Ice Cream Taco

by wjw on September 29, 2016

Saturday night I returned to the Plaza Mayor for more of Globalquerque!  Again the concert was preceded by Jambo’s reliable curried chicken, and by Santa Fe Brewery’s excellent porter.

I also ate my first ice cream taco.  Which, for the record,  was enormous, a huge chunk of ice cream wrapped in a folded-over waffle.  Nothing to hate here, though it was a little more than I was prepared for.  Still, it fueled some dancing.

Opening the festival was Austria’s Federspiel,a mostly-brass band doing folk tunes from central Europe.  They’re supposed to have a much edgier, more spontaneous approach to their music, but I’m not familiar enough with folk tunes from the area to know what was old and what was innovative.

There was yodeling, but no one was slapped with a fish.

Next up was Israel’s Baladinowhich sources their music from all over the Mediterranean, and who seem to incorporate practically every instrument from the region, including PVC pipe.

They were immense fun, so I stayed for their full concert.

I journeyed to the courtyard to see singer/dancer/rapper Supaman, who was dressed in a full fancy-dance powwow costume, as here in the video.  Supaman, you see, enacts the role of the guy who wears a costume while standing up for justice.  Much of his act might best be described as standup, funny but politically aware commentary on the situation of native populations, and which also served to orient an audience unfamiliar with the material.  Added to which we see music and dancing!

Supaman performed alone at the festival, but here in the video he is ably assisted by champion jingle-dress dancer Acosia Red Elk.

Speaking of politically aware, Jill Sobule put on a smart, funny show that engaged not only with politics but with the audience, most of whom I daresay had never heard of her.  (She’s best known for “Supermodel” from the Clueless soundtrack and “I Kissed a Girl,” the title of which was stolen by Katy Perry for a different song.)

One of her songs was about being a teenager and scoring some magic mushrooms at a concert, which she admits dates her adolescence.  “Who today has time for a nine-hour high?”

So I saw a politically-engaged singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar, and thought it a shame that she seemed to be living in the wrong decade.  Plus, she was the only person at the festival who sang in English!  She seemed slightly out of place, if not out of time, but I liked her anyway.

(Fabio, by the way, did not turn up for the concert.)

After that I listened to Anda Union again.  It was pretty much the same show they’d put on the previous night, but this time I had a better seat, and I enjoyed it just as much as I had the first time.

The festival closed with Mokoomba, who hail from the area of Zimbabwe around Victoria Falls.  They sing in Tonga, which marks them as a member of a Zimbabwean minority, and their original treatment of Tongan materials initially alienated many of their own peers.

They seem to have pretty well absorbed every musical trend from West and South Africa (soukous, Cuban and Congolese rumba), plus rap, ska, soul, funk, and maybe a bit of Motown, at least for the choreography.  I can’t find a video that matches the high energy of the live performance that I saw, so this one will have to do.

Globalquerque always ends on a big, noisy dance set, concerning which I always have a certain ambiguity.  By the end of two days of music, I’m generally too tired and footsore to respond as I ought.  Even an ice cream taco wouldn’t have given me enough energy to dance as the music deserved.

So I lingered through the encore, by which time the festival staff were already folding the chairs and carrying them off, and then went off into the cool autumn night, with a dozen hours of great music echoing in my head.

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Friday Night Lights

by wjw on September 26, 2016

I spent two nights this last weekend at Globalquerque, our annual world music fiesta.  There were eighteen bands rotating on three stages, which meant there was always music being played somewhere, and because I was often somewhere listening to music, that meant I couldn’t be everywhere.  So I’m going to describe only what I saw and heard, and if I missed your favorite band, I’m sorry about that, I’ll try to do better next time.

Supporting my quest for new sounds were the hucksters of the Santa Fe Brewing Company, who kept serving up their sweet nutty porter, and the folks at the Jambo restaurant booth, who produced a very sustaining curry chicken in the style of coastal Kenya.  Plus the ice cream booth with their mango-chile popsicles.

First up was Fémina, a trio from Patagonia who are exploring the relationship between the folk music of their home country and— no, really?— rap.  The harmonies were nice, but the rap was in a language I don’t speak, so there was a lot that didn’t come across.

Next up was Rajab Suleiman & Kithara, who hail from Zanzibar.  From the first few notes you hear how the music of that region was influenced by the Middle East, though there were some local touches as well, such as the female backup singers who could shake their hips as well as illustrate the songs with handspeak, as in hula.  Plus accordion, because you totally can’t go wrong with accordion!

