Little Stories – Harry James Angus

Little Stories Album Cover

Life is like a fish, that’s very hard to spear

– Harry James Angus, from Singapore

Flying too far under the radar for my liking – Harry James Angus’ 2011 solo album Short Stories is an absolute gem.  So that’s why, nearly three or so years later I want to raise my glass to this musical chameleon.

Playing lead trumpet in The Cat Empire, he inspired big-band players like myself in high-school to believe that the whole jazz thing wasn’t dead.  However, this album is a about as different from the Latin, Jazz and Reggae infused Cat Empire back-catalog, as Miley Cirus was pre and post her V.M.A. wardrobe malfunction / re-branding.

Repeating and perfecting much of the material off his debut live solo 2008 album Live at the Famous Spiegeltent, Harry has developed his own voice, and distinctive style.  The album features eleven of his original compositions – each a Short Story –  that seem to reflect a part of Harry’s broad styles and influences.

Musically, Harry keeps the things interesting – adding drums (Jules Pascoe) and bass (Rory Macdougall) on occasion ,  to tastefully compliment his finger-picking skills.  Each track has its own distinctive feel, ranging from sentimental balladry on Daddy’s Millions and The River Queen to rollicking sea-shanty-esque story telling in Underground and The Batsman.

http://www.bendigoweekly.com.au/news/harry-james-angus-little-stories

Like any good lyricist, even his more farcical songs – UndergroundMy Boring Life and The Batsman – have elements of universal truth, hidden beneath the sometimes absurd subject material.   “I used to think that I would write a song that saved the world / Now I think I couldn’t give a shit /All my plans and papers in the wind / All my furniture is fresh and new from Sweden”

However, unlike some of the pin-up folk bands of late, where all you had to do was grow a beard, pick up a banjo, and dress like you just fought in the Civil War – Little Stories is more understated.  Harry remains focused on simply telling a good story, with clear melodies, and an honest lyrical voice.

In my favourite song on the album, The Banker, Harry sings of a businessman with warmth and beauty, perhaps in spite of their clinical and financial work – “I know I was put on this earth / To change pounds into dollars and yen, and back again / I guess that I miss you, but we’ll meet again”, and “Sometimes I get homesick when I go to bed / And when I can’t sleep / I turn on my screen / And the numbers flicker like fairy dust.”

Perfect for any corporate worker, such as myself, to listen to on the journey from the train to the office door and feel – ‘yeah, despite the fact I work for some multi-national corporation, I too do have a soul’ – all before neatly packing away the iPod and being welcomed by the open-plan office soundscapes.

We can only hope that Harry James Angus has some more stories to tell.

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Helvetica

Helvetica_font_inspiration_by_RuiRaposo

I’m obviously a typeomaniac, which is an incurable if not mortal disease. I can’t explain it. I just love, I just like looking at type. I just get a total kick out of it: they are my friends. Other people look at bottles of wine or whatever, or, you know, girls’ bottoms. I get kicks out of looking at type. It’s a little worrying, I admit, but it’s a very nerdish thing to do.

Erik SpiekermannHelvetica

Who would have thought that a documentary about a font would be so engaging?   But in an age where the message is less important than the image, it makes sense we should care about how we write our sweet nothings.

Helvetica-film

This film length doco by Garry Hustwit opens our eyes to the subtle world of graphic design through the case study of Helvetica.  Educating the audience on what differentiates one type-face from another, it slowly unveils a new way of looking at the world around us.  We discover that Helvetica is ubiquitous – appearing on magazines; signs; web-pages; billboards; logos; to fast food wrapping.

Helvetica, we learn, was loved and loved to death by designers in the years after its popular release   It is even described as a ‘perfect font’, where any changes to it are only detrimental.  Apparently Apple bought the rights to use Helvetica on their early printers and computers while Microsoft chose not to pay the rights, and instead had another font – Arial – designed as a copy; where minor angles and spacings were altered to avoid copyright – but resulted in a ‘lesser font’.  And hence, Arial, has become a bit of a ‘dirty’ font in the design community.

