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ISSUE 24 NOV 2010 ISSUE 24 NOV 2010

M U S I C

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F I L M

F A S H I O N

D E S I G N

A R T

C U L T U R E


11.10 CONTENTS

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170

COVER Photograph by BETHANY SHARP

SUNBEAR

Clothing by Unicornography

FEATURES 78 | SUNBEAR | Intelligently cunning and viscious lyrics masked by warm and inviting melodies, Sun Bear is high on the horizon. BY ANDREW GRAY 86 | DIRTY MINDS | Porn; not only destroying morals and innocence, but our imaginations as well. 88 | THE GREATEST MUPPET MOVIE EVER | Being the actual title of the movie, this is one self fulfilling prophecy that we are actually excited for. 96 | MIXTAPE| Mixtape culture and all of its analog paraphernalia is still thriving in this MP3-driven digital era. 104 | THREE-LEGGED COB | We get a look into the complex and paradoxical mind of Jacob Johnson, lead designer and creator of NYC design studio Three-Legged Dog. 114 | THE NEW SOCIALISM | A new era dawns and the sun is turning the sky red. Some may veil it with terms like social digitalism but who are they kidding? That’s right, socialism is back... and this time we think you will like it.

NOISE is an arts and society magazine centralized around music; expanding to subjects such as film, design, popular culture, society, fashion, photography, technology, etc. The magazine draws from a diverse area of issues, branching from the mainstream to the underground. NOISE Magazine is published bi-monthly by NOISE Magazine LLC, 4023 Cranbox Ave., NY, NY 10032. Vol. 1, Issue 24, November, 2010. NOISE Magazine is not responsible for anything, including the return or loss of submissions, or for any damage or other injury to unsolicited manuscripts or artwork. Any submission or artwork should include a self addressed envelope or package of appropriate size, bearing adequate return postage. ISSN # 024943.

04 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


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11.10 CONTENTS

volume 14 issue 03

DEPARTMENTS

29 RETURN OF VINYL

STATIC

52 PLASTIC BEACH

14 LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Vinyl sales are on the rise as

46 TEXT MESSAGING

Renowned environmentalist

people flock to the only true

We are losing our ability to

and human rights activist Roy

way to listen to music.

communicate personably. This

Prost shows us his recycled

may inevitably lead to losing

guerrilla island.

16 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 20 INTERLUDE

32 ROCK THE CARDIGAN

our very own personal identi-

Cardigans are no longer merely

ties.

54 CONSTRAINT Within the field of design there

AUDIO

for old gents and Mr. Rogers.

22 SOUNDWAVE

Check out these cool cats rock-

49 WES & P.T.

are many constraints... and to

Arcade Fire, Dr. Dog, Mumford

ing the cardigan.

Are the Anderson Brothers new

much surprise this is consid-

Coen’s? We sit down with an ex-

ered a great thing.

& Sons, Beirut, Iron & Wine, The Black Keys, Neon Indian,

40 TAKE COVER

clusive interview with Wes and

Cat Asmatics, Who Knew,

A list of the best cover songs to

P.T as they embark on their

58 PRINT IS NOT DEAD

Signal Carpet, Anatomy.

come out of 2010.

first film together.

While print media is definitely

23 ANIMAL COLLECTIVISM

42 REVIEWS

51 FILM CRITIC

always retain the physical

From Panda Bear himself, to

Taken by Trees, Lacrosse, Ran-

Check out these reviews of all

quality electronic media wishes

Wolf Parade, we explore this

dom Band, Random Band, and

the latest movies and DVDs to

it could emulate.

taxonomical bandwagon.

other new music.

see if they are worth the hype.

a fleeting commodity, it will

59 FANCY FRIDAY Want to get together and have a good time? Want to dress up? These college hipsters talk about their new social convention. 66 PRETENTIOUS TOOL Just because you like The Black Keys over the The Black Eyed Peas doesn’t mean you’re a sophisticate. In fact, chances are you’re a thoroughly modern douchebag. 70 GRAFFITI IN ITALY After a recent excursion to Flor-

FANCY FRIDAY

06 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

59

ence, we bring you an array of graffiti in the city. 115 EXITLUDE Left open to see if anyone wants to write the exitlude for me for a personal touch.


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11.10 SUBSCRIBE

AUDIO

FILM

STYLE ART & DESIGN

WEB EXCLUSIVES

TECHNOLOGY search

POLITICS

THE MAGAZINE

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TOP FEATURES Fancy Friday Exclusive photographs and video from the origin of the event Saginaw, Michigan can only be found at NOISE.com

Are Tablets the Smartphone Killer? We are turning the point where, suddenly, the unthinkable is plausible. Should you buy a tablet?

The Month in Music Sun Bear, The Unihorns, Skanks Be Skanks, Niagra, The West Was Won, and more.

The New Socialism A new era dawns, and the sun rises red. Socialism has returned, but this time you’ll like it and we will give you 10 reasons why.

N O I S E . C O M GO THERE

08 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


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11.10 LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

volume 14 issue 03

culture, society, fashion, photography, technology, etc. The magazine draws from a diverse area of issues, branching from the mainstream to the underground. To put it more generally, it is about things that simply interest me and information I thought others might find interesting as well. This magazine is about the interests of a collective society, not a specific group within that society. Those interested in art, culture, fashion, and obviously music find it easy to relate to this magazine. Not prescribing towards one genre or taste, NOISE once again opens itself to mass readership. I would like to say that we are an eclectic bunch open to new ideas and social criticism with a keen eye for that which looks good. I wanted to create a magazine that not only informs and entertains the readers with pertinent subject matter, but that also establishes a recognizable image, identity, and reputation; one of good taste, valued thought, and a sense of satire. I wanted to tackle a large project utilizing several key aspects of design: logo, corporate identity, publication design, article layout, and ad campaigns. Design was always on the forefront of my mind. Content was secondary to the intent. I wanted to create something that invigorates the prominence and importance of print media while adjusting to digital trends.

AS I WRITE this, I sit in my room thinking of how this is yet again another self-indulgent moment in which I glorify myself as the creator of this magazine. Let me clarify that this is not my intent. My image may appear in this magazine on more than one occasion. These may be my words mostly written throughout this magazine. It may even be my artwork, my designs, my layouts that make up this entire document. But again, this is not about me. It is about NOISE. It is about the content. Music. Culture. Life. Lately it seems that everyone is asking why I chose to create a print magazine of my own, especially in a world that is now mostly digital. The answer I give varies depending on the day, as well as the person who’s asking. My response is usually some derivative “It was just a natural evolution of everything I wanted to achieve in one cohesive project that fell in line with my true passions and interests.” It also gave me the ability to highlight my skills as not only a designer, but a writer and director as well. I want to take this opportunity to further explain and clarify the purpose of this magazine, the purpose of NOISE. NOISE is an arts and society magazine centralized around music; expanding to subjects such as film, design, popular 14 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

The times, they are a changing. Many would argue that today is a terrible time to release a print magazine. Several are falling out and going out of production as the internet and digital media consume the way in which we receive information. Perhaps they are right, but I find that now is the best time to establish a magazine. To be able to create a magazine that not only finds success in print but also transcends into digitalism is one of my goals. Let’s be honest, it takes balls to do it, but the feat would be fulfilling. The potential would be limitless, especially in the eye of the designer. Have you seen the stuff they are making for these iPads? It is astounding. Interactivity between the reader and their magazine, comprising of 3D models, embedded videos, interactive advertising. It is amazing. Not only can one design a fantastic print magazine, but we can now expand that to the internet and to interactive e-readers. Technology does not need to be the death of print. We must retain its significance. But we must continue to use this technology to grow and adapt. Thank you.

JACOB JOHNSON Writer, Designer, Director,


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11.10 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

volume 14 issue 03

Dear Editors,

M U S I C

F I L M

F A S H I O N

D E S I G N

A R T

C U L T U R E

I’ve been reading your magazine for a while now and I can honestly say that it’s hands down my favorite mag on the shelves. I usually like everyone you cover and am always happy with the artist that I’m discovering from reading NOISE. That being said, I felt compelled to write to express my displeasure with the choosing of Daniel Johnston for your “Overrated” category. I just don’t get the hate. He seems to me to be what NOISE is all about; unique culture and eclectic taste. I still got love for you, but you really missed the boat with that one. Still A Fan, Carole Franklinstein BOULDER, COLORADO

Yo NOISE, I want to express my thanks to you for your editorial note at the beginning of last month’s issue. It really validated everything that I am trying to accomplish and achieve at this particular time in my life. It is nice receiving a positive and personal note from the magazine.

Word, Geoff Windows CANADA

Dear NOISE, On a lazy afternoon, I was flipping through my personal NOISE archives to reminisce. The Paris issue, fabulous. The LA issue, amazing. Then it hit me: where is the NY issue? I may be biased as a native to the city, but I wouldn’t mind reading the issue. And hey, if you are short on content feel free to do a piece on me. Yea, I am shameless.

ISSUE 18 APR 2010

I was in a small bookstore in Toronto and I found you, well not you, but NOISE. I think it was the hair issue. Loved the feel of the magazine, loved the style, loved the content. It just appealed to me. So yea, just wanted to say kudos. And thanks. Keep up the good work.

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Dear Editors, Let’s be frank... I like NOISE. It is a well crafted diverse magazine. My only issue at the moment is that I was under the impression this was a music magazine? Why so convoluted with other topics? I understand that you like to expand to all cultural walks of life, I just feel let down in the audio department as of late. I mean, last month’s issue didn’t say anything about Brandon Flowers new solo gig, and that is a damn good album. I don’t know... It’s not you, it’s me. Perhaps I just expect too much. Aside from that being left out, October’s issue was actually really good. Sorry for the hard time. Love, Rebecca Eisley DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Peace, Stephen Brink NY, NY

16 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


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animal collectivism return of vinyl rock the cardigan take cover


AUDIBLE

MOST OVERUSED ANIMALS IN INDIE ROCK

Bands named after animals are nothing new.  Some of the greatest bands of all time took their name from the animal kingdom.  And The Eagles did too!  But in recent years, indie bands in particular have shown a special sort of fascination with beastly band names.  And when it comes time to pick those names, they turn to these five animals more than any others…

The Wolf

THE DEER As Used By: The Deer Tracks, Deer Tick, Deerhoof, Deer Hunter While not nearly as prevalent as other animals, the wolf for example, the deer is currently enjoying a new found popularity in the s rock band name market. Noise-pop masters Deerhoof have been around since the mid-90’s, but recent releases by Deer Tick and the 2008-best-of-list topping Deer Hunter have propelled the antlered automobile destroyer into the indie rock spotlight. Expect an onslaught of deer named bands any second now.

As Used By: Sea Wolf, Wolf Parade, Wolf Eyes, Turbowolf With the wolf, we dive headlong into indie rock royalty. For the better part of 2008, it seemed like you couldn’t read a single paragraph on most music blogs without the mention of a wolf popping up. The Los Angeles based band Sea Wolf even went the extra mile and released a single called “You’re a Wolf.” I’m pretty sure I’m not, but not having “wolf” somewhere in my name does make me feel like a bit of an outcast these days. Most Rock Friendly Characteristic: Traveling in packs – like any good DIY band traversing the country in a beat up van, wolves travel in packs. And just like most bands end up doing at some point, wolves all wear extravagant fur coats and eventually one of them goes solo. That’s nature for you. Most Inspired Band Name: AIDS Wolf

Most Rock Friendly Characteristic: Self destructive tendencies – with their penchant for bounding wildly into oncoming traffic, the deer is the animal kingdom embodiment of the “live fast die young” stereotype that has been a staple of rock music since the dawn of time. Most Inspired Band Name: The Deer In Your Headlights

NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 23


[AUDIBLE] ANIMALS

The Bear As Used By: Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, Bear In Heaven, Angry vs. The Bear Is there a hotter animal in indie rock right now? Put your hands down, I’m not actually expecting you to reply.  The answer, of course, is no. Panda Bear is in Animal Collective, and people have officially lost their shit over that new Animal Collective album. Throw Grizzly Bear and the much read blog Gorilla vs. Bear into the fray and you have a full on cultural movement taking place. A “bearevolution,” if you will.Sorry. Most Rock Friendly Characteristic: Violence – in its earliest days, rock music was threatening. Bears?Still threatening. Most Inspired Band Name: Minus the Bear

The Horse As Used By: Band of Horses, Horse Feathers, Night Horse,  An Horse, Toy Horses Majestic, gallant, powerful, bearded, signed to Sub Pop Records. Wait, all of those things actually do not describe real horses. But these days, you could forgive a person for getting things confused. Like any good rock and roll snowball effect, Band of Horses released a breakthrough album, and now no fewer than seven horse named bands will be galloping their way through the SXSW Festival this year. Most Rock Friendly Characteristic: Beer endorsements Most Inspired Band Name: The Donkeys, Stereo Pony (tie) – way to break the mold.

