This morning I went to pick up bagels and two seagulls launched from a power line and flew down the road in front of me – hovering about a hundred feet ahead of me leading the way through the fog for several blocks.
I’m sure that this kind of thing has always happened. But I’ve become cued to observe birds more closely recently. Part of it is the boardgame Wingspan, and I’m spending more time out-of-doors during Covid-19.
Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with the Melvin’s catalog recently. Like seeing squirrels, birds and neighborhood cats who come into relief when you are paying attention, the Melvins grow in importance and meaning the more you look for them.
Here are the Melvins in 1993 playing in all their glory at UCLA. Buzz with a savage sound and performance energy. The weirded out passers-by. Dale’s gardening gloves? The drama-stage drum riser that seems to be set up in a car park or something. All captured on VHS glory.
But the winner of the video is Lorax or Lori Black the bass player. Disinterestedly smoking a cigarette, playing that drone string with a herky-jerky chop – fuzzed out bass chords that stop on a dime. Worth a listen.
Long out of print in 2019, I was pleased to get a copy of the boardgame Wingspan this summer. Since it arrived we have played Wingspan almost every two days. Wingspan is one of the best constructed and fun to play games of all time.
Wingspan allows you to build an collection of birds in meadows, forests and wetlands. You operate mostly in solitaire mode, drafting birds, getting food and laying eggs for future generations. The mechanics resemble natural processes and the subject (170+birds) are simply beautiful.
The game play is very pleasing. I find myself lost in my own (almost solitaire-like) joy in strategizing how to get the right food to build a magnificent Golden Eagle or Mississippi Kite, the sense of competition falls away and I’m just in the zone. It is an innovative game mechanic – you finish every game wishing for one more turn.
Wingspan was created by Elizabeth Hargrave who has a robust life as a thoughtful board game intellectual. I’ve watched a few videos where she documents the process of creating Wingspan. She comes across as sincere, thoughtful and aware of issues of representation and power in all aspects of life. The below lecture given at the NYU Game Center is a good example.
Hargrave outlines the creation of the game and the development of the innovative game mechanics. When given the opportunity she also unpacks some of the gendered assumptions about Wingspan (“Am I making games for women?” she asks at 41:20. ) The response includes this great slide:
Hargrave’s talk is for a group of students (MA and BA) who are studying game design. You can watch the video on a number of platforms, but watching it on twitch has the added benefit of seeing the commentary as Hargrave’s lecture unfolds. (This is also a refreshing juxtaposition, traditionally the text chat on the side of a twitch stream would be rapid-fire trolling copy/paste spam, replaced in this case by earnest classmates joking with each other and riffing sincerely on Hargrave’s arguments).
Hargrave is on top of the significance of representation in boardgames. She also shared the tools and strategies she used to build, and publish her game. She shares information about inclusive calls by game companies and scholarships for new designers. She seems earnest in a desire to open up games for new creators and to encourage sincere support for each other.
I appreciate the values expressed by this approach of game design. She also just comes across as cool. At 46:00 when she encourages future boardgame makers to experience wonder by making games about things that they care about or describing her ban on games that include castles, I got the sense that Hargrave would be fun to hang out with and game with.
While praising the game you have to pause at the incredible art that covers the cards of Wingspan. The hundreds of birds illustrated for the game are almost scientific-style drawings, but are really beautiful. You can check out the artwork of Ana M. Martinez and Natalia Rojas on their respective websites.
I was very impressed with Boris Wild performing a stunning card / mentalist trick on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us. I think the trick threads the boundaries of the genre of magic (don’t disclose how a trick was done) with the fabric of the trick itself. To position yourself as a meta-magician (which becomes more evident when he is describing how he thought of the trick with Alyson Hanigan).
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and strategic communication of the 1UP graffiti crew. The above videos are a pretty good representation of the trans-national cohort bent on leaving their shared name on any (un)available surface.
1UP have challenged the stereotypes before with their coral reef tag, and the #LEAVENOONEBEHIND campaigns. They are graffiti extenders – moving the practices of graffiti into new mediums and methods. The crew seem comfortable with a variety of new application strategies including the whole crew whole car strategy with the car in service, fire extinguisher painting, and of course repetition.
These two videos present some of the more interesting elements of 1UP practice. I’ll observe:
Collaborative vacation. These videos document 2019-20 New Years Eve in Napoli. The crew pick a location and then paint up the town and socialize. They share a crew tag and a goal of making it beam from every surface in the city.
interactions on the street. The 1UP crew zip around Napoli and paint on the walls with passersby interacting. These offer up some great moments like the memorial tag at 2:28. But the 1UP crew seem social, jolly, the paintings all seem pretty crisp and they seem to pass cans to people walking by if they express an interest.
