Song On My Mind VI

Beyoncé is a consummate professional, one of the top artists of the noughties. While other female singers became enveloped by scandals and drama, she remained above the fray. Sassy, sultry and sexy, she lights up the stage with her powerful presence and voice. I’m surprised it took me this long to discover Love on Top, a joyous throwback to the retro-soul era. I challenge you to listen to this infectious song and not have your body sway to the music. WIth each key change the song builds and swells, absolutely glorious.

For Aussie readers, check out this standout performance by Diana Rouvas, a contestant on The Voice. Props to Keith Urban for the savvy choice of song.

Quote(s) of the Day III

I, like most untrained people, only have a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry — what I do know is confined to the stuff I learnt in junior high school science classes. But chemistry is actually the foundation of our modern life, as evidenced by this pretty amazing quote by academic Martin S Silberberg:

You know that chemistry has an impact on your daily life, but the extent of that impact can be mind-boggling. Consider just the beginning of a typical day from a chemical point of view. Molecules align in the liquid crystal display of your clock, electrons flow through its circuitry to create a rousing sound, and you throw off a thermal insulator of manufactured polymer. You jump in the shower, to emulsify fatty substances on your skin and hair with chemically treated water and formulated detergents. You adorn yourself in an array of processed chemicals – pleasant-smelling pigmented materials suspended in cosmetic gels, dyed polymeric fibers, synthetic footware, and metal-alloyed jewelry. Today, breakfast is a bowl of nutrient-enriched, spoilage-retarded cereal and milk, a piece of fertilizer-grown, pesticide-treated fruit, and a cup of a hot, aqueous solution of neurally stimulating alkaloid. Ready to leave, you collect some books – processed cellulose and plastic, electrically printed with light-and-oxygen-resistant inks – hop in your hydrocarbon-fuelled metal-vinyl-ceramic vehicle, electrically ignite a synchronized series of controlled, gaseous explosions, and you’re off to class!

And what else can we give chemistry thanks for? Yes, that’s right. Hilarious and adorable chemistry cat memes.

Let’s Get Spotified!

When I was living in Europe, one of the simple pleasures was to have access to things I couldn’t get in Australia. Yes, the food and culture etc etc were great, but I’d like to talk specifically about Spotify! It’s probably the most polished of the many online music streaming programs out there these days and finally it has been released in Aus.

Spotify comes in 3 forms — ‘Free’, where you have unfettered access to 16 million tracks but with periodic ads playing in between; ‘Unlimited’, where for $7 a month the ads are removed; and ‘Premium’, which costs $12 a month and allows you to listen offline as well as on mobile devices. The ability to have all the music you can ever want or need in your pocket, as long as you live, for $12 a month is a mighty fine offer. Heck, I probably spend more than that every month on iTunes, being gouged mercilessly by the inflated Australian prices. With Spotify you can do individual song and album searches, make and share playlists, and use the ‘radio’ feature which will play songs from chosen genres.

I love Spotify. Go check it out today!

 

This Is The Voice

I’m very busy these days but do allow myself one indulgence: watching the Australian version of The Voice. As you might guess, it is another reality singing show. The Voice originated in the Netherlands and has been on quite a roll, appearing throughout Europe and also in the US and now Australia. I was in the middle of writing a long explanation of the concept of the show but it became too laborious — if you want to know more, go here.

What I want to do is share some of the music that has been produced so far. It is of an extremely high quality. For every fresh-faced newbie, there are probably three seasoned musical veterans who never got the break they wanted. Right now I have two favourites. Apologies to readers outside of Australia, the YouTube links might have stupid area restrictions, but you can probably find a version somewhere.

Karise Eden on Seal’s team is a 19-year old with a mature voice that sends shivers down my spine. It’s like a cross between Amy Winehouse, Macy Gray and Janice Joplin.

Darren Percival on Keith Urban’s team has been around the circuit for a while, doing small gigs here and there. I’m really surprised he hasn’t broken through, his voice is so big and soulful. Darren sings with such a joy, it is so deeply moving.

Right now the show is slowly winnowing down the contestants in the live rounds. It’s strangely compelling television. If you’re in Aus, check it out.

If Corporations Are People, They’d Be Psychopaths

Check out this thought-provoking article. If a corporation is indeed a person, what kind of person would it look like? Answer: psychopath. “Indifferent to others, incapable of guilt, exclusively devoted to their own interests.”