24 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


The Bird As Used By: The Birds, Birds of Wales, Wallis Bird, Andrew Bird (Alright, that one doesn’t count) The bird has a long and storied history in rock music. The Byrds, The Eagles, The Black Crowes, The Fabulous Thunderbirds… stone cold legends, some of them. And like the mythical phoenix (also a bird, fyi) it is rising once again in the world of indie rock. It may not be rampaging through the scene like the wolf or the bear, but with the recent, albeit mild, success of The Bird and The Bee and a slew of bird named bands set to strike in the coming months, 2009 could go down in indie rock history as the year of the bird. Or the snake, the tiger, the domestic house cat, the mouse. Who the hell knows? Most Rock Friendly Characteristic: The gift of flight – nothing rocks harder than that. Most Inspired Band Name: Eagles of Death Metal


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AUDIBLE

RETURN OF VINYL written by Jeff Daniels photography by Justin Gouthro

As counterintuitive as it may seem in this age of iPods and digital downloads, vinyl (the favorite physical format of indie music collectors and audiophiles) is poised to reenter the mainstream, or at least become a major tributary. Talk to almost anyone in the music business’ vital indie and DJ scenes and you’ll encounter a uniformly optimistic picture of the vinyl market. “I’m hearing from labels and distributors that vinyl is way up,” said Ian Connelly, client relations manager of independent distributor alliance IODA, in an e-mail interview. “And not just the boutique, limited-edition colored vinyl that Jesu/Isis-style fans are hot for right now.” Pressing plants are ramping up production, but where is the demand coming from? Why do so many people

still love vinyl, even though its bulky, analog nature is anathema to everything music is supposed to be these days? Records, the vinyl evangelists will tell you, provide more of a connection between fans and artists. And many of today’s music fans buy 180-gram vinyl LPs for home listening and MP3s for their portable devices. “For many of us, and certainly for many of our artists, the vinyl is the true version of the release,” said Matador’s Patrick Amory. “The size and presence of the artwork, the division into sides, the NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 29


[AUDIBLE] RETURN OF VINYL

better sound quality, above all the involvement and work the listener has to put in, all make it the format of choice for people who really care about music.” Because these music fans also listen using portable players and computers, Matador and other labels include coupons in record packaging that can be used to download MP3 versions of the songs. Amory called the coupon program “hugely popular.” Portability is no longer any reason to stick with CDs, and neither is audio quality. Although vinyl purists are ripe for parody, they’re right about one thing: Records can sound better than CDs. Although CDs have a wider dynamic range, mastering houses are often encouraged to compress the audio on CDs to make it as loud as possible: It’s the so-called loudness war. Since the audio on vinyl can’t be compressed to such extremes, records generally offer a more nuanced sound. Another reason for vinyl’s sonic superiority is that no matter how high a sampling rate is, it can never contain all of the data present in an analog groove, Nyquist’s theorem to the contrary. “The digital world will never get there,” said Chris Ashworth, owner of United Record Pressing, the country’s largest record pressing plant. Golden-eared audiophiles have long testified to vinyl’s warmer, richer sound. And now demand for vinyl is on the rise. Pressing plants that were already at capacity are staying there, while others are cranking out more records than they did last year in order to keep pace with demand. Don MacInnis, owner of Record Technology in Camarillo, California, predicts production will be up 25 percent over last year by the end of 2007. And he’s not talking about small runs of dance music for DJs, but the whole gamut of music: “new albums, reissues, majors and indies ... jazz, blues, classical, pop and a lot of (classic) rock.” Turntables are hot again as well. Insound, an online music retailer that recently began selling USB turntables alongside vinyl, can’t keep them in stock, according to the company’s director, Patrick McNamara. And on Oct. 17, Amazon.com launched a vinyl-only section stocked with a growing collection of titles and several models of record players. Big labels still aren’t buying the vinyl comeback, but it wouldn’t be the first time the industry failed to identify a new trend in the music biz. “Our numbers, at least, don’t really point to a resurgence,” said Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s director of communications. Likewise, Nielsen SoundScan, which registered a slight increase in vinyl sales last year, nonetheless showed a 43 percent decrease between 2000 and 2006. But when it comes to vinyl, these organizations don’t really know what they’re talking about. The

30 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

RIAA’s numbers are misleading because its member labels are only now beginning to react to the growing demand for vinyl. As for SoundScan, its numbers don’t include many of the small indie and dance shops where records are sold. More importantly, neither organization tracks used records sold at stores or on eBay -- arguably the central clearinghouse for vinyl worldwide. Vinyl’s popularity has been underreported before. “The Consumer Electronics Association said that only 100,000 turntables were sold in 2004. Numark alone sold more than that to pro DJs that year,” said Chris Roman, product manager for Numark. And the vinyl-MP3 tag team might just hasten the long-predicted death of the CD. San Francisco indie band The Society of Rockets, for example, plans to release its next album strictly on vinyl and as MP3 files. “Having just gone through the process of mastering our new album for digital and for vinyl, I can say it is completely amazing how different they really sound,” said lead singer and guitarist Joshua Babcock in an e-mail interview. “The way the vinyl is so much better and warmer and more interesting to listen to is a wonder.”


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wool cardigan by AE, $100 shirt by Louis Vuitton, $220 pants by Louis Vuitton, $180


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Rock The Cardigan What’s the best season for rock ‘n’ roll we’ve seen in ages? Right now. Because this winter, there’s a slew of electrifying releases from bands at their peaks. (No one-hit wonders or teen idols invited.) Here, the frontmen of these leading bands can be seen wearing a range of cardigans that will look killer on you, too—even without a guitar slung over your shoulder.

NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 33


[AUDIBLE] CARDIGAN

aaron

of THE NARWHALS cashmere cardigan by Urban Outfitters, $180 shirt by Urban Outfitters, $50 pants by Urban Outfitters, $110


amanda of CRAYON B

cotton cardigan by American Apparel, $100 shirt by AA, $40 pants by Gucci, $240


[AUDIBLE] CARDIGAN

derek

of ST. PETER & FRIENDS cotton cardigan by GAP, $60 shirt by GAP, $35 pants by Levi, $80


jacob

of ESTEBAN! ESTEBAN! cotton cardigan by Banana Rep, $80 shirt by American Apparel, $30 pants by American Eagle, $50


[AUDIBLE] CARDIGAN

aaron

of THE NARWHALS wool cardigan by Buckle, $80 shirt by Hanes $10 pants by Diesel, $50

38 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


LIVE LIFE BAREFOOT barefoot.org


AUDIBLE

2010 COVER SONGS BYE BYE BLACKBIRD Float On Modest Mouse Released as a single in 2004, Float On was Modest Mouse’s first song to gain mainstream popularity. Written by band member Isaac Brock, it was said that he wanted to create something more positive than most of his previous works. Bye Bye Blackbird takes this amazing semi-upbeat song and transforms it into a soothing gentle melody. Simply beautiful.

THE DA VINCIS Paper Planes M.I.A. Originally written and recorded by British artist Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A.), Paper Planes is her most successful and highest charted song in the US. Overplayed throughout most of the States, The Da Vincis have once again made it possible to listen to this song with their quirky strangely amusing cover of this popular song.

Dr. Dog Heart It Races Architecture in Helsinki Australian band Architecture in Helsinki first released this single back in 2007. While originally sounding like a delightfully jungle-esque little ditty, Dr. Dog has recently added their two-cents for a lazy day, summertime treat. Airy acoustic guitars, frolicsome pianos, handclaps, and dreamy harmonies a plenty (Boom dadadada boom dada!) are so crystal clear, it’ll make you swoon.

Sam Billen This Place Is A Prison The Postal Service The Postal Service released their one and only album in February of 2003. The album quickly gained fame, being Sup Pop’s most successful release since Nirvana’s Bleach. Withholding revolutionary change to the original, the subtle nuances and personal interpretation of this song earns Sam Billen a place on this list.

Taken By TreES My Boys Animal Collective Released March 23 of 2009, My Girls was the first single out on Animal Collective’s album Merriweather Post Pavillion, hailed as the best album of 2009. But that was last year. Enter “Young Folks”/ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman aka Taken By Trees. Her terrific, foreign born East Of Eden includes “My Boys,” a jaunty and vaguely tropical take on Merriweather’s celebrated single that messes around with gender roles.

40 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


Beck’s Record Club Never Tear Us Apart INXS Australian INXS released this single back in 1988. As a sensuous ballad, layered with synthesizers and containing dramatic pauses before the instrumental breaks, Never Tear Us Apart was deemed quite the success in both the UK and the US. Recent collaboration between Beck and St. Vincent has proved to be the best cover of this song since it’s creation over 20 years ago.

Wye Oak Strangers The Kinks Who doesn’t love themselves some Kinks? Released in the 70s, Strangers was never known as a single but remains to this day a fan favorite, especially after being included in the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. The cover by Wye Oak, featuring Jonathan Meiburg of “should be huge according to every music journalist save possibly Gumshoe” band Shearwater is sheer brilliance and appropriately “kinky”.

Dirty Projectors I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine Bob Dylan So after the florid psychedelic lyricism of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and on through his rootsy rocking and ambitious double-album masterpiece Blonde on Blonde, Dylan responded with the spare John Wesley Harding in 1967. “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is a simple production, just Dylan’s voice, guitar and some light drums. But, the song’s cryptic lyrics, mysterious and concise, fit neatly within the little mysteries that Dave Longstreth creates with Dirty Projectors’ catalog.

Feist & Ben Gibbard Train Song Vashti Bunyan The Godmother of Freak Folk, Vashti Bunyan, may have been little known in the 60s during the start of her musical career, but today she has established quite the cult following. Vashti’s single Train Song, although originally released in 1966, has been resurrected by the talents of Feist of Ben Gibbard resulting in a simply beautiful and elegant duet deeply rooted within Vashti’s original style.

St. Vincent & The National Sleep All Summer Crooked Fingers Marking St Vincent’s second mention on this list, Sleep All Summer qualifies for duet of the year alongside Feist and Gibbard in the Train Song. Released not too long ago by Crooked Fingers, The National and St. Vincent do a by-the-numbers, faithful cover, recreating the same melancholy, soothing vibe that Sleep All Summer originally conveyed back in 2005.


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text messaging plastic beach design constraint fancy friday pretentious tools graffiti


S TAT I C

TEXT MESSAGING the future of intimacy


For many years, I was a cell-phone holdout. It wasn’t until 2008 that I got my first cell phone, and even then it was because I was moving and it didn’t make sense to sign up for another landline. written by Rob Horning photography by The Internet

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knew I had been more than a little bit stubborn in my long refusal, and after I unboxed my first phone I expected to transition easily into a new era of connectedness and spontaneity from having mobile communications in my life. It didn’t turn out like that. I had a hard time remembering to carry the phone with me and to check it to see if anyone had tried to reach me when the ringer was turned off (which is always, since the sound of my phone ringing in public makes me incredibly embarrassed, as if my pants had just fallen down or something). Suddenly, because I had a phone, I was responsible for fielding and sending out all sorts of reassuring and what seemed to me unnecessary messages, confirming my departures and arrivals, for example, and I had to send out or respond to messages celebrating or lamenting events in real-time, many of them sports related. Basically, carrying around a communication device meant I had to be doing a lot more communicating with people, and not really on my own terms. So at first, this was all incredibly inconvenient—a surprise after having been lectured for years about how much easier my life would be with a cell phone. It turns out that my not having a phone was less inconvenient for me than it was for everyone else who had already adapted to the brave new world of perpetual accessibility. I had been blissfully backward, perfectly secure in my plans—no need to change the reservation/rendezvous I already agreed to—and happy without having a playby-play account of random events vibrating in my shirt pocket. To everyone else I knew, without a cell phone number attached to my identity, I was an outlier, an annoying exception who had to be planned around, taken into account. In an ignorant, almost Mr. Magoo-ish fashion, I made everyone else I knew subtly change their way of going about things to accommodate me and my

technological deficit while I blundered along happily. In a small but significant way, my lack of a phone upset what everyone else had long since agreed was the normal way the social world should work. Furthermore, I was increasingly being cut out of that world by friends, not out malice or spite, but because it had become inconvenient to deal with me on my archaic terms. I had marginalized myself. Eventually, cell phone in hand, I got up to speed on texting and all that, and suddenly I was in that world along with everyone else, checking to see if I had messages as the subway train emerged from the tunnel and caught a signal, sending inane texts and/or redundant texts (“another slovenia goal? WTF”), and TK. Awareness of the device as a thing that had to be carried around receded in my mind; the cell phone became assimilated invisibly into my praxis and became a part of the familiar, reassuring fabric of everyday life. Indeed, it become a tool for keeping anxiety at bay in a myriad of simple, nearly thoughtless ways. Sometimes, just opening it up and looking at the wallpaper I have on it is calming to me, for reasons I no longer bother to interrogate. So gradually, having a cell phone ceased to be something I thought of as something one has a choice about. One can’t comfortably opt out of a social medium that has become part of everyone’s standard reality, if you want to stay in their social sphere. However, at the same time, in the new standard reality, social life in general is no longer anchored in the same way; the cell phone, as a new medium for social behavior, has brought plans for socializing closer to the fluidity of real time, for better or worse. It seems altogether understandable, natural even, that plans mutate at the last minute, that meeting places get scuttled, that calls get screened, that the casual chatting in and around practical conversation gets dropped in favor of terse, no-nonsense texts. Something similar seems to be happening

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[STATIC] TEXT MESSAGING

with social networking; it’s becoming naturalized. Attempting to opt out of Facebook is beginning to have broader consequences than merely making a protest. For example, in an April post at O’Reilly Radar called Promiscuous Online Culture, Alistair Croll mentions how companies are evaluating socialnetworking pages of potential employees, noting that not having one is likely to make a person seem inherently suspicious. If you present an identity, but have no Facebook page to substantiate it, employers and other verifiers (i.e., the contractors/skip tracers/privateinvestigation firms that get hired to do background checks) might presume you have something that you are trying to hide. Croll calls this “peer-reviewed identity”: Peer-reviewed identity in the era of open social graphs is a game changer. Consider, for example, the work involved in creating a false identity today: Photoshopping childhood pictures, friending complete strangers, maintaining multiple distinct Twitter feeds, and checking in from several cities. It’s enough to make Bond retire. The implicit idea is that everyone should have a Facebook presence that is internally consistent with one’s current self. The absence of such a presence—now that it is considered “normal” to have a Facebook page—could signal to employers a potential risk. Croll notes that “if employers rely on social networks, they may be creating processes that disadvantage the part of the population that isn’t using social media.”

