Sunday, December 16, 2012

Recent Listening 12/16/12



Tatsuya Nakatani: "Primal Communication"
Tatsuya Nakatani & Kaoru Watanabe: "Michiyuki"

Nakatani has been to Minneapolis more than once recently, and has pretty much blown my mind. Percussive improvisation on gongs and drums that's technically jaw-dropping but still emotive as all get-out. Great stuff.

+

Sandy Bull: "Vanguard Visionaries" collection
Rachel's: "Systems/ Layers"
Clint Mansell: "Moon" (original soundtrack)
Popol Vuh: "Herz aus Glas/Coeur de Verre"
Jonathan Zorn: "Language As Dust"
Radiohead: "The King Of Limbs"
Pink Floyd: "Meddle"
Vic Chesnutt: "The Salesman and Bernadette"
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (original soundtrack)

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Endhiran (The Robot)


I had the opportunity to view "Endhiran" (or Enthiran, as imdb calls it) with some friends the other night. The title, as I understand it, translates to "The Robot". And robotics are indeed engaged in this film, as is a dizzying array of further topics.

The plot concerns a scientist who creates a robotic simulation of himself. There's a great deal of romantic comedy, an evil enemy scientist who wants to put together a presumably evil army of robots, some incredible action sequences, lots of fun special effects, and-- fear not-- a lengthy procession of lavish song and dance production numbers, each more surreal and ambitious than the last.

The trailer offers a glimpse of my favorite part: a bunch of robots get together to create a giant cobra. I can't for the life of me remember the context of this event, but it reminds me of that part in Shao Lin vs. Ninja where somebody blows up a giant ninja, only to see it break up into... a bunch of normal-sized ninjas!

According to its imdb trivia entry, "Endhiran" is one of most expensive movies ever made in India, shares a costume designer with the "Men in Black" series and an "action choreographer" with "Kill Bill", and is the highest-grossing Indian film of all time. And according to me, it's a pretty darn fun movie.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Original Music: Trailer for New Web Series


I composed all the music for this trailer, promoting a new web series directed by Matthew Anderson. A spy-film background cue, some melodramatic bombast, and at one point I score Anderson's lyrics to imagine a musical stage adaptation of "The Shawshank Redemption".

The series is called "Theater People", and it's set for release sometime in early 2013. Stay tuned!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Playing the Building

I was lucky enough to catch David Byrne's Playing the Building installation here in Minneapolis with some friends a few days before it ended. Glad I did, too.

Apparently we were only the third city to host this piece, after Stockholm and NYC. We can BE SOMEBODY!

A performer/ spectator sits at a small keyboard. Each key is attached by a series of wires and tubes to devices that strike, vibrate, and blow assorted surfaces and objects throughout the space. A composition emerges via physical interaction with the building's structure. The experience is simultaneously subtle and jarring, and of course three dimensional.

Above: one of the hammers responds to a keystroke from the performer. The mechanisms that activate contact with the building are complex and quite beautiful. And it's a lovely choice not only to decline to conceal them, but for the lighting design to feature them as objects of admiration. My friends and I were especially impressed by the tubes that blew into pipes to produce lovely droning tones, like the embouchure of giant flutes.

One visceral reaction: this installation must have been a huge pain in the ass to install. And here's a video of the Minneapolis installation that offers a glimpse of just that:


I had the privelege of playing the building myself briefly, and what struck me most was the fact that the building actually could be played. Once I'd familiarized myself with the keyboard layout, which of course works like a giant sampler each key of which is hooked up to an actual event in space rather than a sample patch, I found that once I'd selected some favorites I could recall their locations pretty well, and even improvise effectively by selecting certain "samples" to hit at certain times.

I'd read about this installation before, and it certainly sounded like a neat idea. But having actually experienced it myself, I was touched by the degree of intimacy it afforded the spectator between the artist, the piece, and the experience of the building.

Find out more about Playing the Building if you like-- audio, video, interviews, all that. Highly recommended!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tree Fort Defense: Mobile game site now online

[ Sound + music for games update: check out my sfx and theme music for Playtend's Delivery Truck Empire! ]

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Lately I've been creating custom music and sound effects for an upcoming Android game called Tree Fort Defense, a physics-based castle defense-style project from Interrobang LLC.