Include the failures. I really like the disruption of the standard graffiti video format. Including some high profile failures and semi-honest reflection about those tactics adds a lot to these two films.
Strategic painting. Two giant cans of silver paint with fat caps allow a person to cover a lot of terrain. The use of teams (one person doing the fill and another to do the outline) and the multiplication of these roles if they are doing something larger was really impressive.
Nostalgia. After a half a year of COVID-19 and stresses of the end of democracy in the United States, seeing a band of artists run through a European city on New Years eve seems like nostalgic hi-jinx.
Vele. The Vele houses in the second video (10:45) offer up one of the best case studies of representation and voice. My concern is that it would be exploitative for the community members, so I appreciated that they foregrounded consent with the neighborhood and participation in the message-making.
Art. I have some aesthetic preferences. Not sure what the face on the Vele houses was. Was not moved by the addition of the yellow streaks to most of the finished throwups. Really liked the rainbow drip piece. Appreciated the solid lines and old school letter styles used for 1UP across the project.
Ethics. I’m sympathetic to anyone who was disrupted in their transportation to work. I bet quite a few people were terrified by the giant firework explosions. And I think that some of the crew shots of large gatherings of hooded men may seem menacing to some.
Overall these two videos are great examples of communicative strategy both in the video construction and the 1UP artwork.
The election of 2016 marked an deep downward pull for American democratic traditions. After the election the institutions that make up government became under attack by the President and the cabinet members. Each American agency seems to have been sapped of leadership, undercut, and in many cases, the people working at the State Department or the NEH found themselves directed to work 180 degrees opposite the purpose of the agency. The Environmental Protection Agency for instance:
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he was freeing oil and gas companies from “burdensome and ineffective regulations.” By rolling back an Obama-era policy designed to curb gas leaks at pipelines and wells, the EPA administrator was essentially giving energy companies the go-ahead to release much more climate-warming methane into the atmosphere.
Let’s not pretend that the United States confidence in government was very strong before all this. But you pile on the increasingly refined ways that people gather news and form opinions and the genuine cynicism that everyone seems to share, and we face a deeper problem.
We risk losing the inability to discern fiction from truth – (and I’m a postmodernist), or the ability to debate complex ideas. I’m sure that the basic skills still exist on college campuses and the nod toward some shell of debate and rigorous argument can be found in corners of youtube.
Joshua Yaffa writes in the New Yorker about the continued focus on Russian propaganda (Yaffa outlines how much of this should be considered a threat) and the more problematic impact of the President and Fox News reporters muddying the waters over the significance and response to Covid-19.
Yaffa writes: “When it comes to COVID-19, the apparent result of the combined disinformation campaign of Trump and Fox News has been devastating. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May analyzed anonymous location data from millions of cell phones to show that residents of Zip Codes with higher Fox News viewership were less likely to follow stay-at-home orders. Another study, by economists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, suggested a disparity in health outcomes between areas where Fox News viewers primarily tuned in to tucker Carlson, who, among Fox hosts, spoke early and with relative urgency about the danger of COVID-19, and places where viewers preferred Sean Hannity, who spent weeks downplaying its severity. The economists found that in March, viewership of Hannity over Carlson, in the locales they studied was associated with a thirty-two-per-cent increase in infections, and a twenty-three-per-cent increase in COVID-19-related deaths
(Yaffa, Joshua.”Believe it or Not.” New Yorker. September 14, 2020, p. 29)
With these kinds of numbers, we need to be making the connection that information literacy is a public health investment. In 2020 being able to discern if a source is lying to you is a survival skill. Fortunately it is one that a couple of hundred thousand teachers can resolve with some investment and support.
The guy who founded the online forum Muffwiggler passed away. His vision of a forum to make modular synths accessible has been really meaningful to a lot of people and has corresponded with the rise in Eurorack. He had been an opaque figure for me – a mostly unknown founder with a basement full of rare synths. With his passing a number of interesting videos have emerged including this one which gives Mike a chance to talk about the origins of the forum and reflect on the often consumerist nature of modular synths.
This video by the guitar pedal manufacuters Earthquake devices is particularly good. Featuring Money Mark (artist and famed Beastie Boys collaborator) in a laboratory with some created tools to make music.
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