The implicit idea is that everyone should have a Facebook presence that is internally consistent with one’s current self. Apparently social networking is in the process of transforming from a helpful way to keep in touch and “share” amongst friends into an institutionalized means of identity verification—you need to act out an active online social life of detailed sharing in order convince others to believe that you are what you claim to be. So, failing to confess everything in advance to Facebook may cause potential employers to wonder what you are hiding. Protecting one’s privacy becomes a reason for suspicion. In a recorded, shared world, the absence of records may be enough to sway a jury reared on Facebook or to throw suspicion on someone. In the court of public opinion, we’re increasingly expected to live our lives in public, and being too private is a slippery slope toward an admission of guilt. Wow. How is this not like East Germany? I feel as though I’d better start working on my Potemkin profile. Yes, of course I love the flag! Apple pie! The local sports team! Please enjoy these photos of my collegeeducated, middle-class friends and my healthy, happy family. I love to share! 48 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

Peer-reviewed identity is nothing new, of course. Our sense of self has always been reflected back to us via the impression we make upon others in the course of our ordinary interactions. It requires a certain sort of society to prompt us to discover our individuality, to make selfabsorption a seemingly more valuable activity than losing oneself in engagement with the world. In some ways, as philosopher Louis Althusser argued, identity can be regarded as an effect of power singling us out for some particular form of scrutiny or flattering attention in the hopes of controlling us, telling us who we are and having us believe it. That is, he argued that institutions constitute our subjectivity; Facebook could be understood as one of his “ideological state apparatuses”. For an identity of that sort to develop, we have to be recognized by a force outside of ourselves (marketers, the police, doctors, teachers, bosses, peers) in order to see our own uniqueness, otherwise we would simply be lost in the sensations of our own experience. The outside forces become the organizing principle for our inchoate sensations, structuring our ideas about which of those sensations and responses are “us” and which are incidental, contingent, irrelevant. The attention we get teaches us which responses and feelings we should regard as authentic, integral to the self, and which we should regard as roles, pretenses, strategies. A related view is that our reflexive self-identity, as sociologist Anthony Giddens likes to call it, is an effect of the conditions of modern society. Modern society has unmoored us from the traditional sources of identity, which were rooted in local folkways, many of which were inflexible. You were born into an identity based on where you were born, who your parents are, what sort of local practices prevailed in your society. However modernity, in Giddens’s analysis, is in part the result of having the familiar no longer be the local but merely the local manifestation of something global, removed, abstract, transcendental. The sense of the familiar is one often mediated by time-space distanciation. It does not derive from the particularities of localized place. And this experience, so far as it seeps into general awareness, is simultaneously disturbing and rewarding. The reassurance of the familiar, so important to a sense of ontological security, is coupled with the realization that what is comfortable and nearby is actually an expression of distant events and was “placed into” the local environment rather than forming an organic development within it. The local shopping mall is a milieu in which a sense of ease and security is cultivated by the layout of the buildings and the careful planning of public places. Yet everyone who shops there is aware that most of the shops are chain stores, which one might find in any city, and indeed that innumerable shopping malls of similar design exist elsewhere. (The Consequences of Modernity, Anthony Giddens, Stanford University Press, 1991) These days, we are integrated into a globalized community even as we are estranged from the local ones that our ancestors knew.


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FEELING SELF CONSCIOUSNESS With the traditional sources of identity uprooted, identity has become more fragile as it has become more openended. We crave “ontological security”—as Giddens defines it, “the confidence most human beings have in the continuity of their self-identity and in the constancy of the surrounding social and material environments of action.” (ibid) Once upon a time, that confidence came automatically for most people, who would live their entire lives in the same town and have little exposure to ways of life beyond it. In the modern world, the integrity of local experience has been shredded, and that confidence must instead be sustained by our own effort, and by those virtual communities linked by shared knowledge of how modern life works —knowing about chain stores and brands, having a cell phone, being internet savvy, or more basically, knowing how to navigate the increasingly homogenous urban spaces of capitalism—as well as by shared tastes and affinities developed through personal choice rather than assigned by fate of locality. As a result, we are required to develop our sense of identity through constant self-monitoring and constant invocation of these communities. Modern identity is thus born of acute self-consciousness; the alienation of watching ourselves be ourselves makes the self seem an actual, discrete, precious and malleable thing. It becomes a manufactured product to be publicized and validated rather than simply lived in, as in premodern experience. Modernity thus promotes an inward turn, assessing one’s tastes and values, while at the same time it requires exhibitionism—publicly displaying the fruits of the inner quest in hope for recognition from others. We need trusted accomplices to verify our identity for us, to confirm the worth of what we’ve made. Widespread adoption of Facebook both reflects and exacerbates the rise of the manufactured self. Socialnetwork usage is an expression of the greater reflexivity of self in modern life: it’s not something we choose to do solely for entertainment or out of narcissism. It’s become a valve for the bottled-up, pressurized self-awareness forced upon us by modern life. If we opt out of it, we run the risk of unintentionally issuing a challenge to the ontological security of everyone on our friend list, a threat that ripples across the so-called social graph. Whereas if we opt in, we grant ourselves access to a new wellspring of social interaction and arena for establishing mutual trust, which as Giddens argues, is the essential basis for our own ontological security, beyond the comfort of the familiar systems of consumerism . “Trust in abstract systems is not psychologically rewarding in the way in which trust in persons is,” he notes in The Consequences of Modernity. In Cold Intimacies, sociologist Eva Illouz labels this work “emotional competency”—a set of quasi-therapeutic skills for self-revelation and articulation coupled with listening skills geared toward recognizing and clarifying the claims about the self others are trying to make. These

50 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

skills are more important than ever as the trends that brought on modernity continue to accelerate and the self secured by traditions is supplanted by the isolated individual making free choices in a marketplace of lifestyles. One can never stop exercising them—the self is never complete but always in process, always requiring rearticulation. In other words, now that the sense of community has been displaced from a our real location and made virtual, we have rendered identity a perpetual work in progress, a striving to reach a home that may have no fixed reality as a particular place but is instead a state of mind, a realization of some ideal self and ideal community that nurtures that self. It may be an unrealizable fiction. Social networks seem like a logical extension of the opportunities for such rearticulation of self in such conditions and have been seized upon as such. However, the networked society has not evolved merely to serve the needs of self-fashioning subjects; it also serves to extend a consumer capitalism that’s already genetically predisposed to colonize all aspects of life and turn them into commercial opportunities. By relocating our search for trust and ontological security to social networks, we begin to develop our selfidentity in the heart of one of the business world’s most treasured commercial frontiers, an archived, indexed, and cross-referenced matrix of connections that reveal a multiplicity of marketing opportunities as well as revealing who among us who have the most emotional competency, the most connections, the most influence. Then those skilled people can be persuaded to turn that emotional competency into emotional capital, an exploitable resource. Social networks thus mobilize our identity-making process as a production process—in making ourselves, we make meanings that can circulate, we make affect that can be detached from its origin and


embedded in new contexts. Social networks prompt is to develop our self as a profitable, personal brand. In general, the new forms of mediated communication tend to undermine the trust that communication is otherwise supposed to build, compromising it with commercial interests. Despite “connecting” us more securely with others online, social networking has made our real-life, non-online identities more insecure than ever. With a new tool to investigate what we don’t immediately disclose up front, there is less reason for anyone to take us at face value, to practice emotional competency in a face-to-face encounter. People may just nod along at what we tell them and just Google us to discover the “truth”. This, after all, is how we are used to getting our information these days—as indexable, searchable data. The online identity supplants the reallife presence. We find ourselves more comfortable dealing with one another’s profiles than with one another, as it is certainly more convenient and requires less of our precious attention, the scarce resource of the digital age. Social networks increase our sense of isolation while seeming to remedy it, much as consumerism exacerbates our yearnings while seeming to cater to them. With social networking on the rise, the trusting friendships that ideally compensate for our having to draw our ontological security from modern life’s abstract systems are themselves being assimilated into a system. They undermine the trust we turn to them to help sustain, meanwhile sizing us up in terms of our productive potential and harvesting it from us, as we make ever more “selfhood” online to be harvested. Even as we fashion our identity out of globalized brands and practices determined by institutions out of our control, the one thing that had seemed within our total control was the intimacy and intensity of our relationships. Facebook, however, wants to co-opt that reciprocity and make it into another publicly oriented, self-aggrandizing commercial project that we volunteer for, lured by the promises of convenience, notoriety, influence, and eventually money. This has long seemed the thrust of social networking as a business. The social-networking companies want to be the intermediaries of friendship and ultimately stand in the middle of as many interactions between people as they can. In other words, they intend to make friendship more convenient, to automate it and make it so that we seem to conduct it on our own terms rather than on reciprocal ones—undermining its capacity to build trust. Meanwhile, those who want to put the data about our social relations to various commercial or juridical uses have huge new data sets to potentially mine. At that point, we have also withdrawn ourselves as a resource for building our ontological security. We are losing the sources of personal “authentic” (i.e., noncommercial) trust that have made modern life

tolerable. One of the most serious consequences of commercialized emotional competence, Illouz suggests, is that “actors seem to be stuck, often against their will, in the strategic” approach to emotionality. The Internet exacerbates this, making rationalized interpersonal relations possible on a much larger scale and to a much greater degree, but wiping out the face-to-face aspects that mitigate the commercial impulses that have been grafted onto them. Illouz cites Jorge Arditi, who suggests that people may now have things in common that are too common, i.e., too many people citing the same interests in social networking profiles,  which makes relations somewhat generic, formulaic. As Illouz argues, “closeness results from the specificity and exclusivity shared between two entities. In this sense, nearness implies the sharing of ‘existentially generated meanings’”—inside jokes, lived reciprocity, common experiences that wouldn’t be elicited by surveys or self-help questionnaires or relationship counselors, not the stuff that would be shared in advance as interests on a social-networking profile. Closeness, trust, ontological security rests precisely the stuff that moves us that we don’t predict in advance. Internet sociality, however, tends to expect us to be adapt self-analysts and enforces the supposition that we can know what will move us predictably in advance. Despite the efforts of the Facebook defectors, social networking continues to grow, feeding on its own momentum, even as it hollows out the ideals of friendship it pretends to serve. If social networks succeed on their current path, we will end up completely isolated from one another, cocooned in data, altogether indifferent to any forms of reciprocity that can’t be measured and adjudicated and put to work in networks. Instead we will only know attentionoriented quid pro quos. We may not even mind all that much—the incoming stream of data will make us feel more “connected” than ever. Perhaps “connection” can replace “warmth” and “trust” in the future of intimacy.In the near term, though, we are endangering the relationships that we need to substantiate our sense of who we are, to save ourselves from a kind of socialized schizophrenia in which who we are fluctuates from moment to moment in a contemporary world that respects no traditions, a capitalism bent on creative destruction. To try to stabilize the self, we are thrown back on institutions, the abstract, globalized systems: An N+1 essay from its The Intellectual Situation section made the claim that “today we Google ourselves to see what the world knows about us; tomorrow we’ll just watch the ads.” (28 April 2010> To take the idea to its logical conclusion: we may have to eventually Google ourselves to find out who we are.

