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Archive for the ‘Digital Media’ Category

Last week YouTube unveiled a new channel, The Screening Room. I hadn’t had the chance to view any of the featured films so far, but that changed yesterday, when I finally got to spend considerable time checking them.

And what a wonderful concept this is! I first found out about it through Cool Hunting. Their review of “4960” was stellar, so that was enough to get me interested:

One of the must-sees is from New York Based director, Wing-Yee Wu. Her haunting short, “4960” conveys more chilling emotion and evocative story-teling in 14 minutes than many directors manage in two hours. Shot during her graduate film studies at NYU, the film is set during the siege in Sarajevo and follows a young couple as they attempt to communicate from two different sides of the world. Raised in Sweden by Chinese parents, Wu did her undergraduate studies at Central Saint Martins College in London. With such a unique, international background, her work conveys the universality of emotion that transcends barriers of both language and geography.

They got it right. The film is mesmerizing and of such high quality. As a matter of fact, the whole selection is a feast for the eyes. YouTube is up to something big with this new channel. I wonder when we will see complete feature films in high definition, opening the door to a new world of indie film distribution. This is a service to keep an eye on, both for consumers of good quality films and for directors and producers who would like to reach new audiences. I wonder if we are witnessing the baby steps of a new digital distribution era.

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Joi Ito is working on a beautiful photography book to be licensed under Creative Commons.

There is also a Slideshare of the project, with some great photos.

(Note to self: must own this book when it comes out).

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Perhaps it’s been a synchronistic event, but in the past couple of days I’ve come across several articles and blogs that deal with “the death of the art and cultural critic”.

Art critic Jonathan Jones at The Guardian wrote about it in a blog post:

“What has passed away is a certain kind of revered and influential critical voice, it is sometimes said: where are today’s equivalents of the poet and critic William Empson, the art critic Clement Greenberg, the critic of the novel FR Leavis?”

Daniel Wakin also wrote about this for The New York Times back in June:

“Classical music criticism, a high-minded endeavor that has been around at least as long as newspapers and reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw has taken a series of hits in recent months.

Critics’ jobs have been eliminated, downgraded or redefined at newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country and at New York magazine, where Peter G. Davis, one of the most respected voices of the craft, said he had been forced out after 26 years”.

James Seaton at The Wall Street Journal also regales us with his opinion on the matter, and gets bonus points for using technology as a red herring: 

“It may be hard to imagine — given our current obsessions with television shows, movies, instant-messaging, Facebook and blogs — but literature was once at the center of American cultural life. In the middle of the 20th century, novels and poems, of varying quality and aspiration, were widely read and widely talked about. And literary merit was discussed and hotly debated by critics whose essays, in Garrick Davis’s words, “courted the educated public with their elegant prose.””

More musings on this topic can be found herehere and here.

There seems to be an undercurrent, declaring the death of the critic as a profession, as an art form in itself. Newspapers and media outlets are eliminating the positions, moving the topics to the entertainment sections or just doing away with the theme altogether. James Seaton goes as far as tangentially placing the blame on social media and technology for this apparent demise. He does not, however, elaborate on the incendiary statement that opens his piece, leaving the exercise of linking the two any further to the reader.

In their paper “Conversations with the Field”, published in 2006, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters formulated some valid points on this tendency. (I am not linking to the paper because I couldn’t find it in their website and I am unaware if it is available, so I am quoting from my copy of it):

Decline of Effectiveness of Traditional Media

Some audience challenges are the result of long-term trends such as a continuing decline nationally in the space and attention devoted to the performing arts in the print media, especially in the newspaper category – traditionally a medium noted for its public relations and marketing effectiveness. In an effort to boost readership and to protect advertising revenues, most newspapers have adjusted their readership development strategies and editorial focus to reflect popular culture, morphing tastes, and emerging media options. Concurrently, the ranks of feature writers, critics, and reviewers are shrinking, even among category leadership newspapers, like The New York Times.

