The Big Post: Music, Brink, PlaceMatters and LivingCityBlock

03/20/2010 § Leave a comment

So, I had a bunch of post ideas over the past month but I either didn’t start them or I didn’t finish them. I procrastinate; I have other things going on. That said, I’ve decided to throw most of them into one jumbled weblog supersize post. I’ll touch on some music and a neat upcoming video game, then move onto naming some cool planning organizations I’m getting involved with.

Matt and I have frequently discussed the transformation of the music since the leak of Broken Bells. So many independent releases seem to be making a significant jump in quality of production and depth of the work. The blogosphere is quite aware that 2010 is a big year for music, and some writers out there note these big releases are a great start to the decade, but could we be seeing a sea-change that really transforms music? Transforms our society?

Beach House’s Teen Dream

This album gets repeated listens almost as often as Plastic Beach. ‘Zebra,’ ‘Walk In The Park,’ and the updated ‘Used To Be’ are lush and affecting and make my bus commute at night much more pleasurable. These songs seem to capture a mood or a situation with a poetic clarity. When the guitar or drums or cymbals move a song to a crescendo, Beach House are luminous and affecting. It is a great collection with some profound songs that do indeed take me back to my formative years; it is definitely an album to put down some cash for.

Beach House- Walk In The Park via Covert Curiosity

More tracks here.

She and Him’s Volume 2

I’m listening to this right now, and so far it is pretty damn good. Songs are varied and upbeat. I recommend taking the time to follow the jump below.

First Listen at NPR

Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach

It is either a slight feeling of embarrassment or a sense of due justice served when you view in iTunes how many times you’ve played a song or album on your iPod. The numbers are large for Plastic Beach. I have probably listened to this album 1-3 times a day so far. I even play it at work when nobody is around. What is immediately so interesting is that a major and talented group of artists are taking on issues such as pollution, environmental change, resource depletion, disposability, ecological destruction, disconnection and technology; all in conjunction with love, friendship, and other timeless motifs. What makes the album great is the variation of genre and the depth to each song.

The artists involved, not just Gorillaz, root each song in a situation or attitude that evoke their deeper meditations on nature, love, work, etc. While this shows genuine writing technique, it also provides opportunity for deeper thinking about these themes by the listening audience. The image of the only (I hear “last”) whale in the ocean watching ships go by is an image that sticks. It is on this image that the title track, “Plastic Beach,” is developed.

If you are haven’t heard the album yet, be sure to check it out. An easy 5-10 minutes here can help you find some of the best tracks and a bunch of commentary.

Before I move onto discussing an upcoming video game, Brink, I should share an article that I read a few months back and posted on bookface. Completely relevant to both Plastic Beach and Brink, this article by Johann Hari briefly describes how art may respond to our global environmental crisis. An excerpt from the beginning:

When I was a child in the 1980s, the threat of nuclear war pervaded the culture. It was there in movies, in novels, even in pop songs: I still feel a little pre-adolescent shiver when I hear “99 Red Balloons”. The mushroom cloud haunted every classroom. By comparison, the danger of a disrupted climate – which is not hypothetical; it has already begun – has been only nudged by our artists. There have been a few terrific novels, like JG Ballard’s eco-haunted oeuvre, or Will Self’s The Book of Dave, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But they are the exceptions. The vision of a world that is six degrees warmer – a gap as big as that between us and the last ice age – has so far been described only by scientists.

Yet human beings need to process information twice; once as fact, and then as imaginary narratives that tease out its implications. It’s why we dream, and why we compulsively tell each other stories.

The swelling evidence of man-made global warming is now finally compelling artists into creation. The terrific new exhibition at the Royal Academy “Earth: Art of a Changing World” brings together dozens of the greatest visual artists in the world to respond to the climate crisis – and what it reveals about us.

Read the full article at The Independent.

Although this op-ed piece was limited to covering an exhibition, it did suggest that soon we may be immersed in artistic responses to climate change. Plastic beach is subtly and explicitly working to create an environmental consciousness. Brink, a first person shooter by Spash Damage and Bethesda softworks, is a more direct effort at creating a setting that may help people envision climate change while subtly educating them about sustainable design and technology.