...we may have to eventually Google ourselves to find out who we are.

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PLASTIC BEACH written by Jeff Daniels photography by The Internet

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ou’ll find most Billionaires sailing across the world’s oceans on posh yachts, but David de Rothschild is different. He’s about to sail the Pacific in a boat made from plastic

drinks bottles and recycled waste. In addition, he’s not heading for any beautiful island or exclusive beach resort either, but instead an island made entirely of junk. The British environmentalist, who is heir to one of the world’s largest banking fortunes and founder of theAdventure Ecology organisation, will leave San Francisco this summer with a crew of experts to cover 12,000 nautical miles on their planned journey across the Pacific as they head toward Sydney. This passage will take them through the world’s largest waste dump the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The region just north of Hawaii has formed over the years by natural ocean currents flowing our waste into the area, which is now so dense with plastic rubbish that it is often called a plastic island. Whilst you cannot physically walk on it and isn’t an island as such you can see plastic lurking amongst the waves and swirling beneath the surface. This accumulation of litter is not just an eyesore; it is also causing a major health risk to wildlife in the area such as fish and seabirds that often mistake plastic items for food. Both large and small pieces of plastic are both a huge risk to the health of our oceans, marine life and to us. Some of the larger pieces are an instant threat to marine life as birds and mammals mistake the pieces of plastic for food. Hundreds of birds every year are found with stomachs full of such things as plastic bottle tops, lighters and Styrofoam. The smaller pieces of plastic can reach the ocean as part of a larger piece or were manufactured as a small particle. For example plastic beads in exfoliating face washes get washed down the plughole and into the ocean. Research shows that these dumb items of plastic never leave our planet. Once in the ocean, plastic photo degrades very slowly over many years. During this ongoing process, it separates into smaller and smaller particles and therefore increasing its initial surface area. As plastic is a petroleum-based product, these small particles act as persistent organic polluters, which means that they form a sponge attracting toxins such as insecticides and pesticides. The filter feeder fish at the bottom of the food chain then ingest these nano particles of plastic. If these fish survive and do not starve from lack of nutrients as a result of filling up on plastic, they will get eaten by bigger predators, which in turn ingest the plastic. The cycle goes on and the levels of toxicity increases until you get to the top of the food chain with pelagic fish such as swordfish that end up on our dinner plate. Rothschild and his team will conduct research, post blogs, photographs and video clips from the area, which is hundreds of miles in diameter, and document other points of environmental concern they come across on their travels. This epic voyage is named The Plastiki, taking inspiration from Thor Heyerdal’s 1947 expedition The Kontiki. The Plastiki expedition will challenge the out-of-site-out-of-mind mentality, which is so often adopted by society today when dealing with the worlds waste, and draw attention to the rethinking of our everyday human fingerprints on the natural world. “It is our aim to captivate, inspire and activate tomorrow’s environmental thinkers and doers to take positive action for our Planet and to be smart with waste,” say the Plastiki crew.


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10.875

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DESIGN CONSTRAINTS A 16- by 10.875-inch rectangle containing precisely 174 square inches of possibility, made from two sheets of paper glued and bound together. Legendary magazine art

director and Pentagram partner D.J. Stout calls the science of filling this box with artful compositions of type and images “variations on a rectangle”. That is, in any given issue of a magazine - this one, for example – subjects and stories will change, but as a designer, you’re still dealing with the same ol’ blank white box.

written by Jackson Bluthe


[STATIC] CONSTRAINT At NOISE, our design team sees this constraint as our daily bread. On every editorial page, we use words and pictures to overcome the particular restrictions of paper and ink: We can’t animate the infographics (yet). We can’t embed video or voice-over (yet). We can’t add sound effects or music (yet). But for all that we can’t do in this static medium, we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief that most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand “Just do whatever you want.” That’s because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation. Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development – removing low-hanging branches – and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won’t waste precious resources on growth that doesn’t serve it’s ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources, you have to make better decisions. For proof, just consider these cultural and technological high points of the last century: Piet Mondrian helped usher in modernism by limiting himself to 90-degree angles and primary colors. Miles Davis conceived Kind of Blue without the use of a single chord. More recently, the very iPhone on which you listen to Davis’ landmark album is a one-buttoned example of restraint in pursuit of an ideal, while the sublimely simple Google homepage is forever limited to 28 words. The idea of operating within constraints – of making more with less – is especially relevant these days. From Wall Street to Detroit to Washington, the lack of limits has proven to be a false freedom. With all the economic gloom, you might not be blamed for feeling that the boundless American frontier seems a little less expansive. But design teaches us that this is our hour of opportunity. With this concept in mind, we take a look at the constraints required to create album art, from the record jacket to the digital thumbnail. Music is an aural art form. But the packaging for the recordings—the album cover—has a distinct aesthetic, one that has evolved along with distribution technologies and formats. In the 1960s, the cardboard record jacket came into its own as a canvas for graphic artists, who used its ample dimensions to spin elaborate visual and conceptual fantasias. Album covers became generational touchstones, with iconic images like the “family portrait” of famous people rendered as cardboard cutouts and waxworks on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Day-Glo colors and trippy starburst ornamentation on Cream’s Disraeli Gears, and the extravagantly Gothic lettering on the Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, when the CD replaced vinyl as the format of choice, the new 5.5- by 5.5-inch Jewel case was a far less luscious canvas. Many images from LP jackets, like the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. and Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love, suffered in translation, their intricate details shrunk into obscurity. Others, like 56 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010

Music is an aural art form. But the packaging has a distinct aesthetic, one that has evolved along with distribution technologies and formats. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, with its simple portrait of the artist, did fine in the smaller size. Eventually psychedelia and its complexity waned and was replaced by cleaner, more forthright designs. When the MP3 gained popularity in the late ‘90s, it seemed that the album—and its cover—would join the moldering 45s, 78s, and 8-tracks in the format graveyard. The first incarnation of Napster made no accommodation for album art at all, and iTunes shrank covers into dispiriting splotches. “If the best a designer can hope for is a 240-pixel square image, it’ll be a depressing time for the music-packaging industry,” says Stephen Doyle, creator of such venerated covers as Pat Metheny Group’s The Way Up and David Byrne’s Look Into the Eyeball. Since then, some designers have embraced the thumbnail and crafted logolike images that serve as mnemonics for the band. The tiny JPEGs displayed on iPod screens demand simplicity, bold color, stark imagery, and unadorned type. The sneering smiley face on Bon Jovi’s Have a Nice Day is an aptly minimalist rendering. No Age’s Nouns, on the other hand, is at once simple and complex, readable and abstract; the sculptural letterforms jump off the screen. Happily, technologies like Cover Flow, the visual navigation interface Apple dropped into iTunes in late 2006—not to mention the iPhone and iPod Touch screens—have given album art some renewed prominence. Innovations in packaging digital visuals along with the music are coming, like the special material for the Enemy’s We’ll Live and Die in These Towns proposed by design firm Big Active. Drawing on clackety railway departure boards, the concept was that each time a new track began, the display on the album icon would flip to its title. The space allotted to album art may be a fraction of what it once was, but that just sets the bar higher. If musicians can continue to innovate in the digital age, then designers must take up the challenge of the minimalist thumbnail.


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FANCY FRIDAY written by Jason McPepperson photography by Bethany Sharp

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ormerly known as just another typical friday, Fancy Friday is a social phenom sweeping the nation. First created by Jacob Johnson and Paul Doherty of Saginaw Valley State University, Fancy Friday is a celebrated evening in which the participants dress up in their finest clothes, drink a classy alcoholic beverage, and ensue in a night of immense enjoyment by all. Originally held on the second friday of every month, the event is usually just established at the convenience of the hosts. At it’s core, Fancy Friday is the typical excuse for a college kid to get drunk

while attempting to hold onto their fleeting sophistication and dignity. The whole thing has an aura of sarcasm and hypocritical contradiction to it. The evening starts off as an elegant gathering of like minded socialites. Within an hour the party takes a turn as all become belligerent and exuberant. This social convention, first taken up by your local hipsters, has infiltrated the mainstream at universities across the nation. Getting back to the root of things, enjoy the photographs taken from the latest Fancy Friday straight from Saginaw, Michigan.

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50 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

You have your ties taken in You have a travel outfit, and it coordinates You’ve taken an inspiration photo to your hairstylist You host brunch You take off work the day before you host brunch You have sage growing on your windowsill You don’t let your girlfriend borrow your sweaters, because you’re afraid she’ll stretch them out You watch TV only on DVD White jeans You invest in vinyl You miss the warmth of 35mm film You have seasonal scarves You prefer the British version of anything You tell your trainer you want to strengthen your core Moleskin You’ve referred to an event as a gala You’ve tasted the “notes” in a beer You’ve recommended your tailor to a friend You know this great little tapas place You know how to spell Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal You use periods instead of dashes in phone numbers You ski You have a thing for typefaces You listen to Grizzly Bear You double-kiss


26. Your business venture has a social-networking component 27. You style the roll in your jeans 28. You photograph your food 29. Your favorite late-night host is Craig Ferguson 30. You disapprove of your girlfriend’s lingerie if it’s not La Perla 31. You’ve refrained from buying a book because it had Oprah’s Book Club insignia on it 32. You “have a guy” at the cheese shop 33. You know the difference between skinny and stovepipe 34. You’ve sung the praises of a professional shave 35. You know the correct pronunciation of açai 36. You frequent a bar without signage 37. You’ve crossed state lines for a flea market 38. You have a favorite animated documentary 39. You don’t vacation - you holiday 40. You refer to movies as films 41. You listen to NPR 42. You subscribe to GQ or Details 43. You wear boat shoes 44. You fancy yourself a film critic 45. You consider yourself to be an altermodernist 46. You lift your glass with your pinky extended 47. You heard of that band eight months ago 48. You broke up with your girlfriend over fashionable differences 49. You have an iPhone or Droid, and people know about it 50. You simply think you are better than everyone


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sunbear the muppets the mixtape jacob johnson


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NUS GNIKSAB BEAR IN TRANQUILITY XOFREVLIS NOSREFFOTSIRK YB PRAHS YNAHTEB YB OTOHP

YLTNECER LITNU NWONK NEDAL-BREVER ,YZAH A ROF ,KCOR EIDNI NO EKAT RAEB NUS OUD LAERTNOM RIEHT DENEDIW EVAH ETTELAP CINOS HTIW YLBAREDISNOC ,REPAP YPOC WEN TNELLECXE RIEHT ROF TSRIF DNA DROCER .POP BUS


SUN RAEYTIBLIUQBASKING NART NI KNOWN UNTIL RECENTLY FOR A HAZY, REVERB-LADEN TAKE ON INDIE ROCK, MONTREAL DUO SUN BEAR HAVE WIDENED THEIR SONIC PALETTE CONSIDERABLY WITH COPY PAPER, THEIR EXCELLENT NEW RECORD AND FIRST FOR SUB POP.

BY KRISTOFFERSON SILVERFOX PHOTO BY BETHANY SHARP


F For bandmates Lindsay Pallett and Dimitri Luya, the album represents the artistic growth that came with playing hundreds of shows and a desire to break out of the woozy style they cooked up almost four years back when they recorded their first LP, Sun Bear, on four-track in Luya’s basement. Up until this album, Sun Bear has been coasting on the rise of chillwave brethren Neon Indian and Animal Collective. Today they have transcended to the optimistic role of leaders, revolutionaries. With the recent unveiling of new album Copy Paper, a band is revealed at the borderlands of then and now, comfortable in its own skin and not afraid to refine the things that work–and ditch those that never quite succeeded as planned. With seven years under their belt and three albums it now appears that Sun Bear has found their niche. We caught up with Sun Bear during a very busy week for them that included their first-ever late-night TV performance, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and the release of Copy Paper. Just a few hours before they would play a cracking live set to celebrate the album’s release (a “birthday party,” Pallett called it) at Brooklyn’s Bell House, Luya and Pallett chatted with us backstage at the venue and the pair seemed equally thrilled and overwhelmed at how far they’d come over the past few years. Though singersongwriters are sometimes known to be insulated and overly self-aware, Luya and Pallett are nothing of the sort, and when NOISE talked to them in tandem, they mirrored each other with perfect resonance, talking to us about creating Copy Paper, the move to Sub Pop, and what it means to find themselves now playing to a much bigger and more perceptive audience.