Perhaps this is all not too dis-similar from the old joke, “Times New Roman, Arial and Palentino walk into a bar and ask for a drink.  The bar keeper says – ‘Sorry, we don’t serve your type here.’ “

Being used as a default font on many Apples products, Helvetica’s use became prolific.  So much so, that during the grunge movement of the 90s, many designers rejected the Swiss Modernist font for more messy abstract typography and wording arrangements – now made possible through the advent of the computer.  A few years ago you were ‘hot stuff’ if you could casually drop the words “I prefer a sans serif font” in conversation.   But now, the discussion has moved far beyond that to raging online forums between fans of different fonts professing more neutrality, or conversely, emotion.

For weeks after seeing the film, I became mildly obsessed in trying to discern between different fonts on signs, posters and nasty blogs, where you have to pay extra for the freedom to use certain typefaces – a la, this one!  It is fascinating to learn how many organsiations use Helvetica.  The company I work for has an official ‘Style Guide’ that all documents have to adhere to.  This requires the use of only pre-specified fonts, colours, and demands two spaces between sentences – to assist the ease of reading.

Pick-A-Bad-Photo-Apply-A-Vintage-Effect-And-Use-Helvetica

Because we spend too much time in front of screens we have become somewhat obsessive about the minor details.  I believe that because modern life is so hectic and because we ‘undergo information’ overload daily, that we have really do appreciate clear, simple design.  Just consider the popularity of the white spaced Google home page compared to the Yahoo hyperlink/underlined/italicized everything overload.  Moreover, consider the shear appeal of sleek Apple products.  However we have been spoon-fed to believe that clean design and simple fonts are the best – partly because of Apple brilliantly marketing its products. 

Sepia tones and Instagram effects are a natural response to the overly slick design elements that we see in our everyday life.  People try to reject the ‘point and shoot’ camera where both the foreground and the background are in focus; people are choosing to wash their high resolution image with a particular effect – emulating the imperfections of previous technology such as over exposure –  to make their images feel more authentic.  And less commercial / squeaky clean.  (I wonder whether the orange date-stamp will ever come back in?)

It is as if we are caught between two extremes: on one hand the simplicity and clarity of sleek, clear design – including Helveitca and sans serif fonts; and, on the other hand, the warmth of and genuine nature of imperfection, textured styles, and type characters with character.

As Garry Hustwit’s first installment of his Design Trilogy Helvetica stands as his finest piece.  Objectified – his second film looks at industrial design; and Urbanized, his third, focuses on Architecture.  Both are engaging but lack the intrigue of his opener –  a must watch for anybody who uses a computer or reads – basically, just see it.

Typography is the new calligraphy.  So sorry Mum, but a ClipArt picture of a stick man and a light bulb teamed up with a rainbow coloured heading from WordArt no longer cut it.

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Bill Cunningham New York

Image

The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been and always will be.

Bill Cunningham

How excited about fashion can a twenty-something Australian engineer get about street fashion in New York when friends mine say to me, “You dress so poor!” – and not in an ironic sort of way?

However, I recently watched Richard Press‘ delightful documentary – Bill Cunningham New York – after a tip from a menopausal middle-manager came good.

Perhaps because the doco is only partly about fashion, or perhaps it is not about fashion at all.  Nevertheless, the film follows octogenarian street fashion photograph Bill Cunningham around the sidewalks of New York, to the high-society parties for the (oh so) rich and famous, to the catwalks of Paris – where Bill shoots for the New York Times.

Bill waits on street corners “It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific” and then it may be some shoes, or a hat, or matching pairs – but he quick snaps his manual film camera and he’s captured it – a moment, an image!  Probably only because of his age, and trademark blue jacket he doesn’t get assaulted for taking snaps without permission.  But the fashionistas seem to relish the attention lauding the praise of his eyes.

Bill shooting on bike

Just a regular day at the office

Saying things like: “I don’t know how to work, I only know how to have fun everyday”; and “If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world” – it is hard not to like Bill.  Energetic, honest, excitable, gifted and level headed, his passion for beauty is engaging.  Unlike other pretentious artists, Bill seems to enjoy his simple bike, blue cardigan and his humble, pokey little apartment – sleeping on the floor next to filing-case after filing case filled with a lifetimes’ worth of film.

