ago, Sounds Better With Reverb posted an epic 3-hour mix of shoegazer and dreampop. Well, it’s a brand new year, and that means a brand new collection of blissed out, fuzzed up, feedback-filled songs that are ready to destroy your eardrums with their louder-than-loud beauty.

This year’s mix features The Enters (whose “End of the Summer” put a huge smile on my face), The Bilinda Butchers, pinkshinyultrablast, Nothing, longtime Opus faves The Mary Onettes and Ceremony, and many more.

June 5, 2014

Every Hero, Disaster, and Heist Movie Ever

Every Hero, Disaster, and Heist Movie Ever

Does your busy schedule and/or lack of disposable income prevent you from seeing the latest Hollywood blockbusters? If so, then the funny people at Above Average have done you a real solid.

They’ve condensed every single hero, disaster, and heist movie you’ve ever seen (or not seen, as the case may be) into a series of hilarious short films, all done in single takes. Film geeks get ready to play “Spot the Movie Cliché”! Via

The Hero Movie

The Disaster Movie

The Heist Movie

June 4, 2014
Mise en Abyme

Mise en Abyme

Raison d’être (2014, Transgredient Records)

Mise en Abyme is a fascinating, disturbing, enthralling, unsettling listen, and one of the most accomplished Raison d’être releases to date.

May 31, 2014

Reading: “Agents of SHIELD,” Website Comments, “Pacific Rim” Cosplay, Cinema’s Death & More

Reading: “Agents of SHIELD,” Website Comments, “Pacific Rim” Cosplay, Cinema’s Death & More

E. Stephen Burnett is encouraged by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s honest portrayal of human nature: “Marvel, when given a chance to take its unprecedented shared-universe superhero films to the small screen, chose to write stories that subvert naïve optimism about basically-decent government agencies and even human beings themselves.” And in case you missed it, I recently gave some thought to what might happen in the series’ second season.

A recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights could have massive repercussions for the humble website comment: “…according to the ECtHR, a news website should anticipate types of stories that might attract defamatory or insulting comments and be prepared to remove them promptly — or even before the comment has been reported, which might mean websites will be forced to pre-moderate any comment it publishes. One only has to look at the type and volume of comment posted below the line on websites from the FT’s to the Daily Mail’s to see the implications of this ruling.” Via

Pacific Rim may have been an underwhelming movie, but it did inspire this awesome cosplay.

Quentin Tarantino claims that “Cinema as I knew it is dead” and that “digital projection is the death of cinema.”

One of the most difficult and most frustrating aspects of web development is trying to style form elements (e.g., text inputs, radio buttons, checkboxes). Anthony Colangelo argues that, as web interactions grow more complex and varied, we’re probably better off sticking with default functionality: “The simplistic interactions of early input types gave us room to experiment, but the more complex interactions of modern fields leave little room for that. There’s only so much we can control before the browser and operating system take over, and then we’re at their whim.”

My inner high schooler couldn’t agree more with this AV Club article about the opening track on The Cure’s Wish (their last great album). Also, this: “Pick a stage in the life of an overly sensitive young man, and there’s a Cure song to mope to about it — everything from pining for love so hard you want to die, to getting that love and realizing you want to die, to losing that love and wanting desperately to get it back and/or die.”

Steve Jones, a geneticist who is also an atheist, believes that the rise of atheism in some countries may lead to an overall increase in religion, since countries with higher percentages of atheists tend to have lower birthrates than more religious regions.

Former Apple designer Mark Kawano sets dispels some myths about Apple’s approach to design. I especially like his part about Apple’s holistic approach to design: “Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better… much more than any individual designer or design team.” Via

Sacred sounds range from culture to culture, but Maureen Mullarkey argues that Gregorian chant is the most sacred music for Western Christians: “Gregorian chant did not come into being as an occasion for the expression of personality. Like the majestic severity of Romanesque architecture, it is the purest form of expression of steadfast faith in another order of existence.”

Will this emotional roller coaster ever stop? After being cancelled by NBC, there are now talks to bring Community to Hulu for a sixth season.

iPhone photo via randychiu.

This Is Why Edgar Wright Is Such a Great Director

Earlier this month, it was announced that, due to creative differences (natch!) with Marvel, Edgar Wright was no longer directing Ant-Man, a Marvel superhero film that he’d been developing for years. Simply put, this is very disappointing. Ant-Man may not be as well-known as other Marvel heroes, but the idea of a director of Wright’s caliber bringing his considerable talent to a superhero film put a grin on my face.

I had hopes that, given Ant-Man’s relative obscurity, Wright would be allowed to work unrestricted by studio bosses and turn out a superhero film unlike any we’ve seen to date. But alas, Hollywood is Hollywood, and it’s not exactly known for its common sense or willingness to go out on a limb.

Which brings me to Tony Zhou’s short exploration of Wright’s filmmaking (via Kottke). Accoring to Zhou, Wright is “one of the few filmmakers who is consistently finding humor through framing, camera movement, editing, goofy sound effects and music.” Using clips from Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and other Wright titles, Zhou highlights Wright’s sense of filmic comedy (e.g., the funny way he brings things in and out of the frame, or how he synchronizes action and music).