Copy Paper marks a shift in sound for you guys. Did you intend for that going in or was it something that just came about organically while recording? DIMITRI LUYA: Looking back on it,

it wasn’t really something we were conscious of happening. But I think touring all of 2008 on a record [Stratosphere] that was very much still-sounding and difficult to convey to an audience, it really drove us toward something different. Every night, turning up the volume, every show getting louder and louder. When we started to write these new songs, there was always this feeling that needed to be there in order for us to be excited about it. LINDSAY PALLETT: We were almost feeling tied down by certain things. What those things were, we had no idea at the time. You’ve talked in the past about working within a set of self-imposed limitations. Did you feel the need to break out of that this time around? LUYA: It’s a lot of the same

limitations. We try to write just with two instruments mostly and keep it really simple. And, actually, most of the same instruments for Stratosphere were used on this record. I think we just recorded and utilized them in a kind of drastically different manner. PALLETT: We were thinking about stripping things away and pushing them further. There was a kind of constant feeling of not settling for things that we may have done in the past. We pushed ourselves harder. LUYA: And also, in performing live and recording, I personally feel, and I think Lindsay feels the same way, that we started to grow really NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 81


tired of the kind of sloppy or fast sound of lo-fi that we were so into in the beginning. Just that really fast thing where you try to catch a sound really quickly and try to capture this energy to it. It’s really amazing and so many people do it so well and it can be such an interesting thing. But for me, it just started to get really boring. I really felt like, “If we record this sound, this tone, you know, it might sound awesome if we did it on a four-track cassette right now, it would sound really cool. But if we recorded it with this really nice mic and maybe stereo-panned it, what would it do?” Just trying to go for sophistication. Which sounds a little elitist, but that’s really what a lot of it was. Probably our demos for this record were as good or better sounding than Stratosphere. PALLETT: For example, vocally, with reverb it was never about hiding for me. But when you look back, as you grow, you start to see that reverb is this mask. It’s a style. It’s like a lace curtain or something. But it works. It worked on the first record and it worked on Stratosphere, and it’s still there on Copy Paper to some degree. Did the shift in style or sound have anything to do with a reaction to the prevalence of lo-fi? LUYA: I don’t think it was a reaction

to how many lo-fi bands there are now, it was more of a reaction to our own past, just being bored of something. Because so much of the stuff happening is awesome. I’m not like, “this stuff sucks!” I really like a lot of it. PALLETT: It’s a reaction to ourselves, and who knows what will happen in the future? I tend to think of Copy Paper as an immersive listen, in that it really works front-to-back as a whole album and should be listened to in that order for to get the most out of it. In the MP3 era, how important to you guys is the album experience? PALLETT: We’re very song-oriented;

we believe in songs. It’s very important to us that every song is treated with great care. So in that sense, the album, beginning to end, is very important to us. Not that it’s a concept record that must be listened to in its order or anything,

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LINDSAY PALLETT Raised in South Dakota, Lindsay escaped the coutry to her sanctuary in Montreal where she studied fine art and experimented with several musical projects on the side. She had a disctinct voice that had been trained since childhood, but Lindsay was no conventionalist. She met Dimitri in November 2002. By the end of the year the two started playing music together, at local coffeeshops and art galleries, as a way to earn a few extra bucks on the side. As their popularity grew, they officially joined together forming Sun Bear and the rest is history.

but that at any point you would pick up the record and feel that you’re in this universe. We would never be happy with ourselves where only one song stood out, it’s not even part of our hemisphere. Hell, it’s not even part of our universe. LUYA: Something that Lindsay started on the first record that we’ve really gotten into is calling songs “families”. Like, we’ll be writing, and we’ve done this on Stratosphere and this one, we’ll come up with a song and say, “You know, this really isn’t part of this family.” And what I think it means for us is that it just doesn’t fit with where we are. So I think albums very much matter for us, because all three times they’ve been a statement of a very short amount of time, a three-to-six month period, where these songs were the most exciting things for us to work on. There were a few songs that we started to write and they just weren’t right. It’s not that we didn’t like them, we just thought, “No, let’s just not even

“And it’s not an overly intellectualized thing. It’s literally a gut feeling. An intuition of sorts I suppose.”


DIMITRI LUYA Dimitri, a native Russian, grew up in Montreal surrounded by a slew of art intellectuals and pseudosophisticates. Studying in Oxford, backpacking around Asia, this man has been everywhere and experienced many things. Most of which comes out in the songs he writes. His interest in music began during an encounter with a group of Buddhist monks in the Himalayan mountains. Fascinated by their throat singing and use of simple instruments, it launched him into a musically devout life. Touring the United States and Canada with several different bands, Luya finally ended back in Montreal. After years and years of theory, practice, and experimentation, Dimitri finally found promise in the young student Lindsay Pallett and shortly later they were touring the country.

entertain them because they’re not part of this family”. PALLETT: And it’s not an overly intellectualized thing. It’s literally a gut feeling. An intuition of sorts. LUYA: Yeah, and I’m actually really obsessed with song sequence. I think that’s very important and spend a lot of time thinking about what will be the opening song, what will be the closing song. You know, how the energy goes from one song to another. It’s a really big part of our recording process each time. We were even writing fantasy song orders as far as two months before recording. I’m basically really quite obsessed with it, actually. So how did the move to Sub Pop come about and how has it been working with them so far? PALLETT: We’ve sort of been in loose

contact with them and Susan Bosch since the beginning. When the demo was being passed around through friends she received it. So there was an acknowledgement of what we were doing. But as artists we were not going to wait for anyone and just wanted to start working and touring.

But then three and a half years go by, and now that we’re on our third record, they approached again and it just really felt like the most natural fit. It felt like this could be the right time to widen our artistic channel. LUYA: We’ve been DIY since the beginning and only in the last few months did we get, like, a manager-type person. We’ve done everything ourselves. We did our first recording in my basement in like three days, we loved it and some friends in Montreal, bands you may know like Wolf Parade and Bell Orchestre just gave it to people they knew in the music industry. And there was some interest from above, but I think all those people thought they were, like, demos. We were, like, “What? This is our music!” We were so unsophisticated and young with what we wanted out of music. We just wanted to start playing and touring. So we just put out our record on the first label that would put it out and who seemed like a cool guy and it was Ari at Analogue, who rules. So we just started touring and it was really great because rather than, like, getting a lawyer and trying to refine those songs and try to make them something they weren’t, we just started. The playing and constant touring and working has been the best thing for us. So going to Sub Pop was, like, we want to get more out of this record. We wanted to make be able to make this DVD to fully capture our vision. PALLETT: Moving to a bigger label isn’t about making things easier. It’s about going to someplace new so that you can continue to challenge yourself in a way that wasn’t possible before. Because I think we sort of outgrew wherever we were back before we joined with Sub Pop. LUYA: We do not have any more money than we had when we had started Stratosphere. We just have spend that much more to maintain our sound. PALLETT: We have less. I have a lot less that much is definitely for sure. LUYA: Every bit of money we got, we spent. The recording was insanely expensive. Every single step of the way, we’ve just tried to go more, go further. So that’s a large part of the Sub Pop thing. And also with things like the packaging they gave us for the CD and record were so crazy, I don’t think any other label would have let us do that. Ari definitely wouldn’t have let us do that! They’re kind of famous for not saying no to artists. How did the idea for the accompanying DVD come about? Did you want to have a visual representation for each song? PALLETT: The DVD idea was something we’ve had for a while. If only because

we thought that would be so crazy if you could actually get that to happen. Then with Copy Paper, it fit because the album had that energy to it. It would hopefully continue the excitement, both for fans and for us. Just as something else to think about. Not in a definitive way, just more entertainment. LUYA: And more than entertainment, too, and I don’t want to make this a bigger deal than it was, but I think there was definitely some frustration of kind of getting pigeonholed into these certain categories all the time. And one goal of this project was to give these songs to artists that we really respected and liked, with very little budget, and just see what came back in an effort to just expand the visual iconography associated with our music. Because we don’t think it’s limited. Some of the videos are very dark, and they all react to the music and expand it. I think that was one thing that I really wanted to have happen from it, was that it stimulated new types of reactions. PALLETT: They don’t expand the music in a definitive way, which is something NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 83


that I like. Maybe the immediate reaction might be, “But this isn’t the Sun Bear that I put my headphones on and fall asleep to and think about girls in floral dresses!” But at least it’s something that goes off into another direction. It might be a little more ugly or violent than you might think. Buy why not? Visually, music can be anything, and it is, for every person that listens to it, something different. So I like that this is a reminder almost, to ourselves as well, that music has infinite potential. LUYA: Yeah, it’s been awesome. I think the other records were more monochromatic in energy too and this one entertained a lot more feelings and a lot more shined through. And there is a lot of sickness, and there’s sexuality and depravity, that’s all there. So much of that is in there. Right, even though it’s more energetic, there’ s also a sadness to the record. Did you intend to explore these more somber themes? PALLETT: I think that just comes out. Like, we don’t have real control over

that. When you’re writing, you just literally write what’s ready to come out. It’s something that’s very subconscious. That’s the only thing I can really think of when someone mentions [the sadness]. Because I think it would be impossible to concoct something like that, to say, “I want this to be sad”. The minute you would try it you would get something else. Often times you get what you didn’t expect. Sure, but with regard to songs like “The Flood”, there seems to be a heavy vintage soul and R&B quality to it. Was that an inspiration at all? LUYA: Yeah, I mean there’s really no ending of the type of songs that we or

I loved over the last year. It’s more like that than types of music. I’ll find a song or a half of a record and just love the shit out of it. One song that I was deeply obsessed with right before we recorded was “What Becomes of the Broken”. That song, I love it. If you just heard the beat alone, you’d probably dance. But no one would ever dance to it. And if they did dance they’d be, like, crying, drunk at a funeral. But yeah, there’s really no end to those realms of influence for me. The songs always come first. When I listen to music, I’m looking for songs. I’m looking for an incredible feeling in a moment. I guess I’m really obsessed with songs. Lindsay, you’ve been singing since you were young, but was there a specific point that you sort of found yourself vocally? When you realized you could do this with your voice? PALLETT: I think a lot of things started with singing Stratosphere and playing

live. You play a song night after night and you just start to reach further. It’s natural, you know, the artist wants to go further. I can remember singing “Barcode” so many times, and I just started to make these little changes, doing different things with my voice and finding my brain changing. It’s the same thing with music, you just very naturally don’t want to repeat the past. And I think that’s what’s happened vocally; I’ve fallen into something that’s going to continue to grow but that’s very much myself right now. It’s interesting because people always talk about your sound and your voice as ethereal, but I think there’s a real earthy, powerful quality to it. PALLETT: Yeah, it’s definitely not waif-y, for sure. LUYA: For me, easily the most compelling part of what we do is Lindsay’s

voice. And I think the biggest step from the last album to this artistically has come through the voice. The power, ability, melody, all of that. Who are some vocalists, Lindsay, that you look up to? Are there singers that you hear and think, “Wow, I’d like to do that with my voice”? PALLETT: Well, lately whenever I hear Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors,

I’m always like, “Wow, she’s doing really cool things with her voice.” But I don’t know, I have a weird process when I listen to other female vocalists. I either love the voice or I hate it. In the past, women’s’ voices that I loved growing up were like Stevie Nicks, Kim Deal has an amazing voice, even Joan Jett on something like “Crimson and Clover”.

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So back to the record, obviously Copy Paper probably opens you up to a wider audience. You’ve played some of the late-night talk shows, for instance. How has that been so far? LUYA: I think it’s fun to try to take

on the challenge of expressing the songs outside of people who you know listen to the same music as you. But it was funny, we had a song on iTunes, it was like the iTunes Single of the Week. And there was this multitude of people freaking out, being like, “What the fuck is this shit?!” PALLETT: They were like, “I hate this! My stereo’s broken!” LUYA: People who had never heard our music before. Our own fans tend to be really lovely, though. We have total sweetheart fans. PALLETT: Yeah, these were total strangers who’d probably never come within 20 feet of us. I like the hate, though, because it’s real. The world is not just your nice, sweet fans. People that hate us, maybe they need music that doesn’t do anything to them. LUYA: Well, who knows what they need. But I think it’s awesome to create, good or bad, some kind of intense reaction like that. There’s nothing wrong with hitting that audience and seeing what sticks.


Finally. The Muppets have returned, and hopefully bigger and better than ever (as the title of the upcoming film suggests). With the reunion of the Muppets after a decade and costarring NOISE favorite Jason Segel, how can this movie not be the greatest Muppets movie ever made? That is correct folks, Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “How I Met Your Mother�) will be joining the cast alongside Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the rest of the beloved crew. Expect several celebrity cameos and slapstick humor that only puppets can provide.

KERMIT


Telly Monster was originally the Television Monster when he debuted in 1979. He was obsessed with TV and his eyes would whirl around as if hypnotized whenever he was in front of a set. After a while, producers started worrying about his influence on youngsters, so they changed him to make him the chronic worrier he is now.

