There's really not much I can say to introduce or explain this scene. It's one of those rare cultural artifacts that defies explanation for its existence.
Co. A Softer World.
Last summer, I took some time off work and spent a couple weeks in Copenhagen, visiting a pair of friends. One evening, while I was having some quiet time, a neighbor decided to start blasting Gary Jules' version of “Mad World.” You know, that song from the end of Donnie Darko. Now, I can't stand hearing that song and tend to evacuate whatever space it is being played in as fast as possible. Certainly, this wasn't as egregious as the time I heard it mixed into a set at a New Year's Eve drum and bass party, but the heartless bastard had the audacity to keep the track on repeat for at least twenty minutes. After a few extra seconds of silence at the end of a replay, I realized the torture had come to an end and immediately took my revenge. I plugged my computer into the house speakers and turned the volume up just high enough that I knew he could hear it from his apartment. For the next twenty minutes, neighbor-guy was subjected to the one song I can listen to on endless repeat, for just as long as he forced me to listen to his jam:
Along with the scene discussed in this previous post, my other favorite Justice League Unlimited moment comes from “The Great Brain Robbery.” The episode is your standard Freaky Friday scenario: the Flash and Lex Luthor have switched brains and chaos ensues. The Flash manages to, for the most part, get by undetected although not without raising a few eyebrows:
Luthor, on the other hand, is screwed from the get-go. The Justice League almost immediately figure out the trouble and begin to hunt down him through the satellite. Taking a quick break from attempting to escape, Luthor has, what is in my opinion, the single funniest line in the entire series:
There is one measure by which I was born at exactly the right time: I was eight years old when the first Mortal Kombat game came out. Being dragged through 86th Street shops on weekends, arcade games were one of my few diversions while accompanying my mother on weekend trips to discounts shoe stores and the like. The times have passed street-corner arcade boxes in this neighborhood – the only arcade machines I see anymore are in bars – but in 1992 every bodega had one parked outside. Most of the games I paid attention to were the one-on-one fighting sort, Street Fighter II being the ur-90s-fighter from which all others hailed. It is hard for me to describe how it felt, entering that shop with the first Mortal Kombat machine on the block to go from
this crap Fighter's History, for instance:
In the weeks and months after the game dropped, playground conversations would ensue over whether this clumsy-yet-so-awesomely-bloody newcomer was going to take the place of the beloved Street Fighter II. And, of course, who could take whom in a fight. While our childhood dreams of seeing a real Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat game will probably never come true (MUGEN be damned,) Newgrounds-based creator Proxicide gave us the next best thing a few years ago:
The products of harmless-yet-encompassing obsession and copious time within which to obsess are rarely uninteresting. Take, for instance, Vincent Ocasla aka Imperar, who managed to take SimCity 3000 to its absolute limit. Creating a city named “Magnasanti,” Ocasla grew a population of over 6 million within its confines. Compare that to my best in SimCity 2000, wherein I managed to starve only half the populace to death simply by destroying the potable water supply of the other. (Okay, that never happened.) The forum on which he posted his updates is gone, but fortunately there is a cached version of the post, all picture links intact. You can even download Magnasanti for your own perusal (...or destruction...) here. Vice Magazine did an interview with him as well, which revealed Ocasla's imaginative and, well, mildly disturbing take on his virtual populace:
There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle … They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
As I mentioned, the product of an obsessive mind is a sight to behold. Did I mention he composed an six minute long video of his accomplishment? Even considering his philosophy toward his city, the presentation is a little odd – more fitting for a home-made commercial for the latest rehash of Doom than a flawless execution of city-building – but don't let that detract you from his skill. He introduces his three most “complete” cities in the video, each a step toward the next. What I find most amazing are the included scans of his very detailed hand-made notes and sketches which contribute toward the final design.
(If you'd like to skip directly to Magnasanti, click here.)
On a completely random jaunt through YouTube a few weeks ago, I discovered the following:
That piece of copyright-infringing insanity is a clip from a 2002 Armenian animated film entitled Yellow Submaryan (“-aryan” being a common suffix in Armenian names.) It is the
the work of Robert Arshavirovich Sahakyants (Роберт Аршавирович Саакянц/Ռոբերտ Սահակյանց) an Armenian animation producer and director, as well as an animator in his own right. Sahakyants is known throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union for his Soviet-era (and, naturally, Russian-language) cartoons based around Armenian folk tales and literature.
(Fair warning: both cartoons below are mildly-NSFW, depending on how your job reacts to roughly three seconds of animated nudity.)
This apocalyptic cartoon was a reaction to “the confused and sad Perestroika period [and the] events, moods [and] atmosphere prior to the August Putsch of 1991.” Entitled "Knopka" ("Кнопка", "Button") it is decidedly darker than the lighter folk-tale cartoons for which he was known. The distinct lack of dialogue in this film, along with the presence of an issue of ubiquitous party broadsheet Pravda (Правда, "Truth") and the dual-language credits indicate the difficulty the Armenian people (and by extension, all non-ethnically-Russian peoples in the Soviet Union) had to retain their own culture under Soviet rule and occupation.