Press shoots the film with both an energy and an honesty.  Alternating between shots of Bill at work; shots of Bill’s work; and interviews from upper crust celebrities including flamboyant author and socialite Tom Wolfe.

However one particular scene is unique – Bill is asked two questions – one about his personal relationships; and the other about religion.  Attending church every week, Bill is perhaps much like many of the older US generation, and yet it is the only time in the rollicking 83 minutes of footage that he is lost for words.  Struggling, after a substantial pause, and looking away from the camera, “It is something I need”.  Bill gives the impression that he values his Catholic faith in a deep and personal way; and yet, humbly does not want this to distance him from his friends and colleagues – from progressive NYers that may not hold such regard for Christianity.  A man of opposites, Bill straddles the fence – mingling with the Bold and the Beautiful, while not being seduced to compromise his beautiful spirit and love for the NY – “It’s hard to play a straight game in this city”.

In my workplace where us engineers ironically look more similar on casual Fridays than weekdays when the good old’e check shirts come out. Yet, I now feel somewhat inspired to be a little bit more flamboyant with my ‘fashion’, as Bill quips near the end of the film – “Lots of people have taste; but few have enough courage”.

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The Birth (and Death) of The Cool – Book Review

James Dean

I don’t mind not being cool – Chris Martin 

People in our society spend countless dollars on it; hours of our personal time thinking about it; sweat stressing about it and coffees discussing it – all with the desire to be cool.

But what is cool?  And what is ‘cool’?  These were just two of the questions that I had on my mind when I picked up Ted Gioia‘s book, The Birth (and Death) of the Cool, late last year.  Named after the seminal 1957 Miles Davis jazz album Birth of the Cool – this book aims to discuss the aesthetic of cool, tracking its recent history in pop-culture, and discuss its future.

the birth and the death of the cool - Book Cover

Gioia contends that ‘cool’, in a certain conception, had a beginning, and now it is starting to have an ending.  He defines the cool aesthetic as being including the following characteristics: restraint; mystery; brooding; self-confidence; and independence – all very ‘western’ ideals.  Defining this ‘cool’ aesthetic in a specific way, he argues that cool is personified by people like Miles Davis, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Neal Cassady / Jack Kerouac.

From his research, Gioia argues that the increase in the use of the word ‘cool’ grew rapidly from the 1930’s on – at the same time as the use of the word ‘lifestyle’ entered our vernacular.  Previously, people were limited in their ability to make personal decisions about their lifestyle.  People were limited to read only the books that were available to them, listen to their family’s music, buy goods only from local stores – much the same as their parents.  However, with increases in technology and financial independence, more and more youth had a disposable income so as to make decisions about what they would ‘consume’, as distinct from merely ‘absorbing’ the same media as their forefathers.  People could travel to absorb media, or conversely, companies would travel to share new products with new geographical markets.  In America, people could now choose the life and life style that they so desired – all with some help from the invisible hand of capitalism.

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent

Gioia referenced the seminal 1997 New Yorker article ‘The Coolhunt’.  In it, Malcolm Gladwell describes a trend during the 90’s where marketers and product designers would try to to find influential teens and youths from New York.  They would follow them around, and see what they were wearing, what clothes they were mixing together, and ask them about different product prototype brands that they have been working on.

“The key to coolhunting, then, is to look for cool people first and cool things later, and not the other way around.  Since cool things are always changing, you can’t look for them, because the very fact they are cool means you have no idea what to look for… Cool people, on the other hand, are a constant.”  Similar to Yves Saint Laurent’s Maxim – “Fashion comes and goes; but style is eternal”.

Gioia believes, that there has been a shift in our societies’ conception of cool – from a mysterious brooding Hollywood glamour,  to a more authentic and honest aesthetic.  He points to celebrities such as Lady Ga Ga – whose candied openness with the media has attracted huge audience of fans.  I do believe that people have become increasingly skeptical of slick over-managed media personalities such as Jessica Watson, Australian solo navigating sailor, whose every Twitter and blog post if meticulously filtered though her publicity manager before any content can go online.   However, Gioia’s examples seem oft to few, and his deduced strong conclusions somewhat tenuous or unfounded.   Nevertheless the book is quite unique in content, and reads exceptionally well.