T

The Muppets have been entertaining us for years. Their fanbase spans far across several generations, from the Baby Boomers to the Millenials. Whether you have been watching their shenanigans for several of years or not, something can be appreciated from recognizing the birth of these characters. Each characters creation and inspiration has a unique story, some more interesting than others Some of the characters we know and love were recycled from other TV shows and commercials Jim Henson worked on, while others were invented by using whatever materials were around. As we prepare for the upcoming film, let us reflect on the nostalgic creation of some of our favorite Muppet personalities.

Kermit was “born” in 1955 and first showed up on “Sam and Friends,” a five-minute puppet show by Jim Henson. The first Kermit was made out of Henson’s mom’s coat and some ping pong balls. At the time, he was more lizard-like than frog-like. By the time he showed up on Sesame Street in 1969, though, he had made the transition to frog. There are rumors that he got the name Kermit from a childhood friend of Henson’s or a puppeteer from the early days of the Muppets, but Henson always refuted both of those rumors.

Cookie Monster: Jim Henson drew some monsters eating various snacks for a General Foods commercial in 1966. The commercial was never used, but Henson recycled one of the monsters (the “Wheel-Stealer”) for an IBM training video in 1967 and again for a Fritos commercial in 1969. By that time, he had started working on Sesame Street and decided this monster would have a home there.

Count

von Count made his first appearance in 1972 and was made out of an Anything Muppet pattern, a blank Muppet head that could have features added to it to make various characters. He used to be more sinister; he was able to hypnotize and stun people and he laughed in typical scary-villain-type fashion after completing a count of something and thunder and lightning would occur. He was quickly made more appealing to little kids, though. He is apparently quite the ladies’ man -- he has been linked to Countess von Backward, who loves to count backward; Countess Dahling von Dahling and Lady Two.

Gonzo: What exactly is Gonzo? Nobody knows. Even Jim Henson had no particular species in mind. Over the course of “The Muppet Show,” “Muppet Babies” and various Muppet movies, Gonzo has been referred to as a “Whatever”, a “Weirdo” and an alien. Whatever he is, he first appeared on the scene in 1970’s The Great Santa Claus Switch. His name was Snarl the Cigar Box Frackle. In 1974, he showed up on a TV special for Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. He became Gonzo the Great by the first season of The Muppet Show and developed his thing for Camilla the Chicken almost accidentally: During one episode where chickens were auditioning for the show, puppeteer Dave Goelz ad-libbed, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you... nice legs, though!” It was decided then and there that Gonzo would have a bizarre romantic interest in chickens.

Elmo: The way it’s described by a Sesame Street writer, apparently this extra red puppet was just lying around. People would try to do something with him, but nothing really panned out. In 1984, puppeteer Kevin Clash picked up the red puppet and started doing the voice and the personality and it clicked -- thus, Elmo was born.

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Swedish Chef: Real Swedish Chef Lars “Kuprik” Bäckman claims he was the inspiration for this character. He was on “Good Morning America,” he says, and caught Jim Henson’s eye. Henson supposedly bought the rights to the show’s recording and created the Swedish Chef (who DOES have a real name, but it’s not understandable). One of the Muppet writers, Jerry Juhl, says that in all of the years of working with Jim Henson on the Swedish Chef, he never heard that the character was based on a real person.

Animal: The Who’s Keith Moon may have inspired everyone’s favorite member of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. This is speculation, but people who support the theory will point out that Jim Henson named one of the Fraggle Rock characters “Wembley,” which is the town where Moon was born.

Rowlf the Dog, surprise, surprise, was first made in 1962 for a series of Purina Dog Chow commercials. He went on to claim fame as Jimmy Dean’s sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show and was on every single episode from 1963 to 1966. Jimmy Dean said Rowlf got about 2,000 letters from fans every week. He was considered for Sesame Street but ended up becoming a regular on “The Muppet Show” in 1976. Mental Floss: Commercials from a late80s airing of ‘A Muppet Family Christmas’

Herry Monster from Sesame Street was the Big Bad Wolf in his original incarnation, which you can kind of tell by looking at his fur. It’s pretty wolf-like (if wolves were blue, I mean). He became a Sesame monster in 1970 to replace the Beautiful Day Monster, who looked kind of like Sam the Eagle and existed to cause destruction wherever he went, thus ruining the beautiful day people had been having before he showed up. Herry used to have a furry nose but got upgraded to his non-furry, purple nose in 1971.

Oscar the Grouch is performed by the same guy who does Big Bird, Carroll Spinney. Spinney said he based Oscar’s cranky voice on a particular New York cab driver he once had the pleasure of riding with. He was originally an alarming shade of orange. In Pakistan, his name is Akhtar and he lives in an oil barrel. In Turkey, he is Kirpik and lives in a basket. And in Israel, it’s not Oscar at all -- it’s his cousin, Moishe Oofnik, who lives in an old car. You have to love Statler and Waldorf. I couldn’t find much on their particular inspiration, but I can tell you that they’ve been around since the 1975 “Muppet Show” pilot. They are named after popular New York City hotels (the Statler Hotel was renamed the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1992.) Guess what Waldorf ’s wife name is? Yep... Astoria (she looks startlingly like Statler.) FYI, Waldorf is the one with the mustache and white hair. Statler has the grey hair. Apparently Waldorf has had a pacemaker for more than 30 years.

Beaker: I always thought of Beaker and his buddy Bunsen Honeydew as characters that came along later in the Muppet timeline, but they have been around since the “The Muppet Show.” Although Beaker usually says things along the lines of, “Mee-mee-mee-mee!”, he has had a few actual lines: “Sadly temporary,” “Bye-Bye” and “Make-up ready!” Despite being word-challenged, he manages to do a pretty convincing Little Richard impression and, surprisingly, had mad beatbox skills. Beaker is one of the only Muppets that was never recycled from some other purpose -- he was created solely for “The Muppet Show.” Fozzie Bear: Poor Fozzie. He’s the perpetual target of Statler and Waldorf because of his horrible jokes and puns. It actually created a bit of a problem during the first season of The Muppet Show, because when Fozzie got heckled, he got very upset and sometimes cried. Viewers didn’t feel sympathy; they felt embarrassed. The problem was solved by making Fozzie an optimist so that even when he got heckled he was good-natured about it. It’s often thought that he was named after Frank Oz, who was his puppeteer, but Frank said it’s just a variant of “fuzzy bear.” Yet another story says he was named for his builder, Faz Fazakas. Wocka wocka!!

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the beginning. He thought Bert was ridiculously boring, but then realized that he could have a lot of fun with being boring. Jim Henson once said, “I remember trying Bert and Frank tried Ernie for a while. I can’t imagine doing Bert now, because Bert has become so much of a part of Frank.”

Grover: Everyone’s favorite “cute, furry little monster” made his TV debut on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967. At the time, he was known as “Gleep” and was a monster in Santa’s Workshop. He then appeared on the first season of Sesame Street, but sported green fur and a reddish-orange nose. He didn’t have a name then, but by the second season he transformed into the Grover we know today, more or less -- electric blue fur and a pink nose. The original green Grover was reincarnated as Grover’s Mommy for a few episodes. In Latin America and Puerto Rico Grover is known as Archibaldo, in Spain he is Coco, in Portugal he is Gualter and in Norway he is Gunnar.

Miss Piggy is apparently from Iowa. She started as a minor character on “The Muppet Show,” but anyone who knows Miss Piggy can see that she wouldn’t settle for anything “minor.” Her first TV appearance was actually on an Herb Alpert special. It wasn’t until 1976, when “The Muppet Show” premiered, that she became the glamorous blonde with a penchant for frog that we know and love today. Frank Oz once said that Miss Piggy grew up in Iowa; her dad died when she was young and her mother was mean. She had to enter beauty contests to make money.

Bert and Ernie are the Muppet version of Felix and Oscar (“The Odd Couple,” for you young’uns). Lots of people think Bert and Ernie were named for some minor characters in It’s A Wonderful Life, but according to the Henson company, that’s just a rumor. Jim Henson always maintained that it was just a coincidence -- the names just went well together and seemed to fit the characters. Jerry Juhl, one of the head writers, corroborated this and said that Jim Henson had no memory for details like that and would have never remembered the name of the cop and the taxi cab driver in the old Jimmy Stewart movie. Other rumors to clear up: Bert and Ernie aren’t gay and neither one of them are dead. Now that we’ve got that straightened out, here are a few more tidbits: the original Ernie used to have a gravelly voice similar to Rowlf the Dog’s. Frank Oz was Bert’s puppeteer and hated him at

Sweetums is one of a handful of full-body Muppets. He showed up in 1971 on the TV special “The Frog Prince.” This is where he got his name -- when Sir Robin the Brave is about to defeat the ogre, a witch shows up and changes him into a frog (who later becomes Robin, Kermit’s nephew). Apparently smitten with the ogre, the witch tells her darling “Sweetums” that he can have the frog for breakfast. Bigger fame awaited Sweetums, though -- in 1975, he appeared on Cher’s variety show to do a duet with her to “That Old Black Magic”. He officially joined “The Muppet Show” cast in 1976.

Rizzo the Rat might sound familiar to you, especially if you’ve seen “Midnight Cowboy” -- he is named for Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ratso Rizzo. He was created after puppeteer Steve Whitmire was inspired by rat puppets made from bottles. He first showed up on “The Muppet Show” as one of a group of rats following Christopher Reeve around -- he’s easy to spot because he hams it up more than any of the other rats. He occasionally performs with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Pepe the King Prawn's full name is Pepino Rodrigo Serrano Gonzales. I heart Pepe. He was a chef in Madrid before going Hollywood on “Muppets Tonight” in 1996. He was paired with Seymour the Elephant (Pepe was originally going to be a mouse) on the show, but Seymour never developed quite the same following and was only in two episodes. He rarely gets names right -- some of his mispronunciations include “muffins” instead of Muppets, “Kermin” instead of Kermit and “Scooper” instead of Scooter. He’s quite full of himself -- in addition to thinking that he’s quite the ladies’ man, he also fully expects to win several Oscars.

written by Felicity Bingham illustration by Jacob Johnson

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the

Tapes never fell completely out of favor among experimental and noise musicians, but their broader underground resurgence appears to reflect a confluence of cultural trends.

mixtape written by Roger Rivers photography by Justin Gouthro


L L

ast December, Brooklyn’s Oneida issued a limited-run cassette, Fine European Food and Wine, on Scotch Tapes. Sure, the tape contained years-old live improvisations the band deemed unfit for “mainstream” treatment. But Oneida aren’t unheralded kids laboring

in their bedrooms. Over the past decade, they’ve put out 10 albums on Jagjaguwar, including 2009 triple LP Rated O. “Why release a cassette?” their singing drummer, Kid Millions, muses. “Man, who knows, right?” Oneida are only one of the most recent indie-inclined outfits embracing the tape format. London label the Tapeworm opened its virtual doors last summer, selling out a limited run of cassettes by enigmatic multimedia artist Philip Jeck. Upstart bands Jail and Harlem each put out tapes on Fullerton, Calif.-based Burger Records; Sub Pop went on to sign Jail, now Jaill, while Matador inked a multi-album deal with Harlem. Hometapes, the Portlandbased label behind art-rockers like Bear in Heaven and Pattern Is Movement, capped the year by mailing out a label sampler to journalists-- on cassette. Perhaps more surprisingly, a few of underground music’s heavier hitters are also championing the medium. “I only listen to cassettes,” Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore told CBC radio last summer. Dirty Projectors released last year’s highly anticipatedBitte Orca on CD, vinyl, mp3-- and cassette. Deerhunter have made two EPs available on tape: 2008’s super-limited On Platts Eyott and 2009’s aptly titledRainwater Cassette Exchange. Beck told Pitchfork last summer he was recording a cassette-only cover of Moore & co.’s classic EVOL album for an upcoming Sonic Youth box set (a spokesperson contacted for confirmation did not immediately respond to e-mail). Tapes never fell completely out of favor among experimental and noise musicians, but their broader underground resurgence appears to reflect a confluence of cultural trends. Instant access to almost any recording has left some of us over-stimulated, endlessly consuming without really digesting what we hear. Many children of the 1980s first owned their music on cassette, so for them the format represents a nostalgia for simpler times; younger kids probably never owned cassettes in the first place, so for them tapes don’t have any negative associations. The spread of Internet-enabled smart phones and 24/7 social networking has made work and pleasure


