Monday, March 31, 2008

Answer my question on LinkedIn and be seen in Hollywood

I think about you constantly, dear reader, and I've always wondered something about you. Something special that I've never really made an effort to find out. And that's this:

If you click through to answer my question on LinkedIn, your response may be featured at the ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo in Hollywood. Right at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

LinkedIn is sponsoring an interview with Desmond Child, and the event will be integrated with LinkedIn Q&A. Child has written hits for Bon Jovi, KISS, Aerosmith, Ricky Martin and Kelly Clarkson. He's also produced a track on Mariah Carey's forthcoming album, "E=MC²", scheduled for release April 15. Read more on the LinkedIn page, and hit me with your best shot. If it's on the money, we'll feature it at the Expo. And if you're not on LinkedIn yet, you're just postponing career success. Sign up and answer my question!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A re-Virb in the mix? (UPDATE)

It's high time someone spread a little pixie dust around magictown, because Virb keeps threatening to release a Beta 2 sometime soon and nobody's seemed to notice.

For those that aren't in the habit of donning every new social network, Virb is like MySpace if it didn't suck, or if it were designed by Apple, or if it had any ethic for user interface or basic aesthetics. Beyond an eye for elegance, Virb gives users the keys to the site by enabling HTML/CSS customization and allowing users to turn off other users' annoying customizations. If you're tired of going blind looking at MySpace glitter wallpaper, this is a good thing. Actually, nobody's really on MySpace anymore, so maybe this isn't a concern. But hey, in 2005, it was crazy annoying. I guess the 2008 equivalent is app overload on Facebook.

One of these landing pages was designed.

I recently talked to Virb's CEO Brett Woitunski about the site, and was amazed to find that Virb has a membership of about half a million, managed by a staff of about five. To compare, Facebook has 67 million members, while MySpace alleges a network of 229,577,923 (at press time). Consequently, the Virb clientele has an air of online aristocracy, a small community of design-minded people who care enough to put a little code into their public profile.

Virb was built on the success of Brett's initial web venture, PureVolume. The distinction between the two is sort of yin and yang: Virb is a social networking site with a music component, while PureVolume is a music site with a social networking component. The latter, built with sweat equity, now turns enough profit to float Virb during its startup phase. Both operate on an advertising model of revenue, and PureVolume offers a limited subscription service for its music members. It's been praised as a great avenue for indie bands to build an audience, and like Virb, it's a pretty place to scout new music online.

Now a year after initial launch, Virb hints fleetingly on its blog about a relaunch:
Starting next week, we will be posting the sign up process for the first phase of the Virb 2 private beta. I'll forego all the details at this moment and will post them alongside everything next week. Simply wanted to send out an update to let you know the end beginning is near!
This was two weeks ago. Virb's enthusiastic niche is surely fermenting over the upcoming release, though we don't know for sure since comments are disabled on the post. Whenever they drop do the bomb, I foresee good things, because they have the best model for a social network out there. The young company has engaged some talks from record companies and big media, but at this point, they'd make an easy steal for whatever incumbent monolith is light on the Web 2.0 front. With MySpace the property of NewsCorp, Facebook in Microsoft's hip pocket and Bebo bought out by AOL, I can only see Virb and/or PureVolume being snatched up wholesale by old media. Gannett, for one, is on the prowl.

But if there's one thing I despise, it's bloggers making self-informed prophecies about corporate buyouts. Who cares who's watching? Let's just hope if any money does take notice, they'll have the nerve trust the young bucks who built it to scale it, too. In the meantime, enjoy the boutique community while it lasts. Because scale is the end game of social networking. And right now Virb is like the amazing local band that you're hoping no one discovers. But it's only a matter of time.

UPDATE (3/28/08): Virb announced a private beta sign-up last night. Avid Virbers can sign up to test the new beta. Invitations will be sent out over the next few weeks. See coverage on Mashable here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter eggs are the best.

Whether it's Homsar hidden in a Trogdor toon or an automated psychotherapy script embedded in Mac OS X's Terminal, we love easter eggs. Like the oversized Mickey Mouse etched into the Tron countryside, or the understated phallus in the Little Mermaid cover. My art history teacher suggested that Michelangelo thumbed his nose at religious authority by painting phallic acorns on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Lifehacker has compiled 10 of their favorite software easter eggs, which we love. Software easter eggs are the best, because you really have to know some geek sauce to find them. Like Eliza:
How to find it: In the Mac Terminal (or at any command line), type emacs, hit Enter, press Escape, type "xdoctor" (no quotes).
What you get: An interactive dialogue with a shrink named Eliza. To get out of it, hit Control+X Control+C.
I'm pretty sure nobody stumbled on that by freestyling UNIX commands into the prompt, just to see what would happen. Eliza is actually somewhat theraputic, in a pointless kind of tao.

My favorite easter egg is musical, on my brother's debut album. For the rare collector that owns Jonathan Toth from Hoth's "Brainwashing: The Art of Hip-Hopera" on CD, there's a hidden track before the album begins. While everybody and their mother (read: Nirvana and Dave Matthews) had a "secret" track at the end of a CD, this was the first album ever to hide a pre-track at the beginning of the CD. To hear it, you have to play the first track and scan backwards for about 2:47. It begins with some mutant foreign language and segues into some obscure sermon about the ideal man over a freakazoid beat. I love this track, and it's one I hardly ever hear. Maybe the coolest contribution to the album, and effectively no one knows about it.

Post your favorite easter eggs (like, the ones that aren't already documented all over the web) in the comments.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Analog Jetpack is far-flung across America

For those that haven't heard what the Analog Jetpack is out and about as of late, here's an update.

In the middle of last year, I moved to LA with plans of developing relationships in the music and television industry, hoping to expose Analog Jetpack, Indie Roots and all the many local DC talent to a wider audience. At the same time, bassist Dan Ryan and drummer Robby Sahm had taken up the rhythm section for a new DC act, Le Loup. They played their first show at the Velvet Lounge at the end of March a year ago, and following a show at Iota a couple weeks later, they were signed to the new Sub Pop subsidiary label, Hardly Art. They've taken the nation by storm, to say the least, with generous coverage in Pitchfork and all the right places. Currently Le Loup is down in Austin for SXSW, and following that, they'll be touring across America and back! Be sure to check out their MySpace page for tour dates.

Their album, "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly", is a broad concept conceived by lead singer/banjoist Sam Simkoff. It's lush with reverbed-out electronic sequences under mystic choruses and majestic roots instrumentation. Their live set, performed by a seven-piece act with keyboards, french horn, banjo, plenty of vocals and guitars and the compulsory drum & bass, does the album justice and promises huge things for future projects - check out the full album on iTunes.

My latest solo project is also a concept album at the other end of the spectrum, commissioned by a senior citizen in the midwest. It's my sixth album, entitled "For Mature Audiences Only," and it's like Muppet music for old folks. It departs from indie stylings to present a broad sampling specifically for senior citizens, from lounge to pop, cha cha, folk-rock and country blues. The resulting concept album is a whimsical tin-pan alley homage to old age for the +60 demographic. Executive Producer Judith McKelvey commissioned the project to tap the senior market, for whom little content is written. The album was recorded by Emmy-winner Jerome Maffeo in Baltimore, and mixed by Grammy-winner Dan Gellert in LA. Click on the image to listen and buy the album at CD Baby, or check it out on iTunes.

And of course, Analog Jetpack's debut release is now available in its limited-edition floppy disk packaging - click through to their MySpace page to see pics. This album was also recorded and produced by Jerome Maffeo in Baltimore, and it features lead guitars by Matt Jones of Jimmie's Chicken Shack and antifolk producer Spencer Chakedis. Check out the review by DC's City Paper, and click on the image to read more and listen to the full album at CD Baby, or check it out on iTunes.

That's what's up with Analog Jetpack, always keeping busy with some projects or others. Keep an eye out for a 'Net release of an Indie Roots tour documentary, covering the one-week DC Voting Rights Tour from 2007!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Refurbishing two modern chairs

In late fall of 1996, my art professor got fed up with two pink vinyl chairs that haunted the old art studio atop the bluffs. They were modern and angular (oh, and pink and vinyl), an eyesore to some sensibilities. He put them out the curb in front of the building, where one of my classmates painted "THIS IS ART" on them.

I happened upon these chairs and was smitten. I claimed them as my own. My friends Justin and Sloan helped me carry them home. Sloan carried one inverted on his head, and the oil paint ruined his new jacket. It came off the chairs though, and suddenly I was a modernist.

Everyone has a comment on a set of pink vinyl chairs, particularly when you live in a dorm. The stylized design looked out of place amidst the cheap couches and institutional bunkbeds. I loved them because they were armless, perfect for playing guitar, and because they were pink and modern, an eyesore to some sensibilities. They survived college and the litany of editorial positions offered about them.

When I moved to New York City after college, I brought no furniture with me, so they remained at home, where my mom recovered them as a gift. I had always envisioned recovering them in something tactile, like suede. My mom had a St. Louis friend update their look with a deep green corduroy against a Santa Fe pattern. It wasn't what I would've chosen, but I was grateful to have them recovered, since they were falling apart by then.

Here's what they looked like by 2001:

I finally came back to St. Louis in 2003 and took them with me when I moved to DC. In 2005, my roommates got a puppy, who used one of the chairs to teethe with, tearing the fabric down to the wood beneath. This opened the door to recover them again, which of course didn't happen for another three years. My wife and I made it our first project last summer, and we're finally just about done. Neither of us have refinished furniture before, so it's not a perfect job. But we're happy with it. In 2008, my pink vinyl chairs now look like this:

Here are some photos of the refurbishing process. The first thing we did was to remove all the fabric, which was held in by hundreds and hundreds of staples and even some of the original nails. Underneath the fabric was burlap, a fluff of yellow padding like insulation, and beneath that, a wiry mess of stiff strawlike material, which covered the springs. Stripped down:

The many staples we pulled out, and some scraps of the original pink fabric:

Once the chairs were pulled apart, some repair was necessary. Some of the clips that held the springs in were broken and needed to be refashioned from sheet metal. Two pieces of the wood frame had been cracked in half, and these needed to be mended sturdily enough to be used again. In this picture, you can see the broken front panel being Gorilla Glued back together, as well as all the old nail and staple holes being filled with wood putty. Note also the legs have been sanded, as the previous upholsterer painted them dark green (and that's not my Diet Coke):

To make sure that the broken wood would still support someone sitting on it, I drilled holes and embedded pegs along the break before Gorilla Glueing them. Note the "Voney Art Studio 83/84" written on it. I guess that means the chairs are at least 25 years old. We can only guess at their manufacturing date, as there is no manufacturer listed. The materials suggest mid-century to me, but I hardly have any authority to guess.

One of the chairs has "PROPERTY OF S.W.R." written in pencil on the underside. This would be a mystery if my friend Amy hadn't come into my room in college and said, "You have my brother's chairs! Where did you get them?" I'd never met her brother, but apparently he had them in his yearbook photo years ago, before he left them to the art studio. Here's some detail of that, and the finished pieces ready for reassembly:

I don't have photos of all the work we did in covering the springs, which were tied together with twine, covered with burlap and a layer of foam. On a project like this, it's easy to get sidetracked and not touch it for months. (Which we did.) We started in August, and there are still a few things we need to do complete the job six months later. But who knows where to buy furniture tack strips? As a first attempt, we're satisfied with the job we did. It was probably an investment of 30-40 hours of work, so enjoying them daily is a payoff I'm happy with.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Two videos from the last Starfish show...

Here's a couple more videos from the last Starfish show to get you all hyped up to come out Saturday night! Since most of you are anywhere but LA. Here's my acoustic version of "Bury Me In My Jetpack", and Tucker's "Christy Montana".

Monday, March 3, 2008

When an asterisk isn't enough to mock Barry Bonds

Over the weekend I traveled up to scenic Solvang, a little piece of Disneyworld lodged in the California hills above Santa Barbara. Its charm lies in a hammy re-creation of a Danish village, complete with Scandinavian foods, touristy tchotchkes, and the odd shop taking a cheap shot at Barry Bonds.

In the latter case, it was a kitschy shoppe called the Wishing Well, featuring this Barry Bonds figurine in the front window for only $225. If you look carefully, there is a very subtle editorial contribution near his feet.

There are a few things wrong with this picture, not the least of which is the scale of the hypodermic, which would hold proportionally about four gallons of growth hormone. Next to that, a tag reads "Steroid Special - as clear as the HGH he used!!!" And beneath that, the artiste has included Bonds' autograph. 

You'd think an asterisk would suffice.