The Link Rally: 29 February 2012

  • I can’t say I agree with all these titles, but the Shock Till You Drop list of horror gems from the 2000′s is a good place to start. Shock Till You Drop
  • Eat your heart out, Dilbert. Whomp!
  • This is why you don’t skip out on bills from small businesses run by vengeful people. Passive Aggressive Notes
  • Oh sure, mock the short guy. Cyanide & Happiness
  • The new The Avengers trailer makes it obvious how only having one flying team member might be a disadvantage. Oh hi, Mecha. Pajiba
  • When the Zelda-verse gets too dark… Dorkly

Finally, Once is opening soon on Broadway. Check out this highlight reel. I want to go more than ever. Looks like that pesky running around all of Dublin nonsense is solved by resetting the entire show in a bar. Interesting. Very interesting.

Coming Soon: The Jungle Book: The Musical

Disney Theatricals have announced their professional theatrical production in the US. Is it a big push for the long-gestating Aladdin? The recently announced Dumbo? That Hunchback of Notre Dame musical that is completely written and only requires an English language translation?

The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre in Chicago
Nope. It’s The Jungle Book. The 1967 musical film about a lost boy named Mowgli is being expanded and re-imagined by writer/director Mary Zimmerman for a debut at the end of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre’s 2012-13 season. The film, based on the stories by Rudyard Kipling, imagines a boy’s trials as he tries to find his place in the world one species at a time. His two closest allies, Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear, help Mowgli work his way toward joining the nearby man village to protect him from the murderous Shere Khan the Tiger.

I can’t say I’m particularly surprised that The Jungle Book would be chosen by Disney for a full length stage version. Even if the story isn’t as popular, the music is well-known and beautifully composed. “The Bare Necessities” received an Academy Award nomination for Original Song (losing to “Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Doolittle) and still works its way into Disney compilation soundtracks.

Beyond that, the score has taken on a certain theatrical cache over time. I have a few musical theater anthology books that include songs from The Jungle Book in their original forms. Would it surprise you to learn that “Trust in Me,” Kaa the Snake’s seduction song, actually has a melody? It surprised me when I played through it for the first time. It’s a play on reflecting vocal patterns: three notes up, three notes down; phrase jumps down, phrase jumps up. The (alto?) flute and muted brass play off each other like the swing of a pendulum to slip into the memory banks. It’s clever and effective.

Similarly, the sometimes disliked “My Own Home” is, at least on a composition level, quite lovely. Put aside the lyrics about male versus female duties in the household or any feminist reading of the text. The lilting melody against the play of the harp and the vibraphone is quite enchanting. You can imagine this being a lovely moment onstage for an ingenue.

Here’s the official description of the stage production from the Goodman Theatre.

From the imagination of Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman comes a dazzling song-and-dance-filled event that chronicles young Mowgli’s adventures growing up in the animal kingdom. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s time-honored children’s tales and featuring music from the classic Disney film, this spellbinding world premiere is the theatrical event of the season.

Mary Zimmerman will most likely find a way to incorporate more Indian flourishes into the production, which sounds quite exciting. The score already has touches of that in melodic structure and instrumentation that can be brought out (the same way Andrew Lloyd Weber is reorchestrating Evita for more authentic style). The story is set in India and the use of stage conventions or referential imagery could bring life to the story. Kipling wasn’t just writing a series of stories about animals and a boy in a vacuum.

Furthermore, there is a lot more to the book and even the score to play with. The Disney adaptation took highlights from the story that could be molded to form a linear storyline. There’s a whole lot more going on that could easily expand the story to a two act structure without dragging it down.

Similarly, the familiar score by The Sherman Brothers was actually the second attempt to write the music. Terry Gilykson (“The Bare Necessities”) wrote several songs that stayed closer to the text of Kipling’s story. They were deemed to dark for the film and replaced one by one. Those songs still exist and could easily be tweaked to bring in more music. That’s not even going into the lovely theatrical scoring by George Bruns that could be built on to make entirely new songs. They could even be molded into dance breaks for some of the existing songs. There is more than enough material here to produce a piece of theater that stands on its own merits.

