Meet the Cubies: Modern Art spoof from 1913
02.27.2017
09:54 am

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Amusing
Art
Books
The wrong side of history

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The revolution started on February 17, 1913, when four thousand members of the American public were confronted by the work of a group of European artists exhibited at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, New York. The shock of this cultural invasion, called the Armory Show, claimed many. Some laughed. Some fumed. Some had an attack of the vapors. There were even those who felt their senses had (somehow) been physically assaulted by the canvases painted by artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and in particular Marcel Duchamp whose Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 proved to be the most sensational exhibit on display. This, many critics and members of the public claimed, was not art, it was mere childlike daubing. It was anarchy. 

When the exhibition arrived in Chicago, the Illinois Legislative Investigators probed “the Moral Tone of the Much Touted Art” over its “many indecent canvasses and sculptures.” When a third city Boston capitulated to the exhibition later that year, Modernism had arrived in America and nothing would ever be the same.
 
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Press respond to the Armory Show from 1913.
 
While some welcomed this cultural shift, there were many who clung to the security of the old order of classical art. In 1913, writer Mary Chase Mills Lyall (1879-1963) and illustrator Earl Harvey Lyall (1877-1932) produced an ABC book—intended for both adults and children—which poked fun at this strange new art. Their book The Cubies featured three ultra-modern, triangular figures of indeterminate sex who “moon over anything Cubist and scorn objectivity.” They owed their “incubation” to the Association of American Painters and Sculptors who had organized the Armory Show. Together these three characters lead the reader through their modernist manifesto of art:

A is for Art in the Cubies’ domain–
(Not the Art of the Ancients, brand-new are the Cubies.)
Archipenko’s their guide, Anatomics their bane;
They’re the joy of the mad, the despair of the sane,
(With their emerald hair and their eyes red as rubies.)
—A is for Art in the Cubies’ domain.

B is for beauty as Brancusi viewed it. C is for “Color Cubistic” where artists are advised to throw paint on a canvas and then exhibit it. D is for Duchamp “the Deep-Dyed Deceiver.” And so on and so on.

Their intention was to belittle and to deride the pernicious influence of this “shock of the new.” What happened next to this husband and wife team is unimportant. It was how America’s artists responded to the challenge set by the Armory Show that mattered. Artists responded not with a hankering for the past but with radical imagination and innovation which placed the United States at the center of Modern Art for the next sixty years.
 
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Read the rest of ‘The Cubies,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bleak Sabbath: Did the mysterious occult group Jacula invent black metal in 1969?
02.27.2017
09:20 am

Topics:
Music
Occult

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Fumetti plus wizards = total doom

It’s either the most mind-blowing musical anomaly ever unearthed or it’s bullshit. Me, I prefer to believe. You will too. Light some black candles, take a slow sip from your crusty bottle of absinthe, and dig this spooky backstory….

In 1966, fledgling mystic Antonio Bartoccetti moved to Milan where he met a wizard named Franz Parthenzy. The two (apparently) communed with dark spirits who gifted Antonio with a musical vision so sinister and so subversive that it took him three years just to find collaborators brave enough to help him bring it to hideous life. He was eventually joined by an older British pipe organist with a classical background named Charles Tiring (R.I.P., presumably, unless he’s 118 years old) and a mysterious vocalist/violinist/keyboard masher, Fiamma Dello Spirito (or Doris Norton, as mere mortals call her).
 

 
Jacula was named after a popular erotic comic book at the time. They lifted their very metal logo from the comic as well. The songs were already channeled by Antonio, so all that was left was to record them. Legend has it that the first album, 1969’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum (roughly translated: “It always ends in poison”) was recorded in a crumbling British castle during a seance. Let’s go with that. The self-financed album was “released” in 1969—several months before Black Sabbath, incidentally—in a strictly limited edition of 333 copies. However, it was never sold in stores. Rather, it was handed out freely to like-minded occult dabblers, presumably for further spells and incantations. Cue a jarring crack of thunder and maniacal, mad-scientist laughter.
 

The world’s first black metal album?

So what does this album sound like? It sounds like Swiss extreme metal pioneers Hellhammer wandering onto the set of 1960s Mario Bava horror movie. It is Maximum Dungeon Synth, with a depressive church organist bonging away while mad monks chant and guitars drone. A shrieking violin cuts through the murk and wordless murmurs confront and confuse. The most jarring aspect, given the year it was created, is the thoroughly inhuman, wildly distorted guitar that permeates the recording, an oppressive boot-heel of ugly noise running roughshod over the perpetually gloomy atmosphere, especially on the album’s heaviest track, the epic “Triumphatus Sad.”  It is this sound that has caused so much contention with heavy metal archeologists, who swear that such wicked riffery could simply not have existed in 1969.