Ted Gioia

Ted Gioia

Only after finishing the book did I look inside to discover that the author and expert on what is ‘Cool’, Ted Gioia, looked like this.  Hmmm… maybe the his look is just taking hipster irony to a whole new level.

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You wouldn’t steal a TV – at least not that TV

Stealing

There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft….When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.

Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner

It is a queer irony that people love to hate the evil in others; and then use that evil as a justification for their own behaviour.  As I have recently discovered this sort of mentality to be true close to home with quite a number of my friends who apply this to their everyday life regarding online piracy.

The corporation - Film

“Corporations are evil”, they say.  They are big and ugly and unethical and faceless and soul-less.  Hiding behind limited liability, they let individuals do all sorts of horrible things to the public and the defenselessness    And as “the rich get richer, the poor get the picture” – Peter Garret’s catch cry – using their colossal market power to muscle out competitors.  And because these firms are so horrible – it is OK ethically to steal or commit fraud against them, or so the argument goes.  “We are not taking from people – individuals – therefore it is hurting no one.  Only effecting this massive organisation, that is so big, my actions have no effect.”

These themes are explored in Joel Bakan’s film-documentary The Corporation (2003), that overtly shows the danger of organisation who’s actions are left un-checked across international boarders.  When companies gain massive lobbying power that they government is willing to pay them out billions of dollars in hard times (a la General Motors in the US).

However here in lies the rub: because these corporations use limited-liability to be bullies in the playground; we can therefore justify theft.  In the West we believe it is Our Right to have what we want now, and not have to pay for it.  So would people stop stealing from these corporations if they were not so big, successful, powerful and ‘evil’?  Somehow I doubt it…

One could say this is a hypothetical that could never exist.  That companies so big could never act justly because their primary concern is their shareholders’ financial growth.  However, in recent times, with more transparency being introduced into the commercial markets, increases in the speed of media communication, and more products being purchased based on image instead of functionality for the task intended – bad company image is bad business.  This means that boycotting of products, such as Cadbury’s chocolate before being transitioned to Fare Trade certification, can be highly effective.

Shoplifter - Barcode

Deep down, I feel that many people that loath these corporations, secretly don’t really want them to change.  Because if they did, it would take away the justification used to explain away their theft.  And it s theft – because people make products, not merely companies.  Many people, perhaps unknowns, would rather have a company doing global harm – so as to justify their small theft.  Ironic huh.

It is comforting, that people only take stuff they want.  And so I can sleep easy knowing that nobody will be pinching my intellectual property on this here blog…Just like that anti-piracy advertisement at the beginning of DVDs where it states  “You wouldn’t steal a hand bag; you wouldn’t steal a car; you wouldn’t steal a TV” – to which I reply – “I wouldn’t steal that TV”  

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Tom Cruise – Guilty Pleasure of the West

Tom Cruise - Oblivion

I go without sleep, I just go hard – Tom Cruise

Intensely looking down; serious; contemplative; packing heat; with the Empire States Building in the background – we can’t be serious can we? Its another Tom Cruise film – tastefully titled no less than ‘Oblivion’ with the not so understated tag line “Earth is a memory worth fighting for”. In cinemas soon, apparently.

Tom Cruise is the biggest guilty pleasure of the west. We love to hate him, and yet we secretly love to love him too.

If I had a dollar for every time someone made a Tom Cruise joke, I’d be richer than The Church of Scientology, Tom, Katie, and Nicole put together.  There is plenty of ammunition when making a less than creative wise crack from “Its hard to look up to a short man”, and “I can’t just keep looking down on Tom Cruise”; to “Q: Why is Tom Cruise so upset? Ans: Because he is Holmes-less”.

Tom-Cruise-Magnolia

But, we keep on rolling up to see his films – Tom seems no longer to need to act, playing the same character – Tom Cruise – in all his films.  Jack Reacher, Jerry Maguire, Ray Ferrier (War of the Worlds); Captain John Anderton (Minority Report); Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) – what difference does a name make?

For as much as everyone seems to pay out on poor old Tom – we love him like a ‘frenemy’.  He’s our western Hollywood guilty little pleasure.  And fair enough, he makes some pretty decent films – at least don’t let anyone know I said that.  

And so all we keep on coming back for more… 

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