Monday, 26 April 2010

Blogs – Medium or Genre?

A few posts ago, in my discussion on the concept of a medium, I started out by mentioning a recent conversation with my friend Lazy. That conversation was all about the nature of blogs.

Lazy had stumbled upon references to a text on blogs and blogging by Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl (without any luck in finding Engdahl's original text, at least not at that point), and had made the comment "why do 'old fogeys' think that blogging is a genre, not a format" (my translation from Swedish). To which I responded that it might, perchance, have something to do with the fact that there are format genres and content genres (as I have previously discussed in here). However, Lazy quickly responded that, as far as she could tell (from the secondary sources she had encountered), Engdahl's mistaken argument seemed to be that blogs were not just a genre, but a content genre; an assumption that would seem to border on the asinine, considering the variety of contents available in blogs.

However, what I found to be the really interesting question underlying this whole thing was this: what is a blog?

Whereas the suggestion that blogs are a content genre seems more than a little ridiculous, it is not beyond all reason that one could argue for their being a format genre (and, as such, a genre). Still, this notion did not fully satisfy me. While quite often reminiscent of genres such as the essay or the column, blogs clearly differ in their multi-medial capabilities (direct links to other pages, embedded video clips, etc). Thus I started questioning if blogs might not actually be a different medium (a question which in turn caused me to write that previous post on what a medium is).

So what is the answer? I honestly do not know and find myself torn. Maybe, as Lazy suggested, it is not so much a medium unto itself as it is an extension of the internet medium (call it WWW, web pages, or whatever). But then again, maybe it is not. Maybe it is an extension of the all but forgotten hypertext novel, albeit with the novel bit exchanged for other literary genres (such as the essay or the column). It is a tricky question and for all my delineations in my discussion on what constitutes a medium, I find myself unwilling to pin the nature of blogs down – at least as of yet.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Mad Piper Cometh: Jethro Tull in Göteborg, 2010

I discovered Jethro Tull back in 1995 with the release of the album Roots to Branches, which is fairly late, I know; both in that they had already been around, releasing albums for some 28 years at that time and in that I was already 20 years old. Nevertheless, I found them at just the right moment in my life, while my deepening interest in music slowly started to turn more and more towards the progressive rock scene. Thus I was truly tempted to go see Tull in concert already that year (they did visit Göteborg), but passed on the opportunity as I was already going to two other concerts that fall (Fish and Levellers) and didn't want to spread myself to thin money-wise. Although I did get to see two memorable concerts, I have always regretted my decision not to go see Tull as well.

For various reasons, I have since managed to miss subsequent opportunities to catch Tull, most recently in 2008, when I waited too long with deciding. So, when the opportunity arose this time, I didn't waste much time in ordering my ticket... and after Saturday evening, I have no regrets for doing that whatsoever.

The concert opened with "Dun Ringill" from the 1979 album Stormwatch and definitely set the pace for the evening. Sadly, though by no means unexpectedly (after all, this is hardly news for Tull fans), Ian Anderson's voice is not what it once used to be. Obviously, this becomes more of an issue with older songs that were written for a younger Anderson's register and much less so for later songs (e.g. the excellent rendition of "Budapest" from the 1987 album Crest of a Knave). That being said, one could imagine it becoming a rather big issue with a set list where the majority of songs dated back to the late 60s and early 70s. However, Anderson and his merry men nevertheless pulled it off and most certainly rocked!

Despite the vocals lacking in high pitch and strength on many occasion, especially early on in the set, the musicianship more than made up for this; and Anderson's stage persona is still a sight to see. Not to mention the fact that the man is a absolutely tremendous flautist.

The first half of the set included the new song "Hare in a Wine Cup", which Anderson presented as a song somehow related to the "Hare who Lost his Spectacles" section from the B-side of the 1973 album A Passion Play; and it ended with a marvellous rendition of "Bourée", which was rather welcome after an admittedly less than stellar rendition of "Songs from the Wood" (mostly so because it lacked in vocal harmonies; partly drowned out by the instruments and partly, from what I could tell, non-existing in the first place). All in all, the concert up until the 20 minutes break included a heavy representation by the 1969 album Stand Up (three songs out of eleven played).

The second half opened rather calmly with King Henry's ballad "Pastime with Good Company", which was followed by the Anoushka Shenkar co-written (and originally co-performed) song "A Change of Horses" (previously also known as "Tea with Anoushka"). The latter no doubt would sound all the more interesting with the inclusion of the intended sitar, which is not to say that Martin Barre's guitar playing in those places wasn't enjoyable; but there is something special with sitar music, I think most people would agree upon.