The Jungle Book feels like it will work on stage. We’ll just have to see what happens next year.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Link Rally: 28 February 2012

  • Matilda: The Musical is coming to Broadway next season, early 2013. Broadway World
  • The melancholy career of Carey Mulligan. Like Michelle Williams has been bubbling over with optimism. Some actors just get sad roles to play. Pajiba
  • I’ll give our future alien invaders credit for one thing: they have a great eye for art. First crop circles, now snow circles. Bit Rebels

Snow Circles
I shall name this QBert.

  • This reminds me of the time that an employee got fired for hiding a stack of Wiis behind the counter for his friends that weren’t preorders. The Trenches
  • Score one for mature and calm film criticism and awards discussion. Does wanting Streep to win another Oscar negate the mixed reaction to her third Oscar-winning role? What about that front runner who Streep was actively rooting for at other ceremonies? The Film Experience
  • This might be the most beautiful Starbucks in the world. Kotaku

Finally, Lana Del Ray has never been more appealing to me. What would happen if Princess Peach married Luigi? The world’s saddest video game playing.

Chipocrite Explains Chip Music

One of the guests at MangaNEXT was Chipocrite (aka Paul Weinstein), a chip music artist. Chip music is an interesting and often misunderstood way of producing music. I avoid the term style for good reason: it’s not one. It’s more of a catchall term for a way of creating music.

Chip music basically uses old computers or video game systems to make music. The most common choice is the Game Boy, though it is not the only option. Software is used to control and manipulate the abilities of the basic sound board to create loops of melodies, rhythm, waves, and effects that stack up to form music. It’s a restrictive medium that results in a lot of creative manipulation to make the music work. Think of it like using a really small synthesizer.

Chipocrite ran two panels at the convention explaining and demonstrating how to make chip music on the Game Boy. He described the process as “problem solving” songwriting and stressed that the process does not involve hacking. There are other music creation methods based in hacking. This is not one of them. Hacking is a possibility, but not really for the music creation process itself.* Think adding a light behind the Game Boy screen so you can play the music live. There’s really no way to expand on the sound capabilities of the system itself.

The software used is called Little Sound DJ. It’s a tracker interface, meaning it’s designed to piece the music together and follow it as it plays. Chip music is primarily a writing medium. It’s possible to perform with the software, but the bulk of the work is planning. What Little Sound DJ does is give you access to the the sound board on the Game Boy.

Little Sound DJ waves
The wave control screen on Little Sound DJ.
Chipocrite did a great job explaining how the control interface worked. The Game Boy has only four possible channels to create sound. Two of them can only go up and down like the notes on a keyboard. These handle the bulk of the melodic duties. The third is the wave channel, which can manipulate sound in any direction. It lets you very quickly bulk up the track with some quirks built into the Game Boy sound system. The fourth is the noise channel. This is static that can be manipulated to sound like drums. It only builds up with chains, loops, and layering from there.

Think of it like this. Do you remember playing games on a Game Boy? Even if a game had a musical score, it was very limited and probably only took up one track. All of the sound–objects, movement, fighting, blips on the menu screen, music, etc.–was built on these four channels. I’ve embedded an example to the right. Once you listen to even a short bit of the Kirby’s Dream Land 2 music, you’ll realize that chip music isn’t hacking. All people like Chipocrite are doing is using the tools that Nintendo themselves put into place to create Game Boy soundtracks.

The more I learned about the process, the more I started to wonder how live performance would actually work. People see chip music performances at concerts, cons, and festivals. What could these musicians do once the the songs are written and ready to go?

Chipocrite was asked about this and kindly improvised a live demo of how he could manipulate his song “I Quit” for a live performance. Forgive the shakiness of the video at first. I arrived to the panel late and didn’t want to cause a further distraction by whipping out the tripod or running around the room for a better vantage point.