As ink and attention dedicated to the live performing arts has diminished, not only is it more difficult to engage audiences with the prospective and exciting new-next-thing, informing audiences about artists and events in which they have typically shown interest is also challenging. Every event within a newspaper’s circulation geography competes for space and attention. Reduced space translates to fewer stories and greater risk of low event awareness among audiences.

Radio, like newspaper, is also a far less effective news, informational, and advertising medium than it once was. Disruptive technologies like the iPod have transformed radio into one of many audio content providers. It is inconceivable to many younger audience members that anyone would allow some stranger to dictate a music playlist. Nor are they willing to tolerate commercial message interruptions of their music head-space. Radio’s once-powerful channel to audiences trapped in traffic during drive time is not entirely a thing of the past, but its effectiveness is fast diminishing”.

And then, they hit the nail on the head:

“While presenting organizations might be characterized as real-time engines of social aggregation, many younger audience members are meeting their needs to connect and communicate in virtual counterparts like MySpace. The internet is not only a channel for information and entertainment, it is an interactive forum within which participants are socialized and acculturated in addition to being informed and entertained. Many presenting organizations are novices at encouraging or facilitating these virtual networks to cross the chasm from the virtual to the real – to move from the electronic to the analog experience of the real, in real time – and together”.

It seems that art critics are disappearing, and recommendations are being made on social networks instead, with audiences themselves filling the vacant position, using word of mouth as an effective form of advice. Art, it seems, has not been immune to the foils that plague other means of production. Corporations have long ago spotted this trend, rewarding product reviewers, consumers and bloggers, directing their marketing efforts to attract those who have a substantial readership and followers.

What do cultural institutions do in view of this new and pressing reality? Mainly try to remain unaware of it. Alternatively, just pretend it’s not happening and hope it will go away. You know, ignore the elephant populating the living room. The always brilliant John Rockwell says it better than I could:

“Junior critics and reporters, or those working for marginal outlets (like, now, the blogs to which I contribute), can expect dismissive treatment from most press agents, who spend much of their time fending off requests for free tickets”.

I paused for a moment after reading the statement above. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Agents must be aware of this decline in art criticism in traditional media, at least, they should. Still, they are ignoring the one source of dissemination that would compensate for this apparent loss, treating bloggers like an annoyance, less than an afterthought. Fear of the unknown seems to be leading their strategy.

Corporations are doing their best to lure bloggers, showering them with expensive gifts, hoping that these bloggers will write good reviews. Marketeers know the value of user generated content and word of mouth publicity. The future of many arts and cultural enterprises may very well depend on “getting it” as well.

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In a previous post I wrote about what I perceived as classical music being poorly presented to audiences and how pop culture could offer a lesson or two in that regard.

Patty, at Oboeinsight made a comment that got me thinking: “we seem stuck in our ways”. And I believe therein lays part of the problem. Classical Music is a genre that, per se, doesn’t necessarily foster innovation. Of course composers innovate and musicians create new and progressive pieces within the genre, but as a general rule, Classical Music is about permanence, lasting and enduring through centuries (hopefully even millennia). The whole premise of the genre is, precisely, that trends and fashion pass but that, which is classical, will resist the test of time. Composers, programmers, interpreters are all educated for years within such boundaries. It is not surprising that part of the problem probably raises from this mentality. Classical music is an oasis of permanence in a world that is constantly changing. Three or four generations can gather and listen to the same piece and share a moment that brings them together through time. Through classical music, listeners have something in common that resist this test of time. Grandparents can share anecdotes of their youth and the young ones can relate because the musical piece from which this anecdote stemmed has not changed. It is (with minor interpretative differences), the same piece that their grandparents listened to.