After these two songs, the second half of the set (five songs in total) really kicked into gear. First off, "My God" from the 1971 album Aqualung really provided a full on rock assault upon the audience, that was much appreciated. This was followed up with the aforementioned "Budapest", where Anderson's vocals probably had their finest moment during the entire evening. Closing the second half of the set, Anderson and his merry men pulled out a no holds bar version of "Aqualung", much to the enjoyment of the audience (albeit a very much seated and rather static audience on the whole, I am sad to say).

Naturally, the notion of an encore is, by now, a well worked in feature of any rock concert and Tull returned to the stage to follow up their successful rendition of "Aqualung" with an equally brilliant rendition of "Locomotive Breath" from the same album. And that was that, a very good concert ended and an evening well spent.

Sure, I would not have minded to hear the abbreviated version of Thick As a Brick or a track or two from Roots to Branches, but I honestly have no real complaints whatsoever.

Set list:
"Dun Ringill" (Stormwatch, 1979)
"Beggar's Farm" (This Was, 1968)
"Life Is a Long Song" (Living in the Past, 1972)
"Jack-in-the-Green" (Songs from the Wood, 1977)
"Hare in a Wine Cup" (new song with its roots in "The Hare who Lost his Spectacles" on A Passion Play, 1973)
"Eurology" (Ian Anderson, Rupi's Dance, 2003)
"A New Day Yesterday" (Stand Up, 1969)
"Nothing Is Easy" (Stand Up, 1969)
"Cross-Eyed Mary" (Aqualung, 1971)
"Songs from the Woods" (Songs from the Wood, 1977)
"Bourée" (Stand Up, 1969)
[20 minutes PAUSE]
"Pastime with Good Company" (The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull, 2007 (also available as "King Henry's Madrigal" on the remastered edition of Stormwatch))
"A Change of Horses" (previously known as "Tea with Anoushka", written and originally performed together with Anoushka Shenkar in 2008)
"My God" (Aqualung, 1971)
"Budapest" (Crest of a Knave, 1987)
"Aqualung" (Aqualung, 1971)
"Locomotive Breath" (Aqualung, 1971)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Interpreting What You See

A short while ago, I stumbled upon one of those TV shows about commercials and advertisements whilst zapping. I do not remember the name of the show, sadly, but it is the kind where they show commercials and let a few commentators (presumably from within the ad industry; although only referenced by name and company name, so I will not swear to that) discuss the commercials in terms of context and how they deliver their messages, etc.

In this particular episode, the following infomercial on speed limits, "It's 30 for a Reason", was included:

The commentators were not entirely convinced by the effectiveness of the piece, arguing that its visceral nature cruised the thin line where a viewer might change the channel to avoid the unpleasant imagery. This is a point of view I can definitely understand and sympathise with. While I personally think that the piece tells the information in a chillingly effective manner, there is no arguing against the fact that that effectiveness will be entirely lost if people do not watch the piece.

However, what really troubled me was when one of the commentators, who had said a lot of sensible things vis-a-vis the piece's effectiveness, suddenly added something along the line of "and then there's the question of why the little girl would be sitting in the middle of the road." At first I was a bit stunned, not quite getting what she was getting at. But then it hit me. This commentator failed to read the piece properly. Instead of subtracting the 10 mph and moving the girl from the end position of "Hit me at 40 and there's an 80% chance that I'm dead" to the end position of "Hit me at 30 and there's an 80% chance that I'm alive", in her reading, she moved the girl from the original end position to an assumed starting point – that is, before the accident.

Clearly the whole point of the piece is to place two opposing end results against one another; that is, to show the viewer the effect of a lessened impact at a lower speed. This is further emphasised by the juxtaposed phrases "Hit me at 40 and there's an 80% chance that I'm dead" and "Hit me at 30 and there's an 80% chance that I'm alive", both conveniently placed alongside the relevant effect and also nicely framing the piece as a whole.

Misreading this sequence, as the commentator did, is problematic at best, and while such a misreading may be forgiven if done by a casual viewer and amateur, I find myself less willing to forgive it when performed by a professional.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Philip Pullman on Freedom of Speech

Apropos of my post, "Freedom of Speech and Responsibility for Speech", I recently came across this video clip of Philip Pullman speaking about his new novel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ:

Pullman's approach echoes my own thoughts in that he takes responsibility for his "utterance". While he knows that it can be considered offensive to call Jesus Christ a scoundrel (most things can be considered offensive if read from just the right angle, really), he places this unorthodox title within a context – the context of the published book – and welcomes a critical debate on the subject. All of which, to me, signals a healthy attitude towards the freedom of speech and the responsibility for it.

For a transcript of Pullman's speech, visit boingboing.