Hear theme and see animation/ game design in the video below, plus check out some more info and music samples on my web site...

The game's home page just went live. Some samples of concept art and in-progress animation are currently online.

It's coming together well-- the world is built from the perspective of a child's imagination, and its creators take much delight in an unabashedly geeky fantasy of preposterous weapons and fearsome opponents.

So far I've composed two different versions of the theme music: a basic boppy version for the introductory level, and a sinister surf-rock rendition of the same theme for the Halloween level-- as well as brief music buttons to acknowledge the approach of an enemy and the "game over" screen. The relationship seems like a really good fit so far-- I'm finding it easy to get inside these folks' heads and score the goofy sense of fun they're looking for.

Sound effects have been enjoyable to put together too. Plenty of impacts, plus I've found use for birdsong recordings I made on Wisconsin's Crex Meadows nature preserve last summer. I've also been acting as voice talent (heavily manipulated in post) to give the player's enemies a little personality.

Really exciting to see it take shape!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Iron Sky

I got sick this past Thanksgiving weekend, which, while not so great in the productivity department, definitely upped productivity in the movie watching department.

On the recommendation of my wife, the household's resident documentary expert, I watched Indie Game: The Movie, which I quite enjoyed. But the treat I'd been waiting on was the the disc recently arrived from Netflix-- which, if not for my compulsory leisure status this weekend, I just plain wouldn't have had time to watch. And that would be Iron Sky.

 I first saw the teaser trailer for this movie at CONvergence a couple years ago, and I was pretty much knocked out by the silliness of its awesomeness. Conspiracy theories involving the moon have always been among my favorites (though there's no beating "Paul McCartney is dead"), and the idea that the Nazis escaped in the confusion ending WWII, absconded with their nascent anti-gravity technology, and set up a secret base on Earth's moon, biding their time till they return to invade again is simply a brilliant one. Love it!




(One time my wife and I told her grandfather, a World War II vet, that some people thought the Nazis had escaped and were living on the moon. He grinned and said "Well, good. Let 'em stay there.")

Anyway, "Iron Sky" takes this notion and pushes it pretty much as far as it can go. Not only do the Nazis have an awesome moon base, but an ornate swastika-shaped moon base at that. Their technology has that secret-tech steam-punk retro-advancement thing going on: they've developed Hindenburg-esque super-weapons named after operas in Wagner's ring cycle, and even by the year 2018 one of their computers fill up an entire room. They're shown up by a captured American astronaut's cell phone, which turns out to pack the power they need to operate one of their super weapons. There's lots of humor involving propaganda, motivational music and what have you.

So far so good. But the plot takes a weary turn when a Nazi away team is suddenly plunged into contemporary Earth life (near-future, anyway-- Sarah Palin has apparently become President), and things get tiresome in the way those scenarios almost always do. "Brother from Another Planet" it ain't.

Speaking of which... the real weakness of this movie, I'd say, arises from the fact that the film doesn't satirize Nazi racial attitudes with the same light touch as it does other aspects of Naziism. While its heart appears to be in the right place, the film's engagement of ethnicity comes off a little sideways. The captured American astronaut, who happens to be black, receives a skin treatment that disguises him as a Caucasian for the purposes of the away team's mission. Interesting choice, there... I'm on board for that.

But the scene in which the team encounters a group of African-American men playing basketball is kind of painful to watch. When antagonized, these men drop what they're doing and, to a man, pull out heavy duty handguns and immediately begin shooting. Oh, and by the way, this is apparently supposed to be for comic effect. One more movie where the only inner city black men we get to meet are cold blooded killers. It's kind of like you're suddenly in the middle of an 80s studio comedy. And this from Euopean filmmakers, who otherwise appear to be of progressive sentiment. Sigh.

I'm not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here, but the film does foreground ethnicity, so it seems worth a mention. "Iron Sky" is certainly a lot of fun-- there's a lot I haven't mentioned, like Laibach's score borrowing liberally from Wagner. Could have been better though. That's all I'm saying.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Instant Artist Statement Generator


This is brilliant...

"Do you hate having to write your own artist statement? Generate your own artist statement for free, and if you don't like it, generate another one. Feel free to use the statements with funding applications, exhibitions, curriculum vitae, websites..."