How an artist chooses to write, use, and perform chip music is up to them. Chipocrite manipulates the tracks live and has also started to incorporate electric bass into his performances. He also started performing with a band called Cheap Dinosaur that uses chip music a another instrument like drums or guitar. Since the concept of chip music is a tool used to create music, the possibilities seem endless.

*Actually, you could hack the Game Boy to create sounds. You just wouldn’t be able to manipulate them through software anymore. It’s called circuit bending and it’s a discussion for another time.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Link Rally: 27 February 2012

  • All the Academy Awards fashion coverage you need with a healthy dose of snark and skepticism. Pajiba
  • I didn’t even know most of these albums were coming out. Cracked
  • Playbill proposes a dozen actresses who can fill Miss Hannigan’s shoes. Team Rosie. Playbill
  • Ever wonder how ads get targeted directly at you online? Yeah, it’s just like how you imagine that process in print, only scarier. New York Times
  • The value of telling stories in a video game. The PA Report
  • Two words: ice typography. Dude Craft

Ice Typography
Very precise silence

Finally, I can’t imagine a scenario where Bounce becomes a mainstream music genre, but Big Freedia scored a big victory by performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live last month. She’s poised to breakthrough into mainstream music any day now.

Everybody’s Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a convention called MangaNEXT. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I applied for a press badge to this convention. I just knew that the subject interested me.

Manga are Japanese comic books. They cover a wide variety of topics and are targeted to every market imaginable. There are manga for boys, manga for girls, manga for young men, manga for young women, manga for men, manga for women, etc., that all break down into many different subgenres and interests, likes sports, cooking, fantasy, or romance. Traditionally, the new manga start out in magazines. These magazines contain many stories in each weekly or monthly issue. The popular stories are then collected in tankoben, or volumes–small books of an individual title. Think of them like comic book anthologies. You get multiple issues in one book.

While I had an interest in the form and exposure to a few titles, I really did worry about what I was getting myself into. Did I know enough to even get anything out of the convention? Would I recognize any of the guests or cosplay? And most importantly, would I have to say “manga” before figuring out how people were going to pronounce it in this area?*

My credentials and the tankobon-styled convention guide.
Any fears I had dissolved quickly when I showed up to the central office to pick up my press credentials. Before I even had the chance to introduce myself, one of the many MangaNEXT staffers asked me what I was looking for. I was directed to the table where a trio of staffers were finishing up preparations for the press office. They could not have been nicer about greeting me and handling a few last minute details. Within a few minutes, I was presented with my freshly laminated press badge with my name front and center.

The name thing initially struck me as odd. Most conventions I’ve been to just hand out badges categorized by your ticket type. A press badge would just say press, while a one day badge would say one day or the valid day of admission.

Not at MangaNEXT. The purpose of this convention seemed to be fostering a sense of community among manga fans. Why shouldn’t you be able to walk up to someone and introduce yourself? You’re all there for the same reason. The ice breaking is done as soon as you go up the escalator to the heart of the convention.

This concept was confirmed when Ezra, the convention chair for 2012, delivered a lovely tribute to the culture of manga fans during the opening ceremonies. “It’s all about the love of manga and standing together and all the fans [uniting]!” Looking around the room, I could see the variety of people being united by an interest in manga. There were children and adults. There were people in elaborate cosplays and people wearing everyday clothing. No matter what the motivation for attending MangaNEXT was, everyone was welcome.

This cosplayer doing Beatrice from Umineko no Naku Koro ni gladly posed for photos every few steps she took.
This broad reaching approach resulted in a wide variety of engaging content all weekend long. Of course MangaNEXT had an Artist Alley and a Dealers Room. Most conventions do. And yes, they were packed with fans scoping out good deals on manga, art, autographs, and accessories all weekend long.

What stood apart was the range of panels, workshops, and activities to participate in. You could spend an hour learning about the breadth of apocalypse-themed manga. Maybe you wanted to learn all about paneling your own manga from an art teacher in a workshop that quickly filled to standing room only capacity. Perhaps meeting a variety of international manga artists and having a chance to win one of a kind artwork was more in your wheelhouse. Or maybe you just wanted to show up, dress up, and party all night long. These activities and so much more were readily available throughout the convention.

