Archive for March, 2008

Not the Dalai Lama

What’s it like to be the Dalai Lama’s brother? Pretty much the same, just less filter. Witness Giant Robot 52, where kid sib Tenzin Choegyal goes awesomely blunt:

GR: At a young age, you, too, were recognized as a reincarnate of an important man, right?

TC: Oh, that’s bullshit. I don’t believe it. From a Buddhist perspective, we are all reborn. But choosing a particular person as someone special and saying he’s a reincarnation of so-and-so is bullshit.

Got that? We all know the 14th Dalai Lama (aka Tenzin Gyatso) and his thoughtful talks about compassion in the modern world (moreso today as he stands in the middle of a renewed Tibetan conflict). Having seen him speak in Central Park and having a Mom who spent a day with him as part of the Buffalo Delegation, I know how easy it is to feel connected to the guy. But you also sense a wry sense of humor lurking just under the surface. For the Dalai Lama, it serves to humanize him. For Choegyal, it makes him hilarious:

Richard Gere is a wonderful person — very simple, modest, and natural with whomever he meets. He’s done a lot for the Tibetan community. And then on the other side of the scale, there’s Steven Seagal. Oh my god. I met him when he came here. He was wearing a funny coat, a Chinese brocade, funny trousers, and funny shoes with a ponytail. I asked him, “Why do you dress in such a peculiar manner?” He didn’t say anything. He’s arrogant and pretends to be a Tibetan reincarnate. But why? He’s a strange man.

Snap. You gotta love this guy. And it makes me totally wish I could be a fly on the wall at the next Tenzin family dinner. Well, there’s always reincarnation!

image via time

Impossible Music Manipulation

Imagine reaching inside your favorite song and transforming it. Not just replacing one track with another (exchanging, say, Eddie Van Halen’s solo for your clearly superior version), but altering it at an atomic level. Misplace a finger on a chord or two in an otherwise once in a lifetime take? Grab the notes and move them after the fact. Hell, reorient the whole thing and build an entirely new refrain in a different key with a completely repurposed drum part. Then build a wholly new song.

Once thought impossible, Direct Note Access lets you edit individual notes within flat audio tracks. All of a sudden, any audio source becomes an endless palette. Mindblowing.

Back when Guitar Hero creators Harmonix were a tiny shop struggling to pay the bills, they made a genre-defining game called Frequency. And getting the music for it was tough. That’s because, in order to tell the instruments from one another in their licensed tracks, they had to secure master recordings from the original artists. No small feat, especially on a razor thin budget. That just changed.

But there’s so much more. Imagine the kinds of new music games that could be built, making use of music the original developers never heard or even imagined — building from software that finally understands sound as intimately as the player does. Beyond that, being able to restructure music at a note level opens up tons of fascinating new avenues for electronic and traditional musicians alike. I can’t wait to see where this takes the samplers of tomorrow.

Find more Direct Note Access at

thanks to jesse kriss

Kissing Kristen, Shooting Britney

Which of these covers doesn’t belong? During a week when bottom feeding media coverage was the norm, we look to the highbrow outlets provide relief, right? Not so much.

Instead, we saw the New York Times congratulated for being “way out in front” of governor pay-per-tryst the instant they linked “Kristen’s” (now) well traveled myspace page. And when paparazzi shots of Britney showed up on the front of thoughtful, 150 year old Atlantic Monthly, I was convinced the apocalypse had come. I mean, sure, they’ve got a different spin (exploring how the photographers work is their excuse for posting salacious shots), but do you buy it? Wanna know how Luiz Betat got the shot of Britney shaving her head? It’s all here! That’s the kind of behavior we expect from the New York Post.

Then again, sales of April’s Atlantic will surely annihilate those of any other issue this year, enabling the semi-struggling younger-audience-wanting mag to keep on chugging into its 151st year. That’s some kind of silver lining, I suppose.

But here’s the worst part: It worked. They sucked me in. I read ’em all. The New York Post, The Atlantic (Britney first!), New York Magazine. (My excuse for reading the Post is a hawker in Union Square handed me a sponsored copy. Weak, no?) Hell, I even visited Ashley’s music store. (Favorite comment: “Only 98 cents? I thought it was five thousand bucks for the hour. What a steal.”). No moral here; just owning up to being a rubbernecker like everyone else. Sadly, this new Atlantic may be onto something.

Read The Atlantic’s Britney stalking exposé and watch The Times act like probing a prostitute is quality investigative journalism.

African Architectures

What do you know about architecture in Africa? The March issue of Dwell is its best in ages. Where the magazine started out focusing on radically new housing and inclusive community design, the years since have seen it devolve into a slide show of stylish homes for the rich and famous (like so many other architecture magazines). A unique voice was lost.

This month’s issue, though, sees a return to roots — with a cover story featuring small affordable homes and another on inexpensively incorporating sustainable energy. The real gem of the issue, though, is a fabulous interview with Tanzanian architect David Adjaye. Here’s the best bit:

Dwell: You’ve been compiling a book of photographs from African capital cities. What inspired that project, and what is its ultimate goal?

Adjaye: It was really just an archive that I started. I was extremely interested in a sort of anthropological survey of the continent in the 21st century, when its image is still predominantly that of poverty. If there is an image of an African city, rarely do you see a skyline; you see a shantytown or a village or a mud hut.

I’ve found that even architectural students have no idea about the urban quality of African cities! We know South American cities; we know Asian cities like the backs of our hands; we know European cities because they’ve been done to death; we don’t know the last continent.

It’s not a book about architectural style; it’s about the way in which these buildings are used and the way in which the urbanism of the city works.

The African continent has a very particular quality — and I fear that this quality is being lost by leaders who are trying to replicate places like Los Angeles or Chicago. But from my point of view, Chicago is a 19th-century city; it’s really not the way to plan a city now — with this massive infrastructure that gets decrepit and falls apart and is impossible to update because it’s too expensive. There’s got to be a better way to think about the city.

My mouth fell open. Standing in Africa when I read it, I’d been searching for words to describe what I was seeing in the buildings and how they interact with people. This captures it cold. While Adjaye speaks largely of the interaction of architecture and social structures, his quote could just as easily refer to anything from art to politics to health care. Africa is seen as a place where very little works and less works well. Nothing could be further.

A South African friend we met on our travels put it this way: “So many people come here fearful; expecting safety to be a constant challenge. What they don’t realize is that Africa is like anyplace else: some parts of it are safe, some parts aren’t. You have to do your homework traveling here just like anywhere in the world.”

This couldn’t have been made clearer than when I traveled to an informal settlement on the outskirts of Soweto. With no police, makeshift homes that are impossible to secure, a semi-transient population, and no formal records system, you’d expect the worst. And you’d be wrong. Residents were welcoming and the settlement is known to be one of the safest areas in Johannesburg. Safer than some rich neighborhoods. How did this happen? How can new architecture design to support the kind of community that has developed here?

And on the flip side, spending time in cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Dakar drives home a very different architectural and design sense. They all have towering modern buildings but the way those buildings interact with their surroundings — their interplay with communities — is fascinatingly different. Western design language just can’t do it justice.

I have to give Dwell credit for publishing a quote that very well could be taken as a criticism of its own editorial policy — focusing on the rich and sexy and western rather than going the extra mile to communicate why we should care about architecture in developing nations; what we can learn from them. It’s good to see Dwell sticking its neck out again. Here’s hoping that continues. And here’s looking forward to Adjaye’s book!

Adjaye was also recently interviewed in New York Magazine. Read more about him at Wikipedia and flip through the March Dwell. We last touched on African architecture in Astronauts in Africa.

image via timeodanaos

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