Prevailing wisdom with record collector nerds is that Bartoccetti overdubbed the guitars sometime in the 90s, concocting this hopelessly obscure hoax just to land the “first heavy metal album” mantle. Well, maybe. Black Widow Records reissued the album in 2001 and although the label did not get into details, the album was definitely “cleaned up” and restored from the crumbling 1969 reels, so it’s entirely possible that the Tom G. Warrior teenage Satanist guitars were dropped in later. But so what? Even without the distortion, the album envelops you in such a thick cloak of doom that you can practically feel the ancient slime on the castle walls and inhale the acrid smoke of burning witches.

No matter what, this album is heavy as fuck.
 

Bleak Sabbath: Jacula in the early 70s

More after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Leave a comment
My Unpopular Opinion: ‘Arrival’ is the very definition of pretentious ‘artsploitation’ cinema
02.24.2017
02:37 pm

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Movies

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I’m back. Remember me? It’s time for another one of my unpopular opinion pieces, and this time it’s about everyone’s favorite 2016 artsy-fartsy sci-fi hit (and Oscar contender) Arrival. The film has gotten nearly unanimous critical praise, and if that wasn’t enough to raise your suspicions, how about the constant use of that critical kiss-of-death word “refreshing”? Were they all paid to use that specific word? Makes you wonder, huh? But before I get into the meat of this essay I’m going to offer up two definitions to bear in mind whilst reading:

1.) Pretentious: attempting to impress by affecting greater importance than is actually present.

2.) Artsploitation: the exploitation of an art-house cinema audience, especially in regard to the critical merits of a film.

Thanks to Google for number one and as for number two, it’s my own coinage. Artsploitation refers, like other exploitation genre tags, to a particular audience’s desire to consume a particular kind of film regardless of its quality. In the case of “art-house” cinema, this means that as long as a film looks pretty or conforms to the audience’s notion of “artistic” merit—most often translating to a level of incomprehensibility that one viewer can use to claim a superior “understanding” over others—said “art” film can then be excused of all its flaws. Regardless of how bad they are or how poorly it may conform to other essential tenets of “good” cinema such as writing, editing, acting and directing.*

If you ask me, Arrival fits both of these definitions down to a tee.

 

 

“God Niall, why do you have to keep shitting on the things that everyone else loves?!” I can hear an imagined reader crying out from the deepest recesses of my ego. But this is the thing: I love genre movies. I love them in their own right, in-and-of themselves. There is no shame in genre cinema for me, there is no shame in gleefully enjoying well-executed action, in impressive explosions or a well-crafted monster, in camp humor and in over-the-top bad acting.

What pisses me off is directors/producers/writers who are unwilling to interact with genre works on their own terms. There is a palpable sense of fear and shame from these arty “updates” and “fresh retellings,” as if the director is afraid of getting tarred with the “genre film director” brush and losing their artistic cachet, or even of stooping to the level of less-acclaimed directors who work within the actual genre. An auteur placing themselves above a genre, not within it, never, ever works. Instead of making a decent movie based on a true understanding of what makes a genre film work, they instead force their own artistic aspirations on the audience, missing the point of why audiences love genre films in the first place. 

Now, Arrival may not be the worst contender—and I’m a big enough man to admit that there were some moments I kinda enjoyed—but it IS guilty of these crimes, nonetheless. I have divided my critiques up into vague categories for clarity, and need I mention: SPOILERS AHEAD! Okay, here we go…

 

 

THE FILM’S SUPPOSED AND WIDELY DISCUSSED “ORIGINALITY”

There’s only one shot in the entire film that stayed with me, and if you have seen the film, you’ll know the one: the slow-motion, aerial approach to the alien ship via a mountain range with cascading clouds. And that shot, indeed, is breathtaking. If only the rest of the film could have stayed at this level of artistry. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So it is surprising to hear seasoned critics gushing over the supposed “originality” of this film, when it’s really not that original at all. The story is a slightly modified take on Contact, the tone of detached wonderment is cribbed from 2001: A Space Odyssey,  the alien ships are lifted from the opening of Prometheus, and the aliens themselves are your bog-standard “tentacled” creations that recall both the mighty Cthulhu and the not-so-mighty Karg and Konos from The Simpsons. None of these are in any way obscure references, so it puzzles me as to why they have not been acknowledged more honestly. But it’s not just Arrival‘s concepts that lack originality: it’s the film’s execution.

