Monday, May 25, 2015

Princess Kaguya

I really enjoyed this. For starters, it is beautiful, with something of a watercolor look. It takes its time, which is nice, as well. It is surreal in the Studio Ghibli tradition, with characters that are charming and interesting. The moral, simply put (spoilers) is this: When the Gods send you a child, listen to what she says. All parents might do well to contemplate this.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus

Well, I won't say I understand everything, but it was certainly different, and... oh, yes — well worth a dollar.

I have easily listened to this album 30 times, and every time I notice something new. It is, by far, my favorite in the massive Firesign Theatre oeuvre. I listened to it this time in celebration of completing the Daniel Tiger ride (Daniel is no Artie Choke, nor a hologram, but he and his mechanical friends do converse and sing songs at Idlewild Park). We listened to it in the car on the drive out there. It was new to the others on the Daniel Tiger team. I think it is hard for younger people to even imagine the nature of Firesign Theatre albums -- having to sit still and just listen to a complex surreal story is quite different from so much of what we do today. Certainly, we have podcasts, but are there any that put that level of attention to detail into what they create? This album was so wildly ahead of its time. Recorded in 1971, it predicts Epcot Center, Turtle Talk with Crush, hacking, Disney Magicbands, Robot Wars, and, oh, so much more -- a lot of stuff that hasn't happened yet. Having spent much of my life trying to create interactive theme parks, this album was a major influence on me. Back in 1995, when I started at the Disney VR Studio, I could not have been more thrilled that our two Onyx mainframes were named "Barney" and "Ahclem"... it made me feel like I had truly found my people, that I was truly home.

I had a weird run-in with the future when we listened to this on the way to Idlewild -- I hunted for my CD of the album all around my house in vain (I believe I likely lent it to a student who did not return it). But, this being the future (a fair for all and no fair to anybody) I easily found a copy of it on youtube, and streamed it through my phone via bluetooth to the car stereo while we drove there, and it sounded great. The surreal part was hearing the computerized messages of the album ("Mister alclem, please report to the nearest hospitality shelter") be interrupted by the car's navigational system, which might as well have been saying "Antelope Freeway, one mile." Versions in quadraphonic (both vinyl and 8-track) were released. Given my new fascination with 8-track, maybe I should try one of those out?

There is something so weird and true about this album, really, to be fair, about all four of the original Firesign albums, in their strange, connected tetraology. Why exactly did things go downhill for them?  None of the followup albums (I think have them all) is anywhere near the greatness of these four. I've never understood it. I've never understood the artists who do their best work when they are young. That always scares the hell out of me -- the idea that my best work might be behind me, or that one must sell one's soul to do something perfectly. Gah! Four members of FT, four perfect albums, in exchange for four souls! I won't dwell on it. In my head, I keep a list of perfect works of art -- this is definitely one of them. I hope one day to create something this visionary and inspirational. If it's new to you, heed my advice: don't multitask with this. Find a dark room and some headphones, and see if you can keep still for 39 minutes. Maybe you'll be the first one who actually understands the thing.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

8 Track Tape Fix-It Kit Repair Kit Manual

"For years the function of an 8 track tape has been looked upon as a mystery with its secrets to be forever guarded within the cartridge." This wonderful little guide, written by Jack Ritter in 1975 is thoughtful and well-crafted. I got it as part of the "Fix-it Kit" from Kate's Track Shack. Recently I bought this and so naturally I had to acquire some tapes... and, yow, do they not age well. The foam pads dry up and crumble, and the splicing tape adhesive dries up, which can lead to all kinds of trouble. Today, for example, I was listening to an 8 track of Tommy, and when it went silent, I was surprised to see that the tape had disappeared completely into the cartridge! There was nothing for it but to go inside. And it was daunting! I ultimately had to spool the entire tape out onto the floor of my office, get it wound right, wind it all back, and splice it. And with the help from this book (okay, and a couple youtube videos) it totally worked!

8 track tapes are a kind of miraculous magic. The self-tensioning that happens due to the differential between the inner and outer radius of the tape loop is an absolute wonder. Think of it -- an infinite loop of tape that can easily be pulled loose, and automatically tightens itself without the use of springs. Rotation of objects in three dimensions makes for all kinds of magic, I think. I belive it's this reason that Einstein refused to deal with Galilean coordinates. (Note to self - it is likely that here lies the solution to resolving relativity and quantum mechanics. I should write about that, if I can ever find "time.")