Going further back in time, the last thing I wanted to show is the 1987 science-fiction cartoon "Urok" ("Урок", "Lesson"). Featuring early ambient electronica and cyberpunk themes, it is unlike anything I've seen come out of the Soviet Union before. I can almost assure you Peter Chung saw this before creating Aeon Flux; the surrealistic imagery, music and stylization all match his own. One of the odder things about this film is its post Cold-War attitude. While this cartoon was created during the Reagan era, it is still pretty shocking to see this sort of forward-thinking at a time when Americans were watching Red Dawn (not that the USSR didn't have plenty of anti-American propaganda, of course.) The written signs tend to be in both English and Russian, and there is a proliferation of branded Western items: a pack of Marlboros, a ray-gun marked “SONY.” (An aside: these little set-dressings remind me of one of US television's first science fiction-based goodwill move toward the USSR: including Chekhov, a Russian, on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series.) Even the non-ambient music is western: at 2:15 in Part 1 you can hear Herbie Hancock's “Rock It” and the film ends to John Lennon's “Imagine” (FYI: the blurry text at the end is the lyrics, translated into Russian.)
Sir Patrick Stewart was knighted today. I really don't know which living actor deserves this honor more than Sir Patrick Stewart, but I may be saying this due to my deeply personal affinity for him. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation constantly while growing up; it was comforting sight when, as a kid, I would be left alone in the apartment for hours on end. To this day there are few things I enjoy more than kicking back with some TNG. Certainly Sir Patrick has much, much more to his name than Star Trek, but Jean Luc Picard was a constant presence during my formative years, and that is how I remember the actor best. We should all be lucky that, unlike Sir Alec Guiness – who could not have done more to distance himself from Obi Wan Kenobi – Sir Patrick has embraced his role in pop culture as much as “serious” acting. Now, I know you're going to see the following video on every blog mentioning this story, but I can't resist:
I've had the honor of seeing Sir Patrick as a stage actor, not doing Shakespeare, sadly, but that's in the works. About six years ago, I was lucky enough to see him on stage in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. I was a David Lynch fanboy at that point – well, a bigger one, anyway – and in the midst of slogging my way through the second season of Twin Peaks, and was thus more excited about seeing the show's co-headliner: Kyle MacLachlan. Sir Patrick stole the show, naturally, but it took me a few years to sincerely appreciate his performance. His character was a booming homeless man prone to swinging between grandeur and hopelessness. The fear and mental damage he projected was palpable, and yet the furor and strength it was covered up with seemed just as real. It's been years, so I have trouble recalling all but the emotions attached to the performances, but few stage actors have ever hit me on a gut level in the way he did that night.
Also, I hadn't realized until now, but that performance was a Dune mini-reunion! Sir Patrick and Kyle MacLachlan played Gurney Halleck and Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib in David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel:
Congratulations Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE.
I'm not sure how or when I came across [The User]. It may have been during my brief tenure as a Computer Science undergrad at an engineering university. I dove into the world of experimental electronic music head-first and spent most of my free time – and class time, which would explain the briefness of said tenure – alt-tabbing between Soulseek and allmusic. Anyhow, some day or another I discovered [The User], a Montreal-based conceptual art duo who, in 1998, released a project and album entitled Symphony #1 for Dot Matrix Printers. Twelve dot-matrix printers were hooked up to a LAN and “conducted” by a user at a central server. The results are impressive, although more on a conceptual level. Below is an audio excerpt from Symphony #2 from 1999.
Several years later and in a completely unrelated excursion across YouTube, I stumbled across Hungarian composer György Ligeti's 1962 Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. The similarity was striking. Again, a series of identical and non-musical tools were set to a specific calibration – different tempos on each metronome this time, rather than a computer program – and left alone to play. This was even less “musical” than [The User]'s work; a rather insightful YouTube commenter (yes that was the sound of Satan plugging in a space heater) mentioned that it is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Imagine my surprise when, while researching this post, I found out that one of [The User]'s latest projects was a tribute to 100 metronomes! Entitled Coincidence Engines, it comes in two separate installations. Coincidence Engine One, subtitled “Universal Peoples Republic Time”, uses a “large number” of clocks to create an environment I can only describe as sanity-quelching. It is a walk-in area with a curved wall composed entirely of clock, all beating out the machine equivalent of a caveman drumming. This project goes beyond Ligeti's metronomes, as the clocks are not even pre-set to tick in a certain pattern; everything is left to chance. As an individual who can barely stand to be in a room with more than a single ticking clock, I would probably find the experience harrowing at best.
I am not entirely sure what to make of Coincidence Engine Two, “Approximate demarcator of constellations in other cosmos.” It is more akin to [The User]'s earlier dot matrix work as the clocks are programmed to tick in sequence. I'll let the visual speak for itself:
...and that concludes today's Avant Garde Theater. Stay tuned next week for a man staring listlessly into space for an hour (depending on whether or not the NEA grant comes through.)