25 February 2008

Grand Archives

I allow myself one record per month. Yesterday I realized that it was already the 24th and I hadn't yet gotten one for February. I had been to record stores two or three times but nothing seemed perfect.

I combed through every single album my record store had, and at the end I was torn between the 10 20 year-old (dear Lord what is wrong with me) My Bloody Valentine debut (full length) and Mirah's insect-based concept album Share This Place: Stories and Observations. I couldn't decide. At all. Then I looked up at the new release shelves absentmindedly, and was faced with the most beautiful cover art I had seen in months (years?).

Grand Archives. I hadn't heard of them, but they were signed to SubPop, which I have a fairly good level of trust in. And they were from Seattle, which is a place I like to hear music from. So I thought what the hell and bought it.

It's a beautiful album. It came with a digital code for my iPod, and a free white 45 of two other songs. I don't really know how to describe them other than melodic layers that I want to drown in. Here is what Sound Fix has to say:
While each track displays a different combination of influences, what they all have in common are rich, gorgeous vocal harmonies and carefully layered instrumental tracks that work together to create a deep, expansive pool of sound you’ll feel as if you could dive into.
I guess I wasn't alone in thinking of water when I heard this. It's very pretty.

I was inspired to write about this just now when I saw that FREEwilliamsburg wrote about it two days ago. Apparently there's an ex Band of Horses guy in it. That would explain a bit.

Visit Grand Archives on MySpace, take a listen.

21 February 2008

Colonia Tovar

When I was little, my mom told me a crazy story. This is the way I remember it, twenty or so years later (I actually called her just now to make sure I didn't get it completely wrong):

A looooooong time ago, a congressman in Venezuela invited a small community from Germany to come across the ocean. They promised Germany land, and said they were free to integrate themselves into the population if they wanted to.

It apparently took the Germans a while to get organized, gather a group together and travel all the way to South America. By the time they got there, the congressman was no longer around. Venezuela didn't quite know what to do with this group of Germans who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, so they said, "Well, just go figure out where you want to be and let us know and that's fine." They did some exploring and found an area in the mountains that reminded them of the Black Forest.

The Germans established themselves there and seemed to disappear; nobody ever heard from them again. Many, many years later, a Venezuelan was wandering around and found this German village in the middle of nowhere. Imagine a Venezuelan's surprise at stumbling upon a perfectly preserved Bavarian village, full of blonde and blue-eyed people, caring for their own crops and animals, etc.

Roads started being built between this village and Caracas (the nearest city in Venezuela), and now it's a tourist destination. Before this, they all spoke in a German dialect; now, most of them don't speak it at all. Dad and I went once and he started speaking to a girl in German (she was in full Bavarian style clothing), and received a blank stare in return.

I remembered this a couple of years ago, when my parents were telling someone else about this Colonia Tovar (the village's name). It was at this point that I realized that this actually happened and wasn't just some nice bedtime story that my mother had made up. I told MT about this in an airplane somewhere between Brazil and Colombia last year. When we got back to New York, she did some investigating and found some more information for me. It turns out that I remembered the story fairly accurately:
Founded in 1843 by German settlers, the city remained isolated from the rest of the country for decades, a factor that permitted the inhabitants to keep their culture and traditions. The majority of its residents are descendants of Germans and have a Northern European appearance. The Alemannic dialect of German, known as Alemán Coloniero ("colony German"), is nearly extinct.

It also mentioned that one would be "unlikely to find anyone who understands German fluently," which explains the blank stare my father got when he visited.

I clicked on the official site link in the Wikipedia entry, looked at some photos, and WOW. This place looks just like the village my father grew up in in Germany!

This is incredible. I love stuff like this. If anyone has a similarly mind-blowing story like this, please please share.

EDIT [13 August 2008] For anybody who stumbled upon this, apparently my parents' information and most of the stuff on the web is a bit off. Here are some edits, thanks to Ed.
The colonists were not forgotten, nor did a long time pass between the government agreements and the arrival of the Germans. In fact, it took less than two years to get everything set up (including the arrival of the Germans). They did not wander aimlessly; the land was actually donated and chosen specifically by the government who took into account cultural differences and geographical specifications in order to properly accommodate the arrivals. Regarding their isolation, part of the agreement between the governments and the new settlers was to allow the colonists to remain as a closed society until they felt the desire to integrate to the rest of the country, which they finally did in the mid 20th century. By this time the colonists were fully able to marry whomever they wanted outside of the colony as well. Lastly, regarding their language, their German dialect wouldn't be understood by most Germans nowadays since it is either extinct in Germany and/or spoken by a small minority on some rural areas of the previous Baden Duchy. Just thought I'd set the record straight, as I was born in Venezuela and spent a great part of my childhood in Tovar.
Thanks again for clearing those things up, Ed.

20 February 2008


Last night, Pak, Faris, Ben and I went to the Knitting Factory to see Yelle. Let me start with an order of events to explain why I was so excited.