I unfortunately had to duck out early on Friday for music work, forcing me to miss out on panels about surviving cosplay emergencies, coloring manga, cartoon adaptations of video games, and ballroom dancing. I also knew that I couldn’t do any interviews because I was on call for another production that might have needed a last minute rehearsal during the weekend. I knew that I could not waste any time the rest of the weekend if I was going to get the full experience of the convention. Here’s how my Saturday went down.

I started off with back to back panels run by fans. The first was a loosely moderated discussion about bad anime. The panelists (the creative team behind YouTube series Underbelly) went toe to toe with audience members about how the shows went so wrong in translation and edits. The next panel (members of Disorganization XIII) became an engaging look at the fan fiction community through the lens of literary criticism. Cheekily titled “From Mary Sue to Shakespeare,” the goal was to open a fanfic writer or fan’s eyes to the context of the community as a whole. Both panels really set the tone for the rest of the weekend. As fans, we’re all equal and we all have valid opinions.

From there, I shifted over to the larger panel room for back to back Q&A sessions with Japanese manga artists. Tomo Maeda (Honey Blood; Black Sun, Silver Moon) and Makoto Tateno (Yellow, Romeo/Romeo) were met with a mix of fans, press, and curious con-goers who all had equal opportunities to ask questions and meet the artists. The artists took all of the questions in good humor, from queries about the process of creating manga to personal interests and inspiration.

I knew I wanted to see how the workshops were run, even if I myself had not considered creating manga before. First up was Jen Lee Quick (Off*Beat) doing a Q&A session about selling a manga or comic with a story bible. She generously handed out copies of the original story bible for Off*Beat. She also spent a lot of time engaging with the participants one on one about the creative process and any concerns they had.

Creating Manga
Meta manga from a manga convention about creating manga at a manga convention
Lily Hana (Farewell Feeling) ran a workshop called “Creating Manga from Start to Finish.” Instead, it became a workshop for the attendees on whatever they’re interested in. She polled the audience and spent the workshop teaching us all about panel layout in manga. She gave individual feedback on everyone’s storyboards and patiently answered any question thrown at her. She even put up with my nonsense which, in case you can’t tell from my…art(?), was a literal biography of showing up and getting the last seat for that workshop.

As if lessons in creation and easily accessible panels weren’t enough, I also chose to attend a few of the more specialized panels. The guys who run Spiraken Manga Review sped through an hour long panel on post-apocalyptic manga because the schedule fell behind. Their breakdown of different varieties of the apocalypse was still very engaging. Erin Finnegan (Anime News Network) also raced through a panel but for a very different reason. She set out to discuss the wide world of unusual manga genres and schooled the large audience on everything from pachinko manga to educational business school manga.

Saturday night ended with a series of events for the fans. Instead of a traditional Masquerade (think cosplay onstage), MangaNEXT introduced Iron Cosplay. Teams of four were pulled out of the audience to put on manga/convention themed skits. One team had to tell a giant robot story featuring a Final Fantasy hero, Derpy Hooves, a Time Lord, and a ballet dancer. In fifteen minutes, they came up with a crowd pleasing performance about a Time Lord abducting Derpy Hooves and a Final Fantasy hero to fight the evil giant ballet robot destroying the city. The hosts kept the event moving with live dancing and interactivity while the groups prepped their skits.

Now imagine the variety of panels, workshops, and events I didn’t get to at MangaNEXT. I didn’t get a chance to visit the manga library or watch the judging in the Hall of Cosplay. Every time I chose one panel, I was forced to skip two or three other panel events happening at the same time.

Community at MangaNEXT
A group of cosplayers start an impromptu meet up at MangaNEXT
Now imagine hundreds upon hundreds of people navigating all these different events. There were people who seemed to unwittingly travel in groups the entire convention and people who never even got to see each other. Strangers joined forces to act out moments from popular manga and anime. People were talking, laughing, and just having a good time with like-minded con-goers.