The style of music on display was taarab, which used to be played with orchestras of 50-60 players.  Then came electricity and amplification, and the bands and the music got a lot smaller, if louder.  Rajab Suleiman is trying to rebuilt some of that original sound, though still with a smaller ensemble.  My problem was that I kept thinking how much better these tunes would sound with a 50-piece orchestra behind them.

Breathes there a man with soul so dead that he doesn’t like cowboy songs?  Even if they’re sung in Mongolian, with indigenous instruments and throat-singing?

What you need for a proper cowboy-western song is the following.

  • A sound that someone invokes the big open spaces.

  • Music that reflects the varieties of nature

  • Heavy-duty nostalgia for days gone by

It also doesn’t hurt if your sound somehow echoes theme music from epic Western films.

I’m on the verge of nominating Anda Union as the best cowboy band of all time, because they’ve got all that and more.  (Throat-singing!  A guy who can throat-sing and play the flute at the same time!  I didn’t know there were so many kinds of throat-singing!)

There was even a song about Django!  (Well, Jiangur, the Hero of Western Mongolia.)

Anda Union supposedly has members from all the tribes united by Chingiz Khan.  (No wonder they’re nostalgic.)  Listening to them was the most fun I had at the festival.

Felix Peralta, of the Cajun-Norteño fusion band Felix y Los Gatos, has put together a more “traditional” band called Los Galliñeros, or the Chicken Coops.  They’re so new they don’t even have a video on YouTube yet! With a guitar, accordion, cajon, and Native American flute, I don’t know how traditional they are (or can be), but I can testify that they rocked.

I wish I’d seen more of Vân-Ânh Võ, seen here playing “Purple Haze” on a dan Bau, a traditional Vietnamese single-string instrument “invented by bad girls on the street.”  The whammy-bar thingie is made of buffalo horn.

Vân-Ânh Võ doesn’t just play rock songs with a buffalo horn, she’s a composer and a master of the dan tranh, which is a kind of zither that produces a complex, intricate sound, and another instrument I can only describe as a marimba-thing hung on cords like a hammock.  Here’s her TED talk, but be aware than the video runs 18 minutes.

A few months ago I posted about streaming audio from Mauritius and Réunion, and on that account if no other I was eager to see Maya Kamaty, four-time winner of the Prix de Musiques de l’Océan Indien.

Réunion being smack in the middle of l’Océan Indien, it can’t help but be open to a zillion musical influences, with Indian, African, Brazilian sambas all smashing headlong into French chanson and blues and soul and every other damn thing, and sung in French or Creole.  Some of the music was tropical and sensual, and some rocked, and Maya Kamaty worked the hell out of it either way.

On my way from one place to another I caught some of Orkestra Mendoza‘s set.  Hailing from distant, exotic Tucson, they work in their Latin music idiom while adding surf music and psychedelic touches.  I didn’t hear any of the latter elements on the stage, but here it is on the video, so we’re good.

Friday night finished with Herencia de Timbiquí, playing music from the Pacific coast of Colombia.  The sound was lovely, but I’d been at the festival for six hours, I was hungry and thirsty, and by that point I desperately needed to sit somewhere quiet with my feet up, so I went home and did exactly that.

But reader, that was only the first night!  Stay tuned to Radio Walter, where the wax racks hold max stacks of tracks!

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Another Formula

by wjw on September 21, 2016

So former publishing person Jodie Archer and analyst Matthew L. Jockers have developed an algorithm to isolate features common in bestsellers, and will reveal their new formula in their soon-to-be- published work, The Bestseller Code.

What does the algorithm (and the public) like?

Young, strong heroines who are also misfits (the type found in The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). No sex, just “human closeness.” Frequent use of the verb “need.” Lots of contractions. Not a lot of exclamation marks. Dogs, yes; cats, meh. In all, the “bestseller-ometer” has identified 2,799 features strongly associated with bestsellers.

What Archer and Jockers have done is just one part of a larger movement in the publishing industry to replace gut instinct and wishful thinking with data. A handful of startups in the US and abroad claim to have created their own algorithms or other data-driven approaches that can help them pick novels and nonfiction topics that readers will love, as well as understand which books work for which audiences. Meanwhile, traditional publishers are doing their own experiments: Simon & Schuster hired its first data scientist last year; in May, Macmillan Publishers acquired the digital book publishing platform Pronoun, in part for its data and analytics capabilities.

I must admit that on reading this article I mentally reviewed some of my unsold proposals to see if any of them featured young female protagonists who preferred hugs to sex and were particularly needy.  (Not much luck there, I’m afraid.)

The authors state that this will enable editors to point to the algorithm in order to justify the purchase of a book by an unknown author.  (A book, that is, featuring a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy.)