After I wrote this entry about Para One a few months ago, my friend Dylan Trees (of We are the Hollow Men fame) wrote to one of his French friends, asking for a list of similar bands /artists from France. Within that list that he forwarded onto me was Yelle. I did a YouTube search for her and came across this video:

I could not stop giggling. I saved it in my favorites for future days that might need a lift.

Two or three weeks ago, I read a bulletin post by Calvin Harris (he's the one who produced that Mitchell Brothers video and wrote this insanely danceable song) saying "This is how kids dance in France." The attached video had the same kind of dance moves in it! I instantly showed my friend Alex and asked her about it... she told me that it's called Tektonik and is so popular that kids have dance battles in their school quads and in the middle of the street. She even pulled up a video of 12 year-old boys Tektonik battling.

Well, it turns out that Pak's cousin works for the record label that signed Yelle. When he asked if I was interested, I almost flew out of my seat. A few minutes later, I read this about the show on Flavorpill. I was excited for Kap10Kurt and Lauren Flax as well (Kap10Kurt has been promoted on GBH before, and Lauren Flax's remix of CYOA has been featured on the site also). excited!

We got there after Lauren Flax, which was sad but since she is around a lot I am optimistic about seeing her in the semi near future. Kap10Kurt was great. He made wearing a keyboard around his body look like the most comfortable thing in the world. He ended with Dangerseekers, which is the track of his that I am familiar with.


After 15 or 20 minutes, Yelle came out to a crowd of people pretty much going insane. They were so excited. She was wearing what looked like five of those gold Brooklyn Industries backpacks stitched together into a hoodie.


She had so much energy. Up until the end of her encore, she was bouncing around, playing air guitar, banging on drums and fist pumping. The two guys with her (one on drums, one on a Korg) had just as much energy. Her set reminded me of a combination of Annie's cute pop flare and Uffie's badass attitude.

The show was fantastic, and she had everybody jumping, clapping and snapping the entire time. When she sang A Cause Des Garçons (the song from that Tektonik video up there), I caught a lot of it on video (if you don't want to watch the whole thing, it gets pretty good around 26 seconds):

We got to meet Pak's cousin at the end; she was really sweet and I was thankful to her and Pak that we were able to get into a sold-out show. She looked like a modern-day, French Susan Dey in black Freestyles. What a great combination.

Thank you times infinity to Pak :) That was the best Tuesday night I've had in months and months.

[all images taken from each person's MySpace page and saved to my server to prevent future broken images... Susan Dey and Freestyles images came from here and here, respectively]

19 February 2008

Caribou vs. Blonde Redhead?

I finally got around to seeing Helvetica last night; I had been wanting to see it for something like two or three years.

I wasn't disappointed: it was great. My favorite part was how excited all the type designers they interviewed were, and how animated they got while explaining things like how the distance between letters is what really makes a typeface. amazing amazing. I could talk about this for a long time, but have been a little distracted by something else I noticed in the documentary. I just threw this together:


11 February 2008

Please don't, Polaroid.

Those who know me know that I love taking photos. I love it. I am currently involved in six photography projects. One involves taking photos of food for a new trivia section in Mental Floss called Dietribes (for this I have used my Nokia N95 8GB's camera). One is for a global project organized by a new friend in Alberta that utilizes disposable Kodak cameras. One is a photo-a-day type of thing with my friend Ken in Richmond, VA (again the N95 8GB). One is fotoprojekt, which I slacked on for a long time but am picking up again (I use my Minolta Xg for this, mostly).

The final two photo projects involve the Polaroid I got when I was in 9th grade: a postcard exchange with a friend in California, and a ten-item Polaroid scavenger hunt with my pen pal in Quebec. Seeing a little square image with my address written on the white part with a Sharpie is so, so nice to come home to among the sea of long skinny rectangular envelopes with clear plastic address windows.

(I also go out with my Holga on occasion, even though most of those rolls of film come out black. I am not a very good photographer, I just enjoy it to no end.)


Anyway, my point is that I am sad. I just now read this terribly sad NYTimes piece on the end of Polaroid as we know it.
Polaroid Corp. is dropping the technology it pioneered long before digital photography rendered instant film obsolete to all but a few nostalgia buffs.

Polaroid is closing factories in Massachusetts, Mexico and the Netherlands and cutting 450 jobs as the brand synonymous with instant images focuses on ventures such as a portable printer for images from cell phones and Polaroid-branded digital cameras, televisions and DVD players.
Now, I'm sure they are sad too. I'm sure they thought long and hard before doing this. I'm sure that they weren't making as much money as they potentially could have. But now hundreds people are out of a job and thousands (hundreds of thousands?) are out of a simple technology that has brought so much joy in the past. All but a few nostalgia buffs? It can't be. I kind of refuse to believe that. I think there are many more than "a few" of us who feel a connection to and affection towards Polaroids. I want there to be a global survey measuring people's love of the memories, symbol of spontaneous fun and aesthetic of Polaroid photos (I never said I wasn't idealistic and unrealistic at times).