Again, imagine this sense of style and humor brought to a Hollywood superhero action movie. And then, if you’d like, you can join me in the corner over there moping over what might’ve been.

May 30, 2014
Birds EP

Birds EP

Ceremony (2013, Emerald & Doreen Records)

Ceremony doesn’t bring anything new to the shoegaze formula; rather, they take the genre’s hallmarks and just turn them up way past 11.

May 23, 2014

Reading: Godzilla’s Post-humanism, Seitz on “Community,” Slowdive in Concert, Naomi Kawase & more

Reading: Godzilla’s Post-humanism, Seitz on “Community,” Slowdive in Concert, Naomi Kawase & more

David Ehrlich argues that the recent Godzilla remake is the first post-human blockbuster: “This is a story about exposing the myopia of the human perspective and then humiliating our inherently egocentric POV.” And Kevin McLenithan writes that “in Godzilla’s world we are dwarfed by beings far greater and older than ourselves, and our own best efforts cannot halt oncoming destruction.”

Matt Zoller Seitz reflects on “the most meta-textual live-action half-hour comedy in network TV history,” aka Community: “It was typical sitcom tomfoolery. It was satire and parody. It was an action film or a Western or a paranoid thriller or a musical when it wanted to be. It sent up Ken Burns and soaps and timeline-twisting science fiction, and cartoons, and puppetoons. Not only did it seem too smart and ostentatiously self-aware for network TV, few cable series could match its ingenuity.”

In case you missed it, Slowdive played their first gig in 20 years as part of Sonic Cathedral’s 10th anniversary. The day after, they played their first “official” reunion show at the Village Underground, and according to Gigwise’s review, “…it becomes clear that the band’s immense hiatus has done nothing to diminish the power of their live shows. The avalanche of noise they produce treads the fine line between chaos and unity with a precision many bands have tried and failed to emulate during Slowdive’s absence.” Or, as The Quietus puts it, “The band that was once the most reviled in Britain is now the most loved. It's about fucking time.” You can watch the entire performance here.

Computers may be able to defeat human chess masters but they have a long way to go before being able to defeat masters of Go: “When Deep Blue was busy beating Kasparov, the best Go programs couldn’t even challenge a decent amateur. And despite huge computing advances in the years since — Kasparov would probably lose to your home computer — the automation of expert-level Go remains one of AI’s greatest unsolved riddles.”

I’ve never seen any of Naomi Kawase’s films, but reading Nik Grozdanović’s review of Still The Water — which recently screened at Cannes — I can’t help but think they’d be right up my alley: “The grandiose themes, the symbolism of the sea and all the wonders that lie beneath, the fear of misunderstanding the laws of nature, and the relationship between men and women, all blend into a cathartic climax that reminds one of the film’s beating heart; an enthralling coming of age story.”

A year ago, Tim Lambesis, the lead singer of the ostensibly Christian metalcore band As I Lay Dying, was arrested for trying to put a hit on his wife. In this lengthy, fascinating, and sobering interview, he discusses his leaving Christianity and growing atheism, his addiction to steroids, the stresses of being a touring musician, the dissolution of his marriage, and why he tried to have his wife killed.

Scientists and researchers are concerned that the rising status of cats and dogs — e.g., family pets are getting involved in custody cases, activists are pushing to grant them “personhood” status — may doom biomedical research, which still relies heavily on animal testing.

Niall Gooch reflects on the classic liberal values that he learned from his “bigoted” parents and how classic liberal values of tolerance and open-mindedness are changing: “…progressive morality can be more judgmental and self-righteous, in its way, than traditional religious morality, in that it seeks to label persons, not acts, i.e. to make vast sweeping judgments about the arc of a person’s life and their whole character based on certain aspects of their thinking about morality.” (I’m reminded of this Fredrik deBoer piece on attempts to ban free speech by folks on the left.)

Amy Peterson thinks those silly BuzzFeed quizzes might have a divine element to them: “Perhaps what we ought to remember, when the quizzes name us in a way that feels true, is that one day God will bestow upon each of us secret, perfect, life-giving names.”

Written in 1658, John Comenius’ A World of Things Obvious to the Senses Drawn in Pictures holds the distinction of the world’s first children’s picture book, as well as “the first megahit in children’s publishing, receiving translations in a great many languages and becoming the most popular elementary textbook in Europe.” Via

May 18, 2014

Watch Slowdive Play Their First Gig in 20 Years

Watch Slowdive Play Their First Gig in 20 Years

Earlier this year, beloved shoegaze outfit Slowdive announced they were reuniting for a series of concerts (to possibly be followed by some new material). The reunion is now officially underway: the band just played a surprise gig at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen to help celebrate the 10th aniversary of shoegaze label Sonic Cathedral — and thanks to YouTube user Andunemir, you can pretend you were there in the front row, too.

Videos from the rest of the set, which featured songs spanning Slowdive’s discography plus a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair,” can be found here. Elsewhere, The Null Device posted a positive review of the show, writing that “If one didn't know that this was their first gig since 1995, one would never have guessed; there was a freshness and vitality to the performance.”