No matter where I went at MangaNEXT, I was made to feel welcome. It didn’t hurt when a few guests and convention attendees recognized me either from NYCC or, by name alone, from Sketchy Details. But even total strangers who had no idea who I was or what I was doing there were inviting.

All conventions have their own unique feel to them. The events inevitably take on a life and persona of their own. I haven’t felt this comfortable at a convention this large in a long time. MangaNEXT welcomes everybody with open arms.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

*The answer is “mahn-gah,” as what we translate from Japanese as “a” is typically pronounced as “ah.” And yes, that does mean that “ahneemay” is closer to the pronunciation of “anime” than you might typically hear. More importantly, I wasn’t the only person trying to get the word right this weekend.

What You Missed: The 84th Annual Academy Awards

If you don’t have a Twitter account or chose not to join in during the show, you missed 3+ hours of nonstop snark, whining, excitement, and schooling in what these categories actually are. This is why you follow funny and serious entertainment writers on Twitter.

But more importantly, the 84th Annual Academy Awards went off last night in bland style. Billy Crystal did nothing new with his hosting shtick. That means his shtick didn’t get funny until the producers allowed him to start improvising one liners in response to the ceremony. Say what you will about the unfortunate “insert yourself into the movies” montage. I can’t think of another host who is so good with bringing out the pun-filled groaners. Actually, I can’t think of another host in recent memory who actually got the audience to literally groan at groaners.

The big surprises of the night happened in the technical categories. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, suspiciously not nominated for Best Picture despite a slew of nominations, took home Best Editing over The Artist and Hugo. Those two films split the other categories that normally go to the overall winner. Hugo won most of the technical awards–including an upset in Cinematography–while The Artist took Director/Actor/Picture. The last time a film won Best Editing without a Best Picture nomination was The Bourne Ultimatum at the 80th Annual Academy Awards.

Though it had a 1/3 chance, many on Twitter seemed surprised by The Iron Lady picking up Best Makeup. I default to Nathaniel Rogers over at The Film Experience with a refrain he’s made a few times this season. Best equals most in some categories. That un-moving mask of old age and Alzheimer’s disease and a ton of fake teeth is more than a subtle chin/nose/earring cover job and less than flashy CGI. However, this was a year where the Academy swung for practical makeup, not digital makeup, leaving The Iron Lady as the winner of Most Practical Makeup in a Feature Film.

As an aside, if you watched the ceremony and have not seen The Iron Lady yet, you got your first good luck at the deathly visage of old Margaret Thatcher in the film. Do you see why they hid that part from the trailer? It doesn’t look too good. Have you ever seen a Best Makeup nominee not have any photos or video available that show off the flashiest makeup job in the picture? There’s always a first.

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep goes method: be the Oscar; win the Oscar
Speaking of The Iron Lady, I chickened out and went against my instincts in the past few days. On Thursday, I resigned myself to Viola Davis winning for The Help, hoping for the better of the two front runners to win out. However, had I stuck with my nomination day instincts, I would have correctly picked Meryl Streep to surprise.

It’s not really a surprise. Oscar voters love it when well known and well loved actors play real people. What did it take for Julia Roberts, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Sandra Bullock to win Oscars? Real life characters. Whether they deserved to win for those roles is another question. It took real life characters to get them there.

There’s a corollary that makes Meryl’s win even more obvious in hindsight. The Oscar voters also love actresses doing real life characters with radical makeup transformations. Marion Cotillard and Charlize Theron both won for intricate portrayals of real life characters through thick layers of makeup. These performers often have to rely a lot on body language and handling a wide range of physically taxing actions to get recognized in spite of the prosthetics and paint.

Put those together and what do you get? Meryl Streep winning another Oscar for playing a real life character through a lot (tons, really) of makeup. I joke about her inability to really move her face for most of the film, but her physical presentation of the ravages of age done with a consistent body posture from the height of Thatcher to her rapid decline is strong. I just wish the screenplay and direction justified that much work on character development.