The editor’s higher-ups, of course, will likewise point to the algorithm in order to justify turning down an otherwise fine work that does not feature a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy.

And in fact they’re much more likely to point to the algorithm as a reason to fire the editor, or at least the editor’s assistant (assuming they haven’t fired her already).  Why should literary taste enter the equation?  After all, there’s already an algorithm that tells them which book to buy, and that would be the one that features a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy.

When I teach Taos Toolbox, I spend a bit of time going into literary formulas such as the Hero’s J0urney and Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula.  And while I point out that a lot of good stories have elements drawn from these formulas, once you start employing formulae by rote you stand the chance of your writing becoming, well, formulaic.  As for instance if every work features a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy.

So if publishers take this algorithm to heart, and buy lots of works featuring a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy, the books (those featuring a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy) will start to seem, I dunno, just a little bit repetitious.

So the publishers will overbuy one particular type of story, as happened recently with urban fantasy, and has happened in the past with horror and bodice-ripper romance and historical family sagas, and then there will be a crash, and nobody will want to read books featuring a young female protagonist who prefers hugs to sex and is particularly needy ever again.  (Until a really good one comes along.)

I suspect that the people best profiting from this new formula will be agents, because they can market new works highlighting  young female protagonists who prefers hugs to sex and are particularly needy, and just market the shit out of those books until the bubble bursts, and then it’s on to the next formula for all concerned.

Maybe some of those editors will even be re-hired.

Oh, wait, no.  Never mind.  That won’t happen even in a fantasy.

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BoA Physics

by wjw on September 17, 2016

Friend of the blog Michael Wester tells me that noted science foundation Bank of America has issued a report to its clients that there is a 20-50% chance we are living in a Matrix-style simulation.  (Where are my cool shades and shiny leather coat?)  The report cites Elon Musk, Neil de Grasse Tyson, philosopher Nick Bostrom, and others.

You may well wonder why the Bank of America takes such an interest in the question.  Perhaps they want to assure their clients that any money lost by BoA never really existed.

Still, you may remember my Implied Spaces, where I suggested that the existence of cosmological constants would point to the artificiality of the universe, because such a constant would just be an arbitrary number or formula inserted by the creators to make their experiment work the way they wanted it to.

Still, “artificial” is not the same thing as “simulation.”  To run a computer simulation of the entire universe would run up against the Bekenstein Bound, which limits the amount of information that can be contained in a universe with a finite amount of energy.  To describe a single hydrogen atom takes a megabyte of information, so to describe the actions and interactions of all particles in the universe would take . . . well, a heck of a lot of megabytes.  Any computer big enough to run a simulation of the universe would have to be larger than the universe itself, and with a lot more energy.

Personally I think we’re all living in the Hardwired universe, albeit a few years before the action of the book begins.

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Beware the Black Spot!

by wjw on September 14, 2016

Arya Stark puts her sword Needle to good use, here skewing every beauty product ad ever made.

 

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Long Weekend

September 10, 2016

I’m up at the Ski Valley this weekend, soaking in that peaceful autumn high-mountain vibe.  My usual venue is closed, so I’m staying in a mountain chalet so retro that it has no wi-fi.  (Yeah!  I was surprised, too!) So unless I drive down to Arroyo Seco’s coffee house (as I just did), it’s unlikely […]

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Impersonations: The Excerpt

September 7, 2016

There’s a lengthy excerpt of my new Praxis novel Impersonations available at Tor.com. Please feel free to drop everything you’re doing and read it.

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Watch List

September 6, 2016

As you might have been able to tell from my last couple of posts, I’m getting a little grumpy about my entertainment options. Just look at TV.  We are really in television’s golden age, with dozens of channels programming 24 hours per day, and an unprecedented number of high-quality series on networks or available for […]

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Kings and Kings

September 4, 2016

Went off to “the historic” El Rey theater last night to see the Gipsy Kings.  (I won’t claim to have actually heard them.) I’m aware of the claim that rumba-flamenca is merely flamenco-lite, and I don’t care.   I like me that Afro-Peruvian-Aragonese-Andalucian-Havana-Provençal sound, so sue me. So I went to The King (El Rey) to […]

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Reviews in the Nick of Time: Stranger Things

September 3, 2016

Netflix’s Stranger Things has been widely appreciated for its deft appropriation of 1980s film and music (much of which is actually Seventies film and music, but nevermind), and one acquaintance of mine called it “the movie that Stephen King and Steven Spielberg never made.” I understand that people might enjoy a series that sort of name-checks […]

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