increasingly intertwined in our digital existences. Like records, cassettes offer listeners a tangible experience at a time when our jobs, our social lives, and our popular culture are becoming more and more ephemeral. In a January blog post for London’s Guardian, music critic Simon Reynolds rightly linked cassettes’ netroots resurgence to the 2000s’ decade-long 80s obsession. Not only were tapes the way many young people first owned music in the Reagan era; from post-punk to C86 to riot grrrl to industrial and noise, cassettes also embodied the 80s underground’s do-it-yourself ethic. So much so, in fact, that many indie labels never stopped creating them. Lowell, Mass.-based noise label RRRecords has kept cassette culture alive into the new millennium, joined by Wolf Eyes’ likeminded American Tapes and Heavy Tapes labels. In the early to mid-00s, lo-fi garage/ psych duo Sic Alps’ Folding Cassettes, Woodsist parent Fuck It Tapes, and L.A.based Not Not Fun-along with lo-fi maestro Ariel Pink-- helped chart cassettes’ course back from pure outsider art to a skewed kind of pop. Last August, Rhizome writer Ceci Moss identified 101 cassette labels. Cassettes outsold vinyl and compact disc, respectively, from the early 80s until the early 90s. And yet despite their recent resurgence in certain indie circles, 2009 was the worst year for cassette sales since Nielsen SoundScan started keeping numbers, in 1991, according to the record-industry sales data provider. There were a staggering 8.6 million cassettes sold in 2004, and cassettes were still selling 1 million-plus copies as recently as 2006. But by last year-- vinyl’s best year in the SoundScan era-cassette sales had plunged to a pathetic 34,000. Of the 2,000 tapes sold year-to-date, most have been albums at least 36 months old, bought at indie retailers in the south Atlantic region, in the suburbs, according to SoundScan. Last year’s best-selling cassette: Jagged Era, the 1997 debut album by Atlanta R&B group Jagged Edge. Now you know. Paradoxically, it may have taken the technology of the 00s for the technology of the 80s to really make a comeback. Today’s cassette culture is both a reaction to and a product of digital media, the Internet, and downloading, says Shawn Reed, who runs Iowa City-based cassette label Night People. On one hand, tapes are “the embrace of something old and outdated, intentionally obscure and marginal, almost pointless in some way,” he acknowledges. On the other hand, the Internet is a place where cassettes are “allowed to flourish,” Reed says-- the web helps niche products reach a wider audience. Matthew Sage of Patient Sounds says the Fort Collins, Colo.-based cassette label’s tapes would be “collecting dust in our living room” without the work of blogs, crediting Jheri Evans’ Get Off the Coast in particular. “Blogs cater to audiences with really specific tastes, and with their help,

they can make an item that seems benign or totally outdated a ‘must-have,’ which is kind of a double-edged sword,” Sage observes. One sound that helped was chillwave aka glo-fi aka hypnagogic pop. Washed Out and Toro Y Moi each released cassettes on Charleston, S.C.-based Mirror Universe, Neon Indian played warped tape like an instrument on debut full-length Psychic Chasms, and Memory Tapes-- well, just look at the name. Artists on New Jersey indie Underwater Peoples, such as Julian Lynch or Real Estate-related project Ducktails, were putting out cassettes for tiny labels like Arbor. Built on the haze of nostalgia, boosted by the feeling that the whole thing is an organic underground movement, and trading in lo-fi production, chillwave is perfect for the boombox or old auto cassette deck. Artists choose to put out their music on tapes for reasons both aesthetic and practical. From a practical standpoint, cassettes are arguably the least expensive physical recording format available. Burning CD-Rs one-by-one might be cheaper, but once you get into buying large-scale duplicators, there’s not much comparison. All told, a cassette costs $0.20 apiece to manufacture, says Sic Alps singer/guitarist Mike Donovan, whose Folding Cassettes is set to release a Greatest Hits double album this year on Yik Yak. “$1,500 to release a CD or LP of music that was bound to sell 50 or 100 copies of the minimum 500 run caused me to release a bunch of limited lathe cuts, but then ultimately I switched over to cassettes exclusively,” he explains. It doesn’t hurt, either, that tapes can be made quickly, with no minimum order. Sean Bohrman, who runs Burger Records with Lee Rickard, points out one other important practical consideration. “We put out CDs on our label, too,” he says. “Nobody buys them.” Cassette label operators definitely aren’t oblivious to the collectability of limited edition tapes, but these are people with day jobs and/or classes. When it comes to manufacturing and distribution, they have to get creative, and they have to do most of the work themselves or with friends. “It’s basically a lemonade stand,” Ben Ellenburg says of Mirror Universe, the label he runs with Ryan Moran, where cassettes are dubbed straight from his laptop. Pretty much all these labels stuff their tapes by hand. Some, like Scotch Tapes, occasionally recycle old cassettes. Many order their tapes from Brooklyn-based National Recording Supplies, which will cut tapes to any length-- perfect for shorter releases. “We source our tapes from a very small company located in the north of England,” says John Arthur Webb of UK indie Paradise Vendors. “I think they used to make most of their money from making Biblical tapes. All their stock is very old now. It’s so cheap to buy, but all the colors are faded. If you order a bunch of ‘red’ colored tapes, you won’t get red

Built on the haze of nostalgia, boosted by the feeling that the whole thing is an organic underground movement, and trading in lo-fi production, chillwave is perfect for the boombox or old auto cassette deck.

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tapes-- they’ll be a sun-faded orangey pink color. They have a disclaimer on their website about it. It’s great.” In an exhaustive 2007 essay, “The Hallucinatory Life of Tape”, music critic Paul Hegarty presents a compelling aesthetic case for cassettes. “Within the dying of media comes the passing or slow dying of individual units-- tapes, records, cylinders, cartridges-all of which decay, and in so doing, seem to take on characteristics of having lived,” Hegarty contends. “Once digital media arrive as ‘other’, as cyborg sound, the analogue seems to breathe, however rasping the sound.” Hegarty exalts the unique properties tape takes on when transferred to another medium-- specifically, the reel-to-reel tape-to-digital decay of avantgarde composer William Basinski’s 2002 album The Disintegration Loops. But many people who release music on cassette itself are also drawn to the format’s almost-human imperfections. Take Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon frontman Gruff Rhys, who issued Welsh singer-songwriter Cate LeBon’s Me Oh My on cassette last year as the first release for his own Irony Bored imprint. “Listening to a cassette tape is not an exact science,” says Rhys. “Some cassette players play them a little faster. Others distort and phrase the music, changing the sound on the cassette forever. My first introduction to U2 was listening to a cassette that had at some point been chewed up by a dog. It sounded like a recording of a My Bloody Valentine rehearsal or something, full of incredible whooshing noises and vibrato. Imagine my disappointment on hearing the correct version a few years later.” Unlike vinyl purists, cassette listeners can’t jump to a particular track, only rewind or fast-forward. “A strong personal connection can be formed because it’s not an easy format to dump onto an mp3 player,” says Kevin Greenspon, who runs Southern California-based Bridgetown Records. “You can’t skip around through the tracklisting, so the actual tape and the album become one and the same.” A few years ago, during the most recent outpourings of nostalgia for cassettes, writers focused on the mixtape: Moore’s Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, Nick Hornby’s Songbook, Rob Sheffield’s heartbreaking Love Is a Mixtape. In an age of total customizability, the new cassette culture looks for the lack of it.

CASSETTE

LABELS A look at the leading labels of this underground industry

Folding Cassettes The San Francisco label run by Sic Alps’ Mike Donovan has released noise, punk, and experimental sounds by Yellow Swans, Telepathe, and Ben Chasny aka Six Organs of Admittance. Donovan says Sic Alps’ Fool Mags cassette is still in print and a double-LP Greatest Hits of Folding Cassettes is due this year on Yik Yak.

Perhaps because cassette culture makes it so easy for fans to participate, tapes’ appeal for listeners is similar what attracts creators. “I think there’s a group of people-fans and artists alike-- out there to whom music is more than just a file on your computer, more than just a folder of mp3s,” says Brad Rose of Tulsa, Okla., label Digitalis. “It’s something more tangible.” Hearing music on cassette for the first time is a different experience, too. For one thing, limited-edition tapes aren’t likely to leak months in advance. Oneida’s Kid Millions draws a loose connection to the handmade or craft movement going on outside the music world. He also recalls the sense of intimacy he got from a Daniel Higgs tape called Devotional Songs, which is basically just the former Lungfish frontman singing into a 90-minute cassette. “Though it’s clearly an illusion, the gap between the creator and listener felt smaller,” Millions notes. Critics of today’s cassette revival accuse tape fetishists of backwardness and nostalgia. They’re right. “My attraction to tapes probably stems from my age,” says Alex Davis, whose Leftist Nautical Antiques has just sold out an extended cassette version of Austin lo-fi group Pure Ecstasy’s excellent Future Nostalgia 7”. “Being 20 years old, I’m among the youngest people who remember a time before the iPod, where it was a really big deal to get

Fuck It Tapes With Fuck It Tapes and its Woodsist sublabel, Jeremy Earl-- frontman for Brooklyn-based Woods-has played a key role in cassettes’ transition from primarily a noise/avantgarde medium to a format used for lo-fi rock, noisepop, and shitgaze. Fuck It Tapes releases include Vivian Girls, Wavves, Excepter, Meneguar, Magik Markers, Jana Hunter, and Yellow Swans.

Mirror Universe The Charleston, S.C., operation of Ben Ellenburg and Ryan Moran started out with the idea of being a drone label. But after a single drone release, Mirror Universe has become one of the preeminent purveyors of that psychedelic synth-pop known variously as chillwave, glo-fi, or hypnagogic pop. Last year came releases from Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, Weed Diamond, and Active Child.


a new CD/tape and rush home and put it in that little boombox everybody had. You told your friends, you played it for your friends, and you fell in love and cherished that small collection of records. It doesn’t matter that it was Will Smith’s Big Willie Style or your parents’ Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits. When mp3s hit I was like, ‘Who needs CDs or tapes?’, but the further and further I got away from the experience of listening to full albums, going to the record store, and sharing what you found with friends, the more I realized I was just becoming a pretentious fuck with a full iPod, not somebody cherishing a collection of albums I was in love with. When I started listening to albums just to find out my favorite three tracks so I could make raging mixes or blog about them, I realized my complete lack of soul.” Come the apocalypse, it may be tapes that outlast their digital brethren. Old CDs wind up skipping, anyway-- “perfect sound forever” was a lie. Cassettes have their own problems, from unruly tape that you may need to tape together to inevitable disintegration, but there are certainly worse offenders. “Cassettes and vinyl are the analogue cockroaches to the nuclear Armageddon that is digital formats,” Super Furry Animals’ Rhys proclaims. “Back in the 90s when Super Furry Animals were starting out, we used to master tunes to digital DAT tapes if we didn’t have the budget for reel to reel tapes. Most of these are unplayable today. The sound from them has seemingly vanished to thin air. I have had to remaster some back catalogue stuff from cassette copies-- which sounds great. It’s unclear how long information will actually last in hard drives. In that sense it’s always worth keeping a vinyl or cassette copy of a piece of music you truly cherish.” Nobody is calling for us to give up online music entirely. The cassette revival is neither all analogue nor all digital-- it’s both. “It has been a slow progression that began with noise music and people who specifically chose the format for its lack of modernity and as an attempt to be willfully obscure,” says Steve Rosborough of Minneapolis label Moon Glyph. “But now I don’t see the format as an act of alienating subversion, but rather as a means of coming to terms with mass digitization and the loss of the physical format.” Nor is music the only aspect of life becoming increasingly digitized. Does anybody really

need a Foursquare notification that I’m having dinner at a Thai restaurant? Or am I simply reducing my existence to fit the presumed desires of some yet-to-materialize advertisers? Cassettes give us a cheap, romantic, pre-digital means of engaging with music, but they don’t require us to give up our Internet addictions-- in fact, the two work hand in hand. As trends change and a new technological status quo emerges, the success or failure of the cassette format will ultimately depend on the music. If artists with exciting ideas continue to put out their recordings on tapes, an audience will follow; if and when cassettes are again seen as yesterday’s news, music fans will move on to other mediums-- old or new. In the meantime, Hometapes founder Sara Padgett Heathcott shares a story that could soon become all too familiar. “Our intern Lyndsey works at Music Millennium here in Portland,” she says. “A teenage boy came in a couple weeks ago, looking for tapes for his new girlfriend who said she liked them. The store’s tape stock has dwindled over the years, so Lyndsey suggested he make a mixtape. He then said, ‘But I don’t have a tape burner.’” There’s already a cassette industry, but it’s pretty subterranean,” Thurston Moore told CBC radio last summer. That means if you haven’t busted out your cassette deck in a while, or if you never had a cassette deck to begin with, there’s a whole wide underground world of tapes and tape labels for you to explore. Recent interest in vinyl and cassettes naturally begets jokes about what’s next-- eight-tracks, laser discs?-- but Hal McGee, a pioneer in the cassette medium during the 1980s, has already moved to a format that he says actually predates portable cassette players: microcassettes. Recorded and edited solely in that medium, The Man With the Tape Recorder is a musique concrete art piece, documenting the wide-ranging observations and scattered lo-fi sonic experiences of a man with, yeah, a microcassette recorder.

Night People Other tape label chiefs sing the praises of Shawn Reed’s Iowa City-based Night People for its artful, handmade packaging, but tapes from Terror Bird, the Pheromoans, the Twerps, Shearing Pinx, Dirty Beaches, Savage Young Taterbug, and Reed’s own Wet Hair (with Ryan Garbes) offer plenty to admire sonically, too.