As another aside, I went 14/24 with my predictions from the day of the nominations. This was before The Artist started to sweep and The Descendants began picking up a lot of Adapted Screenplay momentum. I also did not want to believe The Help would be an Academy Award winning film, so Spencer did not even factor into my calculations. If I did it again yesterday, I would have gone 17/24 and have been slapping myself for underestimating Hugo in Visual Effects.

Ludovic Bource
Ludovic Bource mixing in the studio
To me, the big surprise of the night was learning that Best Original Score winner Ludovic Bource (The Artist) has no formal training. Now I’m wondering what direction he was given to write the music for that film. Was he given a list of references and he just copied the ideas? Did he hunt out scores from silent pictures and get to the ideas himself?

The Artist‘s score is very derivative, which I thought was an homage to the period. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that choice was an accident. They did have to use excerpts from Vertigo for the most modern and serious moment of the film. Was that always the plan or was it a backup out of necessity? I want to give Bource the benefit of the doubt, but the voice over about not having any formal training gives me pause.

Not to say people without formal training can’t write music. Jill Scott can’t even read music and she comes up with beautiful songs in her own way. It’s just, for such a mannered and referential score, did this composer really have the goods to do this on his own? The Artist is the first time Bource composed a score by himself for a narrative feature. He normally has a co-writer or only contributes one song. It’s an odd issue to get hung up on, I know, but it’s one that sticks out for me.

But more importantly, here are five things we got instead of performances by the Best Original Song nominees.

  1. Emma Stone hamming it up for the length of “Man or Muppet” about her first time presenting at the Academy Awards.
  2. Billy Crystal joking about how much money was wasted on building a large projection orchestra score prop for the music categories.
  3. Zach Galifankis and Will Ferrell doing shtick with cymbals and white tuxedos to introduce the Original Song nominees.
  4. Five minutes of Cirque do Soleil paying tribute to movies nominated fifty years ago for Oscars.
  5. Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. joking about live documentaries for the length of “Real in Rio.”

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

I know you’ll never revamp that horrid Original Song scoring system. Just kill the category at this point. I promise you the music people who watch will get over it. Bring back adapted song score and relax about the inclusion of a minute or two preexisting material in otherwise original scores.

Thanks in advance,


In conclusion, the Oscar telecast did one thing amazingly well. When last year’s Best Actor and Best Actress winners took the stage to introduce this year’s nominees, it was beautiful. Watching each nominee get a moment to be recognized on live TV made all the nonsense worth it. Consider cutting back on filler and actually taking the time to say nice things about all of the nominees in every category.

People won’t be talking about Saving Face today. They’ll be talking about how funny the Bridesmaids cast was introducing the nominees for Documentary Short. Make the event a celebration of film artists and the whole ceremony will have a lot more worth than just a statue or a line on a DVD/Blu-ray box.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Link Rally: 23 February 2012

  • Looks like the Kinky Boots musical with music by Cyndi Lauper is going to try to get to Broadway by winter. Broadway World
  • And the MPAA decides that a documentary about bullying in schools deserves an R-rating because kids curse. Pajiba
  • The real reason The Muppets only got one Oscar nomination: Miss Piggy is a diva. The Film Experience
  • Baby + Oscar nominees = adorable. Don’t Call Me Oscar

The Help
Surely this baby's not even the second person to cry over The Help.

  • Flowers on a wedding cake: you’re doing it wrong. Cake Wrecks
  • Nobody ever cries for the Sega Game Gear. Kotaku

Finally, tomorrow I start doing press at a three day manga convention called MangaNext. Let me tell you, it looks like it will certainly be an experience to remember. It’s right outside of NYC, which means I can drive, not spend $60+ on bus tickets like NYCC.

One of the guests is Chipocrite. He performs chip music with software for Game Boy. I look forward to seeing this happen live. And filming it. And taking pictures. And writing about it next week.