So how does someone market classical music, with its suspicious regard for change, in a world where audiences want newer, louder, shinier forms of entertainment? Classical music has to compete for patrons with entertainment corporations that have embraced new media since day one. These corporations, mostly devoted to pop culture, “get it”. They have established their presence around new forms of dissemination and have managed to draw audiences to their websites, on line communities and marketing initiatives in a way that classical music institutions are failing at. Take a look at this website or this other one (I just picked two out of dozens of similar ones) and now take a look at Classical Music’s nemesis. Whereas MTV strives to establish an emotional connection with their audience, Classical Music Institutions present dull, non interactive design that actually alienate their potential audiences, particularly new and young ones. Where are the communities? Where is the personal touch? the interactivity? the emotion? Classical Music institutions are not using the one distinctive quality that would set them apart from the rest: storytelling. Some gifted individuals within the genre are doing it and they are indeed setting themselves apart but for the vast majority, their new media presence is an afterthought, something they clearly do not believe in.

Another recurring issue I have come across is the apparent detachment of Classical Music marketeers from their audiences. They claim they want to attract youngsters, children, newer public but they are not tailoring their message to them. As an example, I present any tween’s nightmare: last year’s Halloween Children’s Concert at The Austin Symphony. What were these PR and Marketing professionals thinking when they designed this press release?! Have they forgotten their own childhoods?! Any pre-teen’s bad dream is expressed in one single page to alienate them even further. Dorky parents embarrassing them in public wearing The Incredibles outfits? Check! 45 excruciating minutes of public exposure enduring the company of said parents? Check! Nondescript Classical Music with absolutely no enticing introduction or emotional connection? Check again! It’s the trifecta of marketing failure applied to an event. I do not have all the answers, but I suspect the marketing of Classical Music to young people would be more successful if they established these emotional connections, knew their potential audiences better and probably, if the people behind them did not forget their own childhoods and teenage years when creating press material.

As for the rest of their promotional efforts, telling the stories is fundamental to keeping people engaged. I would love to see community initiatives, social media that tells the story from the audience, composer or interpreter’s perspectives. Someone fell in love while listening to a certain symphony. Someone’s child was born while a sonata was playing in the background. Someone mourned the passing of a loved one in the company of a certain composer. Someone proposed with a particular aria… I could go on and on… those are the stories that make Classical Music great, and a fundamental part of people’s lives, even if they do not realize it, even if they say they find Classical Music “boring”. Still, it’s probably been part of their lives, and the lives of their parents, grandparents and so on… Want to attract people? Let them tell their stories… and tell them the stories that set the genre apart, that make it unique and engaging. Tell them the stories of permanence.

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This article on UTNE Reader irks me.

I find it too incendiary to actually agree with what they are saying. I have troubles connecting with statements like these:

“In a September 2007 report, “Under-Equipped and Unprepared: America’s Emerging Workforce and the Soft Skills Gap,” the youth-advocacy nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance declared that “a large percentage of the children and youth who will enter the workforce . . . are lacking enough of the ‘soft’ or applied skills—such as teamwork, decision making, and communication—that will help them become effective employees and managers.””

Or this:

“America, Dana Gioia says, is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups: one that passively consumes electronic entertainment, and one that uses technology but also participates in the arts, sports, exercise—and volunteers at three times the rate of the other group. The factor that differentiates these groups is not based on income, geography, or education, but simply on whether people read for pleasure and participate in the arts. In his Stanford speech, Gioia argued that “a child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.””

Using technology as a red herring to distract from the many other issues that play a role in children’s engagement in arts strikes me as simplistic and lazy. The fact that parents who are not interested in artistic events or activities will probably result in children having practically no exposure to these is not even mentioned. Also, what role do schools play in this? Are schools running suitable artistic and culturally inclined programs? Schools tend to stress the importance of scientific subjects much more than they do with any of the liberal arts as well.

And how can they even discuss the long term impact of “mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox” when there is absolutely no historic data to measure against? This article reminds me of the discussions on the “evils of rock and roll music” during the ’60’s, with lots of fatalistic predictions that end up being used as a source of ironic vintage advertising material forty years later.

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