Can we just all call out capitalism for what it is? A highly successful but imperfect, amoral system of allocating society’s resources. Contrary to what partisans may have you believe, capitalism is not virtuous or inherently just. We use it because it works for the most part. However, its worst elements must be tempered, just as criminals and psychopaths are controlled by the state. Sometimes capitalism is not restrained, and Exhibit A is the slow-motion train wreck that is the United States. But that’s OK, we gotta protect the job creators right?

Sick Of It

The political discourse in Australia has reached a new low. The public disapproves deeply of the leaders of both political parties. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that media reporting on politics is also approaching its nadir.

Australia is a BORING place. And, for people going about their everyday lives, that’s a GOOD thing. We have the lowest employment in the Western world. We have a stable democracy. We have low crime. Our news media is desperate, desperate to generate attention-grabbing headlines. Politics is their fodder.

All those Very Serious People — those political commentators filling the pages with “insight” — feign concern over the state of our politics, how much trouble Labor is in, how more attention should be paid to the policy issues that actually matter. But of course, they have a choice on what to report on and that choice is clear. When the front page is dominated by sensationalised controversies, when the dimming heat of the controversy is laboriously attended to and sustained by those papers, it is clear where their priorities lie.

The worst offender, of course, is News Corp. How can anyone take what they write seriously? At least The Daily Telegraph in Sydney doesn’t pretend to be a serious paper. The Australian, on the other hand, does pretend to be a serious paper. And when they release a front page like this, any pretence of “fair and balanced” or whatever other trope they want to foist onto themselves is demolished, once and for all. It is disgusting. It is shameful.

I am sick of politics in Australia, and more to the point, I am sick of the news media.

Things I Should Have Done A Long Time Ago (1)

With Prometheus coming out later this year, and as part of my general aim to get more ‘cultural education’, I recently watched Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). They were directed by two respective giants of the field — Ridley Scott and James Cameron — and each is special in its own way.

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I was a fairly nerdy kid growing up in the 90s, so science fiction movies and games were nothing new to me. The Alien franchise was always a part of my consciousness, the eerie green on black background affixing on me in the DVD section of video rentals and department stores. For some reason I never got around to watching them. This is a shame, I think it would have been such a visceral and momentous experience to see it at a younger age. Still, watching them today I can definitely appreciate just how revolutionary the movies were to popular culture.

Alien is a suspense/horror film. I love how believable the premise is. Humans are colonising space and there are ships used for the gathering and transporting of ore. The crew travel large distances in suspended animation. They share meals around a communal table. The android Ash is really creepy. Maybe my expectations are just really low, but I’m super-impressed at the level of thought and detail that went into creating this futuristic universe in 1979.

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The effects are excellent for its time and the facehugger/chestburster sequences must have been a sight to behold for original movie-goers. The Alien itself is one of the most recognisable creatures in cinema history and its designer H R Giger (he looks creepy himself!) deserves full props for dreaming up such a spine-tingling beast, in all its cylindrical-headed glory. The idea of being stuck in an enclosed space having a monster hunt you is nothing new, but the film managed to keep me riveted the whole way through. This is no small feat for someone who’s pretty cynical and spoilt for choice in 2012.

Despite being a direct continuation of the previous film, Aliens takes a completely different approach. It ditches the moody suspense of the original for a no-holds-barred, roller-coaster ride of action and tension. From about the halfway point, once our intrepid band of adventurers are on the colonised planet, the film begins to ratchet up the pressure. I seriously could not take a proper breath until the very end when the Alien Queen is expelled out of the airlock. A truly exhausting but exhilarating ride. Also, it was so refreshing to see a strong female character tearing it up. Ripley is tough, smart, articulate, brave, with a hint of vulnerability — not your typical weak, hysterical damsel in distress.

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It began dawning on me as I watched Aliens just how influential it would become to the science fiction genre. I mean, this is the movie that popularised the concept of space marines. The idea was explored in great detail by Robert A Heinlein’s seminal book Starship Troopers (1959) and Star Wars (1977) had stormtroopers. But I think Aliens was the first movie to show, in nitty gritty detail, human soldiers deployed across space to fight an enemy. The movie even had mobile sentries! I think that this is such a cool concept that gamers in the 2012 now take for granted.

Just off the top of my head I can think of a lot of games that either indirectly or directly would’ve been influenced by Aliens. id’s Doom and Quake franchise, the Halo and Mass Effect series, and of course Blizzard’s Starcraft and Starcraft IIStarcraft holds dear childhood memories for me and the inspiration of Aliens is blindingly obvious. The basic unit of the human Terran faction is the Marine, and another infantry unit is the flame-throwing Firebat. For an especially eery homage (?) to the movie, check out this in-game cinematic.

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So, to conclude: Alien rocks. Sigourney Weaver rocks. Can’t wait for Prometheus!