A quote from Ed Sterns, Lead Writer for Brink, is the most appropriate introduction for this attractive game:

Ringed by a protective wave-absorbing breakwater, the Ark is a combined luxury eco-resort and floating R&D lab, producing new materials and technologies such as Arkoral, a revolutionary carbon-trapping construction material derived from genetically modified coral. With a population of around 5,000 visionaries, technologists, scientists, engineers and VIP guests, the Ark is towed to a secret location (you can’t get billionaires to pay for an exclusive luxury resort that anyone can turn up to). But in the 2020s, as the seas rose and nations fell into chaos, ships overloaded with desperate refugees set out to find the Ark. Most ships ran out of water and the passengers perished, but some did find it. Suddenly the Ark and its inhabitants, who had lost all contact with the outside world, had to find room for an additional 40,000-odd souls. The Ark’s founders would end up ironically referring to the new arrivals as Guests — much like the former VIPs, only vastly more numerous and not quite as fragrant.

How’s that for raising environmental consciousness? As a major first-person shooter, the target audience is likely those who need to learn about our environmental challenges the most. They are the gamers that play their inter-cooled PS3s/360s ten hours a day, and leave them running on pause all night, thus keeping the polluting energy companies rolling in the cash that ends up funding the politicization of climate issues.

But what good will the game be if it flops? Maybe the story-line ends up cheap and shoddy, or the dialogue lame. I wondered this when I first mentioned Brink to the owner of a local video game store and he reacted with almost complete lack-of excitement. What isn’t completely exciting about this game? More of what Ed Sterns describes about the game’s development reassures me this game will provide a memorable, possibly literary, virtual experience:

At Splash Damage, we believe that a game’s environment is the best narrative medium we have. Compelling environments allow players to pull in information from their surroundings without having to be held hostage by an NPC lecturing them on The Way Things Were. We knew we wanted to use our game environments to tell the story, so they’d need to be packed with detail.

We created a design goal internally called IDC:  Instant/Deep Context. Basically it’s the old axiom “Show, don’t Tell”. If we get IDC right, then when the player looks at a game asset they immediately and intuitively grasp where they are (that’s the “Instant” part). And the more they look at the assets, the more the cumulative narrative detail builds up, and the more they see how the game world works and how it came to be that way (that’ll be the “Deep”).”

Ed Stern’s developer diary can be found here, where two other Brink developer diaries can also be accessed.

Video and more at the official game website.

Planning Organizations Near Home

PlaceMatters and LivingCityBlock are two organizations in downtown Denver that caught my eye. I’ve been in contact with both of them and plan to do some volunteer work at each in order to gain experience and make some contacts in the field. To say the least, they are doing some exciting things. I’ll be brief in this post as the more I learn about the projects and people, the more I’ll want to dedicate adequate commentary all at one time.

Part of what PlaceMatters does is provide tools to communities who need to make urban planning decisions. Web-basted technology is a great asset this organization holds. Their goal? To aid communities in making sustainable choices. From the website (which I may be working on as my volunteer project):

anyWare planning is a suite of tools for planners that is web-based, free, and provides several interconnected ways to collect input from stakeholders, including methods for gathering input from people via cell and smart phone, provided from any place, any time. The concept of anyWare planning is that planners should not need several different software tools to effectively gather good information and input.  Rather, a system of web-based tools can gather, organize, and present information, and then ask for even more input.

Visit PlaceMatters to learn more.

LivingCityBlock is a project whose goal is to retrofit an area in LoDo with renewable energy, energy efficient design, and urban agriculture. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing when I volunteer; however, it will be a good exposure to the process that will happen again and again across the country. Read:

This pilot project is taking the area of 15th to 16th, Wynkoop to Wazee and east across Wazee and transforming it into a sustainable community. First, Living City Block will work to significantly reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact on these blocks.  By the summer of 2012, Living City Block Lo Do Denver will have reduced it’s aggregate energy use by 50%.  By the summer of 2014, LCB will become a Net Zero energy bloc, and by 2016 it will be creating more resources than it consumes.   But concurrently, LCB will be working to develop a thriving urban community, one in which people of all ages and types choose to live, work and play.   Right retail will evolve, better and more sustainable jobs will be created and kept, and the block will take its place as a part of the economic engine that drives the city and the region.

Visit their website, here.

That’s it for now. Electronics stuff next time… probably.


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