Paradise Vendors / Italian Beach Babes London’s Paradise Vendors and Italian Beach Babes are two separate labels, but on March 1 they’re releasing a joint 12”, so it makes sense to mention them together. Both have released music by label bosses’ Male Bonding (who last year signed to Sub Pop) and Graffiti Island bands, including a GG Allin tribute split with Pens.

Not Not Fun Coming out of the noise/ psychedelic scene in tandem with Night People, Fuck It, and Arbor, Los Angeles-based Not Not Fun has moved a bit toward sunny tunefulness with the rest of the cassette format, releasing music by not only Pocahaunted, Cloudland Canyon, Foot Village, Wet Hair, Charalambides, Shearing Pinx, and Christina Carter, but also Abe Vigoda and Ducktails.

written by Roger Rivers

Scotch Tapes Al Bjornaa runs his oneman label out of Batchawana Bay, Ontario-- when he’s not working as a fisherman. In addition to Oneida, Scotch Tapes’ roster has included Karl Blau and even Mike Watt.


written by Jacob himself photography by Bethany Sharp

He designs things. Just read the article and find out.


Seriously, you should read this article...


H He sits reposed, casually askew, leaning back in his Eames Plywood chair. Pinky-finger ex-

tended, he sips from his freshly poured cup of coffee. With his left leg resting comfortably upon his right knee, he instinctively taps his foot against the air to the sound of Iron & Wine as it faintly echoes from the opposite corner of his studio apartment. Standing up, he walks over to the counter to pour himself another cup. Without speaking a word, pointing to the coffeemaker and raising his brow he asks if I would like some more coffee. I wave a pass and he returns to join me at the table. Sitting down, he pulls off his sunglasses and tucks them in the breast pocket of his deep v-neck. Running his hand through his hair and turning his eyes towards me, he nonchalantly begins, “So... how ‘bout it then?”

Jacob Johnson is a Michigan-born, New York based graphic designer who is no stranger to the burdens of creativity. Sure, he may be one of the premiere designers of the day, but up until a few years ago no one had even heard of this guy. After receiving his BFA in Graphic Design from Saginaw Valley State University, he toured around the country enveloping inspiration and artistic experience everywhere he went. He drifted from town to town, soaking in the richness of life. LA, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston. For three years he roamed the nation, with nothing more but a macbook, a few sketchbooks, and a suitcase full of clothes. Picking up freelance gigs along the way, Jacob would merely earn enough money to buy a train ticket to his next destination. As time passed, he began to establish quite the eclectic portfolio and strengthened his already artistic style. Tired of the lifestyle and ready to attempt himself at being a designer, he set off for the one place that could potentially launch him into graphic fame. NYC. Quickly landing the position of an unpaid intern at a prominent design agency, Jacob thrusted himself into a corporate hell. Realizing quickly that this was not his path to success, he looked back to what he previously knew. Still rooted in New York, he began doing freelance work and established the design studio Three Legged Dog. Known for his distinct color palette, crisp illustrations, affinity for white space, and a firm grasp on the beauty of simplicity, Jacob began to accrue a wealth of clients. With time, his designs and illustrations began appearing in magazines, storefront windows, and the internet. Not only was his work becoming a commercial success, his work was appearing in galleries throughout the city. And then, as if overnight, Jacob Johnson became a household name. Well,

106 NOISE.COM NOVEMBER 2010


as household as any other designer anyway. We at Noise sat down with Jacob in his studio apartment to hear his thoughts on inspiration and creative process, the banality of design, and burden of expectation. Jacob has always possessed a creative ambition, but it was generally subdued by academic pursuits. “As a child I loved to draw and color and whatnot. But I suppose what kid didn’t like to color? I remember sitting around with my friend, and we just draw all day. Attempting to recreate our favorite cartoon characters or choosing an object just to see who could draw it better. He was usually better, but that didn’t really stop me. Later in grade school I recall drawing up several schematics of hover cars. Side note: extremely depressing that we don’t have hover cars by now. Anyway, art and design was always something I was decent at, but it was typically on the back-burner. A hobby. I was too preoccupied with academics and extracurriculars. I was at the top of my class academically, an all-state athlete, president of a multitude of organizations. I was the quintessential perfect college applicant. And that is what I always thought was important. People always tried to push me down the route of a doctor or something where I could utilize my beautiful mind for what they considered a successful career. I considered engineering and architecture for a while. Nothing really seemed satisfactory. I sorta fell back into art as I realized I needed more of a creative challenge to entertain any thought of a career. Thus, I studied design and fine art and set off into the world with high hopes and blind ambitions.” But that still wasn’t enough for Jacob. He knew what he wanted to do with his life professionally, but there was something missing. Life is about more than just a career. It is about experience. And experience fuels art. It was then that Jacob decided to put his career on hold, and actually experience life. “Taking time off to travel and get to know myself was definitely something that has made me who I am today, both as a person and a graphic designer. It may sound cliché, but I truly believe that I am better for it. I have experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. One day I recall sleeping outside the Buckingham Palace

on an adjacent park bench and digging through trashcans the next day for a bite to eat. A short while later, I was in Budapest dining with some local magistrate in the upper hills of Buda within a lavish castle. This cycle continued for several years, even while I was traveling thoughout the States. I met so many people, made significant connections, and circulated my art in a personal manner. Sure, anyone can send their work across the world via the internet. But I did it myself, in the flesh. Which way do you think is more rewarding?” As stated previously, Jacob has his own personal style that has rocketed him into success as a designer. The

NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 107


minimal use of color. The effectiveness of a simple vector shape. The combination of computer generated imagery with the authenticity of hand-drawn objects. The satirical typography and juxtaposing imagery. The ability to arrange complex ideas and cluttered information into a simple elegant design. All of these things make his art recognizable, but never repetitive and stale. Each piece created by Jacob is unique to itself, drawing inspiration from every and any aspect of life. “Life is art. Art is design. Design is information. And information is beautiful.” The subtleties and apparent accidents that he employs within each piece mimics the random collision of people and events as prescribed by daily existence. While every design is unique in its own way, there are still a few themes that Jacob seems to dwell upon. There are his political and social messages that leak into many of his pieces (Sanshumanism and anti-globalization being two of the most frequent). Jacob attempts to take on several issues that strike him as very serious and severely important, usually approached from a gravely satirical and ironic viewpoint. While all of these issues influence his work, nothing influences it more than music and movies. “Music and film are my two loving muses. My polygamous mistresses. I am completely enveloped within the industries. Bands like The Shins, Arcade Fire, The Killers, Modest Mouse, Peter Bjorn and John. I can’t create without them. All of the nuances and intricacies, the beats and measures. Imitating the entity of a well crafted design. Miraculously evoking. I listen to the music when I create. The music just evokes a desire to create certain things. Shoot, I am even inspired by the album art itself

offense to anyone, are pretty much retarded. They think they know what they want, but they never do.” Working with clients is definitely the biggest challenge a designer faces. They expect you to create exactly what is in their mind. Which would be fine, if what was in their mind was anything of value. “I was once asked to create a website for someone out in California. He wanted a night sky with blinking stars to illuminate the page. Each blinking star could then be clicked to take the user to a link. Easy enough. I get a call the day before the deadline to make a change. A day before. How practical of him. But that isn’t the best part. He calls me up and says, ‘Change of plan, instead of stars... let’s use dinosaurs.’ Dinosaurs. Because that makes sense. I hate some clients. But seriously, there is a dichotomy to them I suppose. Without any direction whatsoever from them, my job would be impossible. It is so much harder to create something when you have no regulations or restraint. With restraint you can find the best possible response to what you are given. Without restraint you are left with an infinite of possibilities. That is a terrible notion to face, especially as a perfectionist. And now, that I am becoming more and more successful, I am finding that scenario to pop up more and more frequently. I have always found it hard meeting people’s expectations. I am not good with letting people down.”

Change of plan, instead of stars... let’s use dinosaurs. within the music industry. And film! Films by Richard Linklater or Darren Aronofsky; those movies are mind-blowing both in subject matter and in artistic concept. Just take a look at Waking Life or The Fountain. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, both in philosophical concept and visual stimulant. Or look at the work of Wes Anderson. He has been immensely successful at creating his own microcosmic world, a hilariously dry one at that. Yet so carefully stylized and constructed. Everything from the choice of music to props to typography. I make a lot of references to music and movies in my art. Pop culture in general I suppose. I am obsessed with it all. Most of my obsession and reference goes unnoticed, and of that I am fine with.” While Jacob tries to include his own little subliminal messages or references in his design, it is not always received that well by the client. Until lately, faced with much more freedom and fame, this has been a huge problem for Jacob. Like all designers, one must sacrifice what they want for what the client wants. “It sucks. Clients, no NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 109


{ LIFE IS ART ART IS DESIGN

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DESIGN IS INFORMATION AND INFORMATION IS BEAUTIFUL


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11.10 EXITLUDE

volume 14 issue 03

robot capable of expressing emotions. By their skilled reason, robots are becoming exceedingly capable. The race to develop true artificial intelligence continues to intensify and some liken the push toward developing true artificial intelligence to the mid-20th century race to space. With scientists around the world competing for the title of “first to achieve true artificial intelligence,” it may no longer be if, but when. True artificial intelligence will inevitably exist when robots are developed to the point where they can reproduce and improve themselves.

written by J. BLAKE JOHNSON WITH THE EMOTION of a proud parent John Callas came to tears as he reviewed the successes of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. With passionate excitement he described Opportunity’s ability to gather information despite brutal conditions, and Spirit’s gathering scientific data despite serious injuries. Spirit and Opportunity might sound like the names of flower children from the 70’s but are actually the names of two Mars Rover Robots and John Callas, NASA’s mission project manager, considers these robots his offspring. Callas when interviewed by NPR’s Joe Palca said, “We think of them as our children, because they have very human characteristics. They see, they move, they interact, they respond to our commands, and they think on their own.” Most would agree that “parental” feelings for robots is extreme, however some politicans and scientists are part of a growing debate to determine what the relationship is between human beings and robots and whether those robots deserve similar rights as humans. Human Rights For Robots? That’s right. This is not a subject for debate on Futurama. Real life ploticians are working to determine whether robots deserve health care, housing and a say in politics. In the case of Spirit and Opportunity it’s easy to see that human beings care passionately for robots but can robots care for us? Some speculate that robots will reciprocate those feelings and if they do become thinking, learning entities with the agency to act on their own, is so, then what rights should they inherit? As unfathomable as artificial intelligence may seem, it does deserve our cognitive best. After all computers are continuously getting smarter. Consider these key events as outlined by the New York Times: In 1971 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency established a computer system that can understand continuous speech. In 1976 Ray Kurzweil introduced a machine to read to the blind. In 1984 Doug Lenat’s Cyc project used a database of common sense as a basis for robot intelligence. In 1994 two robot cars drove more than 600 miles on a European highway in regular traffic at speeds up to 80 mph. In 1997 IBM’s chess computer defeated the world’s best, Garry Kasparov, in a six-match contest. In 2000 MIT’s Cynthia Breazeal published a dissertation describing Kismet, a

When posed with the idea of a superior artificial intelligent robot, many think of characters from popular entertainment like Star Trek’s Dada, who possesses unparalleled cognitive ability, yet looks human. Perhaps this isn’t far from the truth. At a 2009 conference organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists discussed prospects of an artificial “intelligence explosion”. They debated the major changes that might result from the “unstoppable rise of powerful computational intelligences,” not as a myth but as a probable event. Is man cleaver enough to create an intelligence smarter than themselves? And is that really a brilliant idea? The British recently considered whether or not “Dada” could one day demand the same rights that most humans currently enjoy. A recent article in The Times (UK) featured a study commissioned by the British Government in which it was suggested that true artificial intelligence would possibly warrant “similar rights to humans, including the right to vote.” Furthermore robots could be entitled to other benefits such as healthcare (to repair aging machines). But before you begin worrying about an increase in your taxes to support robot health care, remember that a robot must first be created and programmed by humans. Some scientists dismissed the British study’s argument for establishing human rights for robots as a sensational idea that is diverting attention from a greater problem—robot safety. No one denies that robots are more intelligent and more widely used but with more intelligent robots in use and more robots used for military purposes they believe it is imperative that we establish regulations for keeping people safe. Additionally, autonomous robots will become increasingly common and who is responsible if an autonomous robot kills someone? According to Alan Winfield, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of the West of England in Bristol, “it is likely that we will have autonomous dumb robots very soon. So the question of the moment may not be whether to give Dada the right to vote but whether Dada will kill you if don’t support robot rights. And while a few believe that robot rights could be a reality within the next 20-50 years most believe we won’t have to consider it until star date 8463. NOVEMBER 2010 NOISE.COM 115


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