DENIS VILLENEUVE

Denis Villeneuve attracts a lot of critical praise for his directorial work. This is the first film of his I have actually seen, so I guess I was expecting a lot. And in the end I couldn’t help but feel utterly disappointed at a film whose central conceit is the power of new forms of language, but which itself leans so heavily on so many tired-ass cinematic cliches. The flashback/forwards/dead daughter “memory” sequences in particular rely on the worst kind of Hallmark-esque imagery. You know the type, it’s on page one of the playbook titled “How To Crassly Manipulate Feelings Of Warm Sentimentality in Your All-Too-Willing-to-be-Manipulated Audience.” Turn on your television right now and you will be bombarded this within kind of imagery in hundreds, no thousands, of adverts: tiny hands brushing through the long grass of a sunny meadow, colourful wellingtons splashing the clear waters of a babbling brook, a laughing baby’s face shot in floaty shallow focus and obscured by lens flare. An old couple holding hands on the porch. All that was missing was a breathy-voiced, piano-ballad cover version of some trashy dance-pop (“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” perhaps?) Arrival uses a visual language so cliched that I kept expecting to see the Vodaphone or Ikea logo materialise in the corner of the screen, with details of the great new offers available at my local branch. In effect, the director has taken a lazy visual short-cut to the audience’s emotions. And it’s not the only one.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Google’s new toxic-language algorithm is surprisingly TERRIBLE at detecting toxic language
02.24.2017
12:15 pm

Topics:
Science/Tech

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There’s little doubt that AI and robots pose a very interesting challenge to the assumptions human beings have about work, utility, wages, and productivity. “Labor-saving” was always a positive adjective, but lately it seems more like a threat. In certain quarters of Silicon Valley, however, the war’s already been lost, the rise of the robots is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Every now and then, though, you run into an example of how hard it is for machines to mimic the kinds of intellectual work we do with hardly a thought. A recent example is Perspective, the new machine-learning service that Alphabet (as Google is now called) released yesterday. The purpose of Perspective is to use machine learning to identify hateful or trollish content on message boards as a way of enhancing the quality of online discourse. In the wake of the 2016 elections, in which armies of anti-Clinton trolls paid by the Russian government almost certainly had a significant impact on the outcome, the question of how to improve social media is a pressing one indeed, and I wish Alphabet all the luck in the world in achieving that objective.

However, Perspective’s got a ways to go, and some of the errors the program has been shown to make are enough to cause one to question if machines will ever be able to parse meaning-laden human expression with any accuracy. Bottom line: humans, in their ability to evade detection for nasty invective, are way, way ahead of the machines.
 

 
A report by David Auerbach in the MIT Technology Review offers plenty of vivid examples. Perspective gives comments a rating from 1 to 100 on “toxicity,” which is defined as “a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make you leave a discussion.” For certain kinds of basic statements, Perspective does fairly well. The program understands “Screw you, Trump supporters” to be highly toxic, but “I honestly support both” is not. So far, so good.

But the algorithm is a bit too dependent on hot-button keywords, and not enough on the surrounding contextual clues in the statement, especially a word like “not,” which tends to reverse the polarity of what’s being said. “Rape,” “Jews,” “terrorist,” and “Hitler” are all likely to increase your toxicity score, even in comments that are mostly placating or unobjectionable.

Auerbach supplies a hilarious account of the ways Perspective gets it wrong: 
 

“Trump sucks” scored a colossal 96 percent, yet neo-Nazi codeword “14/88” only scored 5 percent. “Few Muslims are a terrorist threat” was 79 percent toxic, while “race war now” scored 24 percent. “Hitler was an anti-Semite” scored 70 percent, but “Hitler was not an anti-Semite” scored only 53%, and “The Holocaust never happened” scored only 21%. And while “gas the joos” scored 29 percent, rephrasing it to “Please gas the joos. Thank you.” lowered the score to a mere 7 percent. (“Jews are human,” however, scores 72 percent. “Jews are not human”? 64 percent.)

 
Humans are highly subtle when it comes to language, and machines find it hard to keep up. A particularly chilling example from the MIT Technology Review article is the sentence “You should be made into a lamp,” which is a direct allusion to Nazi atrocities and has been directed at several journalists in recent months. Perspective gives that a toxicity rating of 4.

It’s hard enough to parse language for hateful intent; imagine how much harder when you toss in a factor like juxtaposition with an image. A sentence like “You can trust me to do the right thing” has a completely different meaning when placed next to a picture of Pepe the Frog, wouldn’t you think?

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment