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more jaap blonk than any human can handle

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Written by fabiorojas

June 3, 2018 at 4:01 am

unit structures, or how i miss cecil taylor already (1929-2018)

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Written by fabiorojas

April 15, 2018 at 4:01 am

november woods, arnold bax (1917)

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Written by fabiorojas

January 21, 2018 at 5:01 am

the new “most interesting man in the world:” a commentary

In 2016, Dos Equis beer revealed that they would retire Jonathan Goldsmith as their signature “most interesting man in the world” character. To attract younger drinkers, they introduced a new, younger “most interesting man” actor – Augustin Legrand. The reviews haven’t been great and I want to get into why I think the newer stuff misses the mark.

I think that the original ads work because they perfectly parodied a  very specific cultural niche. Specifically, the original ads were about urbane straight white guys living out an adventurous life in the 1950s and 1960s. The film is usually in color, sometimes black and white, but always grainy. The events are time very time specific, such as emerging from an Apollo era space capsule or helping to unveil the very first mobile phone. He’s James Bondish in that he often wears a tuxedo and mingles with the global elite.

The new ads drop most of the retro feel. The film quality is clear, not grainy. The tuxedo and bow tie are dropped for a sleeker suit. Most of the events in the commercials can happen today, they are simply about being cool, not about being timeless.

The attitude has changed as well. Of course the new Most Interesting Man is still supremely confident and a master of common and obscure skills. But the tone subtly shifted from witty to jokey. Example: In the original series, the Most Interesting man in the world is shown playing really absurd, but elite, sports. In one ad, he was shown playing jai alai! In contrast, the new Most Interesting man is revealed to have been a college football player. He went from rarified athlete to the most gritty and earthy sport of all – college football. Not very interesting.

In recent months, Dos Equis has appealed more to college students by pushing the football angle and bringing in comic actor Rob Riggles. The ads in which Riggles appear completely dispense with the original concept of the man who has done all these amazing things and becomes a prop for Riggles’ comedy, which is not classic but very much “in the moment.” That’s not bad, but one has to ask why one even needs the Most Interesting man at all at this point.

And that is the most disappointing turn of all. The real joke of the original ad campaign was that we had this exaggerated, ultra macho man who came down from heaven to tell us about all these truly incredible things he had done. This god-like avatar of masculinity has been turned into a shill for football games, where thousands of people sit while they yell at men who throw each other to the ground. It’s a shame, I thought Dos Equis was the beer for people who don’t usually drink beer.

Flashback: The most interesting sociologist in the world.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 12, 2018 at 5:16 am

The OA modern dance flashmob

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Written by fabiorojas

December 3, 2017 at 5:01 am

mal waldron review at the nation

The Nation continues to be an excellent source of commentary on jazz. From a new article by Adam Shatz about the pianist Mal Waldron:

Waldron’s style is invariably described as “brooding”—almost all of his pieces are in a minor key—but it could also be described as analytical. Most jazz pianists work to create an effect of outward motion when they improvise. Swing, after all, is a musical analogue of dance, and its aim is to make the body more expansive and supple. Waldron’s music appears to work in nearly the opposite direction, burrowing ever more deeply into its materials: He seems to be on an inward journey. In “The Blues Suite,” for example, the slow, winding song that takes up more than a third of Meditations, there’s an extraordinary moment where Waldron plays a descending figure in the lower registers of the piano; as it recedes, a sample from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” rises in its wake, suggesting a shadowy recollection, or the previously erased layer of a palimpsest.

Waldron “played every piece as if he were X-raying it,” as Edward Said once observed of Glenn Gould. He turned to music as a kind of mental exercise, a way of figuring out what he thought; his pieces were almost all “meditations.” “I want to be able to see what I am doing,” he explained, “and in order to be very clear in my mind where I am going I have to repeat it.” His search for what he called the “one note that goes for the entire piece” gives his music an almost uniquely obsessive sense of propulsion—the feeling of being in a trance.

The article also provides a great biographical overview of this beloved artist. Read the whole thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 24, 2017 at 12:01 am

friends don’t let friends do critical realism

Over at the American Journal of Sociology, Neil Gross, frankly, rips critical realism a new one in a review of two books (Douglas Porpora’s Reconstructing Sociology: The Critical Realist Approach and Margaret Archer’s book, The Relational Subject). First, Gross notes that critical realists don’t seem to have a grasp on what sociology is actually about:

Porpora’s argument for critical realism is that it can counter “seven myths of American sociology” (p. 11) that he sees as pernicious. The first is that “ethnography and historical narrative are only exploratory or descriptive. They are not explanatory” (p. 11). This is a weird claim. Most American sociologists see ethnographic and historical work as crucial for the elucidation of causal mechanisms, which is central to explanation.

How wrong is this claim? The AJS actually ran an entire issue devoted to inference in ethnography. Bro, do you even J-stor?

After showing that the warrant for critical realism  is lacking, Gross then gets to what critical realism is actually about:

Since most of these myths don’t amount to anything, I wasn’t sure why I should keep reading. In the end, though, I was glad I did, because Porpora offers a concise and engaging introduction to critical realism. As he describes it, critical realism is a “metatheory” intended to provide a critique of, and alternative to, covering law approaches to explanation, that is, those that understand explanation to mean accounting for facts by subsuming them under general causal laws of either a deterministic or probabilistic nature.

Ok, we have this meta-theory… how does it work out?

But what does this mean for explaining stuff in society—you know, the thing sociologists are supposed to do? Beats me. The book goes on and on with endless tables and charts and typologies, covering everything from “relational phases of the self” to connections between the “cultural system” and the “sociocultural system,” with about as much discussion of “morphogenesis” and “morphostasis” as you’d expect from Archer. The occasional attempts at empirical application fall flat. When I got to Donati’s chapter on the 2008 financial crisis—a chapter where he refuses to engage the impressive scholarship produced by economic sociologists, economists, anthropologists of finance, and others, preferring to give a theoretical account that loosely weaves together ideas of relational subjectivity with the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann—I gave up.

Finally,

The world is in flames. We need good, clear, accurate, and powerful explanations for what’s happening so that we can figure out how to smartly move forward. Maybe a sociologist will read some critical realism and get inspired to produce a brilliant explanation she or he wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope so. But neither of these two books makes a convincing case that critical realism is the royal road to sociological truth.

If you want to burn up your precious productive years writing this sort of stuff, go for it. But if you feel grumpy at the end, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 3, 2017 at 4:01 am

the most metal words of all time

At Degenerate State, there was an interesting post where someone applied natural language processing models to heavy metal lyrics. From the article:

To get the lyrics, I scraped www.darklyrics.com. While darklyrics doesn’t have a robots.txt file, I tried to be gentle with my requests. After cleaning the data up, identifying the languages and splitting albums into songs, we are left with a dataset containing lyrics to 222,623 songs from 7,364 bands spread over 22,314 albums.

Before anyone asks, I have no intention of releasing either the raw lyric files or the code used to scrape the website. I collected the lyrics for my own entertainment, and it would be too easy for someone to use this data to copy darklyrics. If people are interested I may release some n-gram data of the corpus.

So what do you find? A few tidbits  – the heavy metal word cloud:

Tag Cloud of All Metal Lyrics

Then, the most “metal words:”

Rank Word Metalness
1 burn 3.81
2 cries 3.63
3 veins 3.59
4 eternity 3.56
5 breathe 3.54
6 beast 3.54
7 gonna 3.53
8 demons 3.53
9 ashes 3.51
10 soul 3.40
11 sorrow 3.40
12 sword 3.38
13 goodbye 3.28
14 dreams 3.28
15 gods 3.24
16 pray 3.22
17 reign 3.15
18 tear 3.12
19 flames 3.12
20 scream 3.11

And the least metal words:

Rank Word Metalness
1 particularly -6.47
2 indicated -6.32
3 secretary -6.29
4 committee -6.16
5 university -6.09
6 relatively -6.08
7 noted -5.85
8 approximately -5.75
9 chairman -5.69
10 employees -5.67
11 attorney -5.66
12 membership -5.64
13 administrative -5.61
14 considerable -5.60
15 academic -5.51
16 literary -5.49
17 agencies -5.48
18 measurements -5.47
19 fiscal -5.45
20 residential -5.45

The bottom line? Academia, the law and administration are the least metal topics of all time. Who knew?

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Written by fabiorojas

April 19, 2017 at 1:46 am

let’s all just mellow out

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Written by fabiorojas

April 14, 2017 at 12:16 am

the one where we all discuss ‘get out’

Georgina

No, no, no… I think you’ll really like this blog.

I didn’t find Get Out to be funny. Nor did I find it scary. I’m not courageous – horror movies don’t deal with the things that truly scare me. But I did find Get Out to be engaging. I want to articulate a thought I’ve been having since I saw the movie. The movie deals with white racism, but I think there’s something bigger going on. It’s about American culture’s desire to live vicariously through it’s high achieving Black citizens.

A lot has been made about the film’s depiction of White liberal culture. But I think any reading of the movie that focuses only on White liberalism is incomplete. Why? White liberalism isn’t what causes the Armitage family to kidnap people. It’s a trick they use when they kidnap people. It’s a superficial aspect of the whole story. This leads to an interesting question: if white liberalism isn’t the main theme of the movie, then what is the main theme? I’d argue that the main theme is living (literally) through the talent and achievement of Black Americans.

Here’s the main evidence: the bad guys do not kidnap random Black residents, they only kidnap the exceptionally talented. Chris – the main character – is an accomplished photographer. Walter is a great athlete. Rose targets an NCAA recruit. The man kidnapped early on is a jazz musician. I don’t remember if the dialogue reveals Georgina’s story, but in her photo with Rose she is depicted as a young and vibrant person.

This suggests that the film goes beyond a critique of White liberalism. Rather, it is about how Whites view the talented tenth. In the world of the movie, the talented tenth is there to be farmed for spare parts, literally. Metaphorically, it’s about co-opting Black achievement into the mainstream culture, even if it ends up robbing it of its true soul and spirit.

Please use the comments for your Get Out interpretations!

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Written by fabiorojas

March 28, 2017 at 12:01 am

emperor concerto, no 5

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Written by fabiorojas

March 19, 2017 at 12:11 am

futbol >> football

It’s not just the names, it’s a philosophical issue. If two creatures fight for the same turf, there has to be a winner. Nature demands it. There can only be one and I side with “futbol!” Here’s my reasoning:

  • Accurate advertising: In soccer, the main way you play is by bringing your foot to the ball. In North American “football,” kicking the ball is rare.
  • Simplicity: Soccer’s a game where the rules are simple and short. Anyone can understand them.* In the NFL, you have bizarro rules like “the Tuck Rule” and the cryptic onside kick rules. And don’t even get me started on over time scoring rules.
  • Fake injuries: In soccer, it’s a big scam!!! Nobody is injured and the flops are part of the show. It’s a sport with some high school drama tossed in. People rarely get hurt. In football, people get injured for life. Very bad.
  • Excessive celebration: In the NFL, there’s a weird rule. You get a penalty for being too happy about scoring. In contrast, soccer players are encouraged to go nuts on the field. It’s part of the fun.

I will give the NFL one point. The scoring is optimal. The combination of 1, 2, 3, and 6 points plays seems to work fairly well. It avoids the NBA problem where the first 200 points of a game mean nothing and the soccer problem of low scoring games. But soccer even has an answer for this – indoor soccer. Faster, higher scoring and fun.

Match: Futbol.

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* Ok, ok, nobody gets “offsides.” I’ll give you that one.

 

Written by fabiorojas

February 22, 2017 at 12:26 am

berio’s gesti (1966) by dodo kis

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January 15, 2017 at 12:32 am

susie ibarra, solo drum exploration

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September 4, 2016 at 12:01 am

another week comes to an end, with Attwenger

Need some dance moves for your upcoming conference outings?  Happy Friday, folks.

“OIDA” by Attwenger.  Directed by Jessica Hausner.

(Maybe our German readers can tell us what this OIDA song is about?)

Written by katherinechen

July 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm

eriko toyoda, a message for you

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Written by fabiorojas

July 24, 2016 at 12:40 am

christine jensen conducts coltrane’s africa (1964)

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June 5, 2016 at 12:09 am

“i’m awfully glad i’m a beta”: the educational effects of status groups

Thad Domina, Andrew Penner and Emily Penner have a really interesting new paper out in Sociological Science, AKA the official journal of people on my Twitter feed.

So it turns out that some crazy Californians had the great idea to assign high school students color-coded IDs based on their standardized test results. Everyone got a white, gold, or platinum card based on their level of proficiency on the California state tests. The students had to display their ID card whenever they were on campus, and gold and platinum card holders got certain perks, including discounts on school events, but most visibly an “express” line in the cafeteria. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this raised some eyebrows once word traveled beyond the schools themselves. The article doesn’t name the two schools, so I won’t either, but Google exists, and it sounds pretty clear that creating these visible new categories had real status effects. You can find quotes about how kids in honors classes with platinum cards told other kids in honors classes who only had a gold card that they shouldn’t even be there, and a principal apparently told some girls they should try to find platinum prom dates.

The program was in place for two years, then was shut down after quite a bit of unfavorable press. But not before our intrepid sociologists managed to collect some data.

Domina et al. isn’t really about these kinds of categories at all but this is pretty funny (h/t Gabriel Rossman)

The article looks at two main things: first, did the rewards affect test scores and other academic outcomes, and second, did creating status groups have effects.

The answer is yes on both accounts. Scores went up significantly on both math and English language arts (ELA) exams. As predicted, effects on other indicators of achievement (grades and scores on exit exams, a different test) were less consistently positive. Moreover, the effects were greater for students near the threshold (i.e. if you just barely missed the gold card one year, your scores increased more). Effects were larger for Asian students than white students, and larger for white students than Hispanic students.

So far, this is consistent (well, with the exception of the racial/ethnic variation) with behavior of the “adolescent econometricians” (p. 266, quoting Manski) assumed by the program. But here’s where it gets interesting.

The authors also use the card cutoffs to perform a regression discontinuity analysis. The students just above the gold card threshold basically look like those just below it. But it turns out they do much better. Or more accurately, kids who got the low-status white card do worse – to the tune of 0.35 SDs on the ELA test, and 0.10 SDs on the math test (both significant at p = 0.01 level).

Interestingly, the impact on grades is even greater: receiving a low-status white card reduces math grades an amount equivalent to moving from a C- down to a D, and ELA grades all the way from a C+ to a D. That’s a big drop. Domina, Penner & Penner speculate that this may be because the status categories are particularly salient for teachers, who may then treat or grade low-status students differently.

So as usual, the lesson here is that while yes, people respond to incentives, they do so in social contexts. You can’t just assume incentives are going to have similar effects on all groups of people, or ignore the effects of new status groups that are produced.

Two other thoughts here. The one interpretation I might quibble with is the authors’ attribution of the racial/ethnic differences to stereotype threat. While that’s one possibility, it’s also certainly plausible that the different response reflects cultural difference (e.g. in the importance attached to test results).

The other is about generalizability. Admirably, the authors don’t really try to generalize at all beyond saying that status categories have effects. But I can imagine people looking at an experiment like this and assuming that whatever the results were, they’d hold up across schools.

But status systems vary from place to place, of course. At the small rural high school I went to, wearing around a card advertising your high test scores would have been a fast ticket to social exclusion. Fryer and Torelli’s “Acting White” paper is hotly debated (and I haven’t followed the whole debate), but they argue that there are racial differences in whether academic achievement is associated with higher social status, and that this gap is greater in schools with more interracial contact. Clearly not every school mirrors the relatively wealthy, high-achieving schools that implemented this program, and not every kid associates high academic achievement with high social status.

That’s just a caution against assuming too much uniformity across social settings, though, not a criticism of the actual paper, which is a great use of a natural (?) experiment. And just think, they didn’t have to suffer through multiple R&Rs to publish it.

Written by epopp

May 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

unbreakable kimmy

I’m in the middle of watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. After watching it, I realized that it’s an extremely rare show that has a cast made up entirely of “subaltern” characters. Normally, you have a show made up of characters from the dominant culture. You also have shows where the cast is made up primarily from one minority or subculture (all Latino characters, or all gay characters).Kimmy is unusual in that it doesn’t seem to rely exclusively on any single cultural group and that means that is doesn’t take much for granted.

For example, you might think that the show is about white urban women, perhaps a goofy Sex in the City. That’s not quit right. Kimmy is a Midwesterner and one who was abducted from her group and isolated. So she doesn’t even feel like a normal Midwesterner any more. Mrs. Voorhees turns out to be a Native American woman who is passing as white. Titus is a gay black man who escaped from the South to New York. “Mississippi was my own bunker.” Perhaps Lydia, the elderly landlord, might be the closest thing to a “standard” character.

The romantic interests tilt the same way. Mr. Voorhees, one of only two tradition straight white men in the show, is barely seen and the other, one of Kimmy’s boyfriends, only appears in a few episodes. The other male romantic interests are also subaltern, such as the Vietnamese immigrant who is afraid of deportation and Titus’ boyfriend, who is a construction worker who just admitted he was gay.

This is not incidental to the show. The lack of a common cultural ground gives the show a chaotic feeling, which is good for comedy. It’ll be interesting to see where the show goes from here.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2016 at 12:06 am

okkyung lee, sky (2005)

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May 1, 2016 at 12:01 am

susie ibarra’s resonance performance

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April 24, 2016 at 12:13 am

masaoka (1997), blue monk

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April 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

the miles davis movie that we deserve

Miles-Ahead

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Cincinnati premiere of Miles Ahead, the new film directed by Don Cheadle. A while back, I donated to the crowd funding project for the movie and got a ticket to this event so I was thrilled to see the project come to life. I thought Miles Ahead was a great film and I want to take a few minutes to explain what is impressive about it.

Any Miles Davis film faces two problems. First, Miles Davis was a horrible human being. He was a drug addict, wife beater, philanderer, plagiarist, dead beat dad, and a homophobe. I’m sure I’ve missed something, the dude was crooked. So you can’t make a truthful movie that presents Miles as a lovable or misunderstood guy. Second, there is no arc to Miles’ career. As early as high school, he was recognized as an extraordinarily talented musician. He was accepted to Juliard and offered a job playing trumpet in Duke Ellington’s band. Throughout his entire career, he was always pushing. There is no “high point” or great point of recognition. So you can’t make a movie that leads up to “the moment” when Miles finally made it, or when he overcomes some great adversity. His life is more or less a story of continual evolution.

Cheadle solves this problem by simply making it up. The movie is fiction and Cheadle uses various points in the action to cue flashbacks to moments that recall Miles’ life, mainly in the late 1950s and 1960s. A lot of reviewers were upset that the movie doesn’t review his early life, but that’s ok by me. It’s not a documentary. There’s even dialogue where Miles explains to another character that he’s not going to bother with the whole story of where he grew up. He’s just not into dwelling on the past.

I agree with the reviewers that the “plot” of the film – Miles has to recover a stolen recording – is hokey, but I forgive because the plot isn’t that important. What is more important is the film’s impressionism, attitude, and flare. And this is very consistent with how Miles played music and approached his personal style. Finally, I also note that the film does a good job covering Miles the horrible human  being. It doesn’t dwell on the depravity, but uses his more introspective moments to explore the good and bad moments in his life. If you love jazz, you should definitely see this film.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 13, 2016 at 12:01 am

neighborly performance art

With growing awareness of performance art, some of us have the daily task of expressing our artistry as upstairs neighbors.

 

Written by katherinechen

April 6, 2016 at 11:26 pm

commentary on a talk by john cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2016 at 12:07 am

karen borca, bassoon

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March 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

new archive of old jazz

A California music collector has put 650 recordings of early jazz online – for free. From Montery County Now:

In his archive.org biography, Niven says he first listened to jazz at the age of 10 with his cousin. It was a Louis Armstrong record. His collection started there and lasted throughout his adult life. The archive project started when Niven wanted to introduce his children to the jazz music he was positively affected by.

“This is an extraordinary collection,” archivist Kevin J. Powers writes on archive.org introducing the collection. “It has been Mr. Niven’s life’s work. It represents the very finest American music of the 20th century, and because Mr. Niven took the time and care to record these commentaries, he has produced a library that is accessible to everyone from jazz aficionados to jazz novices.”

Recommended.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 17, 2016 at 9:47 pm

toshiko akiyoshi – minimata (1976)

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Written by fabiorojas

March 13, 2016 at 12:06 am

book spotlight: girl in a band

girlband

Of course, Kim Gordon would have a dog named Merzbow.

And, of course, you should probably read this book. Girl in a Band is Kim Gordon’s memoir and she’s had a remarkable life as an artist and a founder of the band Sonic Youth. The writing is serious and direct, but not weighty. Easy to read but very meaty at the same time.

The book has three things going for it that will appeal to the reader. First, for those interested in gossip, there is a lot about Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s personal life, including their divorce, which ended Sonic Youth. Second, the book has a lot of detail about Sonic Youth’s genesis and specific albums.

In my view, the best thing about Girl in a Band is that it describes a type of career that we don’t often think about – the “art music” career. Generally, musicians tend to be deep specialists. A lot of instruments require years of practice. Playing for audience is also a skill that takes years to cultivate. That is why most professional musicians do only one thing, music, and it is something they have done since youth.

In contrast, Gordon started out as a visual artist and the moved into music during college. If you know a lot about recent art history, you know this is common. A lot of visual artists like to start bands and just jam. Heck, even Basquiat was known to play the clarinet every once in a while in a band.

What is unusual is for these “art bands” to survive and make it big. Sonic Youth is an exception. Part of it has to do with the fact that “No Wave” music tolerated music that was raw. Also, time allowed Sonic Youth to grow and mature. Not surprisingly, Gordon has maintained a career as a visual artist and is able to show in some of the world leading galleries.

So Girl in Band is a good book, but it’s also an interesting book about a type of creative person that needs more attention. You also get some interesting discussion of art world celebrities. Recommended.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 17, 2016 at 12:15 am

maria schneider big band, need i say more?

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January 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

the force awakens commentary

Oh yeah, and you know there’s gonna be a few spoilers.

This is the film that JJ Abrams was expected to deliver. Lots of action, basic dialogue, and a lot of homage to the original series and other science fiction. If you’ve seen Abrams’ other films, you’ll recognize the approach and style.  Running through explosions, the killing of a major character, and chirpy banter.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 21, 2015 at 4:58 am

rondolphe burger and john tchicai

Lyric lines from the deceased avant-garde master.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

December 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

metallica on medieval instruments

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 29, 2015 at 12:01 am

born to be blue w/jo canion, flip nunes, john heard, & vince lateano

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

another useless replication exercise

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 10, 2015 at 12:01 am