Anyway, if you ever need to fix 8 track tapes (it's totally fun!) I definitely recommend this handy guide.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Scream on Someone You Love Today

This record is from 1967... but culturally, it feels more like, say, 1959. It's a collection of "snappy answers to stupid questions", mother-in-law jokes, dusty gags, and eye-rolling one-liners from Rodney Dangerfield prototype Jack E. Leonard. Interestingly, it has a cast, and comedy songs interspersed with comedy patter. I can't say I did any laughing, but I appreciated the effort. The only part I like is the cover. So... why do I keep listening to it?

PS -- Scream "on" someone? Who says that?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood at Idlewild Park

I'm so happy to announce that Schell Games has completed work on the Daniel Tiger ride at Idlewild! I got to ride the finished version today and it is super fun! The whole thing was a wonderful joint effort between Idlewild Park, the Fred Rogers Company, Schell Games, LifeFormations, and the Weber Group. Working from the basis of the Mister Rogers Neighborhood ride, which opened in 1989, we were able to keep many aspects that were so charming and wonderful about the original, and bring it up to date, and make it even more fun. The biggest change was from animatronic puppets to "paper doll" animatronics that could represent the animated characters. Kudos to Mike Sanchez who helped us work out how to best bring the characters to life! Other big changes include the sound system which now sounds crystal clear, a great new script (courtesy of the Fred Rogers Company), and the addition of "imaginary daniel", who rides along with you, and chats with the different neighbors you meet. But I think my favorite part is that now the ride is a sing-a-long! While the trolley travels from stop to stop, Imaginary Daniel leads the riders in the "won't you ride along with me" song from the show, making this the world's first sing-a-long ride! Anyway, it was a pleasure to work on, and we never could have done it without the help of Anisha Deshmane, who led the effort from the Schell Games side, coordinating the design and all the different craftspeople that made it all look so great. Everyone at Idlewild was so great to work with, I hope we can do another ride there someday. Here's to many more years of this charming attraction! You should totally go and check it out! See fun video coverage of the ride (via Dave Crawley) here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spike Jones Plays the Charleston for Dancing

I bought this, I don't know, a couple decades ago? I forget where? But I never really sat down and listened to all the songs. Pictured here is the EP version, but what I have is a box set of 3 45's (okay, actually there is a 4th Spike Jones 45 in there, too, but I don't think it is supposed to be) that are all variations on the Charleston and Charleston related songs. So, first, they are great -- crisp, funny, interesting Spike Jones recordings, that are, indeed, good for dancing, and work great on my stack-o-matic. But second... what kind of weird time tunnel did this thing fall through? The RCA Victor 45's sound REALLY good -- crisper and better than a lot of my 45's from the 80's. They seem to have been recorded in 1954... which makes sense technologically, and also is in accordance with what I know about the history of Spike Jones... but... the Charleston was from the 1920s. Why in the world would Spike decide to record a collection of Charleston songs 30 years after the fad was over? Did it have some kind of early 50's comeback? Wikipedia seems to know nothing about that. I'm going to stick with my Time Tunnel hypothesis. I believe this was the last recording of Spike Jones, and he used it, along with some chewing gum, to travel back in time to the 1920's, so he could start his career over. I continue to believe that he and his band now(?) travel in a 30 year time loop, achieving a strange immortality. Go on, prove me wrong. Hey, what happens if I chew gum when I listen to this...?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place

I had the pleasure of seeing this documentary the other night. I had known her books growing up, and always thought they had an impressive style to them, but I never really thought about them very much. But seeing the documentary, which gave a lot of attention to the way Burton brought together words and pictures in a way that was new, and considering the popularity of her books with children, it makes me wonder about how much influence she ultimately may have had. Her blending of text and pictures became the "right" way to do things in comics, in advertising, and even in poetry. It is interesting to think about young Jack Kirby and E. E. Cummings reading "Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel" or "The Little House", and how those books might have affected them. We can never really know what we do. There was more in this documentary that was of interest to me, though -- they talk in some detail about the studio that she and her husband ran, which produced all kinds of artwork and household goods. It sounds like they put a real premium on making sure that everyone working there was having a good time, and was bringing their own creative spirit to the work. Perhaps, one day, I'll write a book about the workings of great studios throughout history. After seeing this, I very much want to get all of her books on my shelf for reference. It's hard to say, but I think she might have found the iPad to be a wonderful thing.