I miss Ken.

I am not going to pretend to know about Polaroid's revenue, lack thereof, projections, metrics or any other money and numbers-related things. But the equity that they have just based on the name... I mean, look at what happens when you simply type "polaroid" into Amazon. I have been out with friends before and heard them gasp when coming across a book of Polaroids at bookstores, no matter the topic of the photos.

for Laura

Is there anything we can do? One of the examples I didn't mention about Clay Shirky's talk last week dealt with a real estate professional who was SO ANGRY because of the state of our airline industry that she singlehandedly put together the online petition that led to the Passenger Bill of Rights. I am pretty sure that there are enough people passionate enough about this technology to do something similar. I don't know how to go about that. Anybody? I don't know. The jobs have already been cut and the factories are probably half closed by now.

happiness = this

No, I know that the world isn't over. I know that there are far worse problems out there (Far worse. I know. Thinking about them makes me feel silly for even writing this). And yes, I read in that article that Fujifilm will continue to produce instant film. Does it look the same? I have no clue. I'll have to find out, I guess. I am still sad.

EDIT | Being the twit that I am, I managed to miss this very important sentence in the article: "Meanwhile, Polaroid is seeking a partner to acquire licensing rights for its instant film, in hopes that another firm will continue making the film to supply Polaroid enthusiasts."

08 February 2008

Clay Shirky

A few days ago, I went to a small event at Daylife that my friend Michael invited me to. It was framed as cocktails and conversation with Clay Shirky; the email mentioned the topic of Clay's talk as being "the difference between sharing, cooperation, and collective action when designing group software." Now, that kind of sent me into a panic because I pictured myself in a room full of designers nodding with great understanding of "designing group software" and me sitting there drawing a complete blank, since all I know about design is that I like minimalism and typography.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. No, I was explosively surprised. According to Wikipedia, Clay is:
an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He teaches New Media as an adjunct professor at New York University's (NYU) graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). His courses address, among other things, the interrelated effects of the topology of social networks and technological networks, how our networks shape culture and vice-versa.
And that's what he talked about. He essentially spoke of what my Great Love was in college – social cognition – and added the dimension of The Internet to it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

His theories were fascinating, and his book that the talk was based off of – Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations – is coming out very soon and I am very much going to buy it. Shirky gave three examples of online platforms leading to sharing leading to cooperation leading to collective action; my favorite one was a story of teenagers forming an ice cream-eating flash mob in October Square in Belarus. They organized it on LiveJournal, so it obviously wasn't a "secret conspiracy," but in any case it is illegal to form a group in October Square (Lukashenko apparently outlawed it, declaring groups in October Square a sign of plotting to overthrow the government). Five of the kids were arrested and others were harrassed. One blogger wrote, "The whole world will be laughing.” As Clay said in his talk, "Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream." brilliant.

arrested in Belarus for eating ice cream

Two added bonuses to this whole thing were:
1. Clay Shirky is super friendly and approachable and I want to be his friend,
2. I saw Nick Denton there; he was in my "people as corporations" column that was published 2 days earlier. neat.

[images from litota_'s LiveJournal and Amazon]


A few days ago, I got a Valentine's Day party invitation in my Inbox. I didn't recognize the sender's name, nor did I recognize the web site it was associated with (desedo.com). I immediately got furious, because how did these people get my email address, I get so much SPAM as it is, etc. etc. But then when I clicked on the attchment, I was struck by how nice it looked.

Desedo Invite

So, I went to their web site. For a while I had no clue still what Desedo was, yet still kept poking around because I liked the sparse design and little touches here and there.

desedo 4 desedo 3

There was a section called lagniappe, which is one of my favorite words; inside are presents! Two free winter mixes (one of which has the best Outkast song in it) and two calendar-themed desktops (which is great because pixelgirl has really been slacking on them). Still in good spirits, I poked around some more, figured out that they are a production house of sorts ("commercials and new media"), and then watched every single video clip. Several of them were TV spots... and I still watched them. Because they were so pretty. That never happens. One of them had my favorite cover song in it - Nouvelle Vague's version of The Clash's Guns of Brixton.

desedo 1

I am not sure what my point is other than it was a pleasant few minutes. I still have no clue how I am on their email list, but as of now that's just fine with me.

06 February 2008

Internet = ♥

I just received an e-mail from Joseph (Operations/IT) at UNIQLO USA. He commented on my January column with:
When we first opened the flagship store in NYC, it did have a lot of the said canister packaged UT t-shirts, but that was not what we carried exclusively. We also had, as we do now, a large selection of fashion wear, cashmere, denim, and outerwear.
Just to avoid any confusion, the UT "canister shirts only" store I mentioned was initially in Japan.

Walking home from the most interesting talk ever.

I have no idea why I didn't specify this in my article, as I visit UNIQLO SoHo quite frequently. Apologies for the error, and thanks for getting in touch, Joseph!
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