Many thanks to John Kannenberg for hipping me to this.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good times


Great recording session with my friend Dylan Fresco last night. Afterward he told me a story about how he used to work at FAO Schwartz in New York City, during which time he sold Sigourney Weaver a six hundred dollar stuffed penguin.

Good times.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Minnanimate


I've been meaning to post something about this for a while-- one of the most compelling events I've attended recently was the brilliantly titled Minnanimate, a showcase of animated films (several shorts and one feature, the premiere of organizer John Akre's "Walker/ Driver") all made by Minnesota-based animators.

Pretty much everything was enjoyable one way or another. A couple of pieces really stood out for me though:

"Stay Home" by Caleb Wood

Stark, edgy, and elemental, this piece balances savagery and whimsy in equal measure. The characterizations of the animal characters are sensitive and observant. Lots of nicely dynamic work with camera placement/ movement too.

"Stuper Powers: Rise of the Chipmunk King" by Greg Bro

Rapid-fire, campy, confident, and quite tight. No wonder it won “Best Animated Comedy Short” at the 2012 L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival. Did you win “Best Animated Comedy Short” at the 2012 L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival? I didn't think so.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Music for new web series


Lately I've been composing for a web series currently in production. The show is a comedy called "Theater People", and uses the Minneapolis performing arts scene as a backdrop.

Today we shot some footage for a sequence involving a musical theater adaptation of "The Shawshank Redemption". I set director Matt Anderson's lyrics to music; the other night we recorded Brian Kelly singing lead. Cast members lip synced the song and staged it as a dance routine onstage at Bloomington Civic Theatre's black box space today. Hilarious. Looking forward to seeing it all come together.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Audiobook: The Golem


...Sometimes a faint, inexplicable quiver goes through their walls, noises scurry across the roof and drop into the gutter, and with our dulled senses we accept them heedlessly, without looking for what causes them.

--Gustav Meyrink, "The Golem"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

In memoriam: Suzy Greenberg


I mourn the passing of my friend Suzy Greenberg last week. A devoted artist, gallery owner, and arts advocate, Suzy made a real difference in the Twin Cities arts community with the energy and passion she poured into everything she did. Suzy was an ardent feminist, and brought whimsy and insight to the artistic expression of her convictions.

Anyone who knew Suzy recalls her mellifluous laugh and festive nature. And personally, I'll always be grateful for her generosity. Back when I was completely broke, I asked Suzy for a loan so I could manufacture a CD release. She readily agreed; it was probably only a few hundred bucks, I really don't remember, but it was a huge sum for me at the time and it made a world of difference in my career.

From generosity to advice to hard work and perseverance, Suzy had a hugely positive impact on those around her. I honor her memory and hope to spread the good vibes she shared with all of us.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The performing arts


Went to a dance show with my wife tonight. Enjoyed it quite a bit. Arrived at 2 observations on why we like to see live performance:

1. It provides an excuse to stare at other people for as long as we want, for real and in person, not like on TV when you're staring at a bunch of pixels rather than a real person.

2. We get the chance to see things go wrong and happen out of sync, or perhaps fall apart altogether, which generally isn't going to happen on TV or in a movie (although you never know).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Andy Sidaris movies


I was blissfully unaware of this, uh, filmmaker until somebody posted the video below on my Facebook wall:

Needless to say, I had to see more.

It turned out that my friend Pat had an entire box set of movies by this guy-- specifically, one Andy Sidaris. Mr. Sidaris evidently came to prominence as a director of broadcast sporting events, most notably "ABC Wide World of Sports", in which he innovated the "honey shot" (cutting to footage of cheerleaders and attractive women in the audience). This approach would serve him well as he moved on to craft a series of feature films in the 80s and 90s, casting Penthouse and Playboy models in many roles as something of a stock company developed. Characters reappear from film to film. But when one character dies, the same actor will often reappear in the next movie playing a completely different character in the same world.

It appears that Mr. Sedaris desperately wanted to make James Bond-style spy movies, but clearly didn't have the budget. So instead we witness clandestine meetings in family restaurants and incoherently edited chase scenes between motorcycles all of whose drivers, chasers and chasees, have clearly rented identical bikes from the same shop.

My favorite action sequence, though, is this little gem from Hard Ticket to Hawaii (same movie as the Frisbee scene above). I can't explain it, but I must share:

Yep-- you just saw that. I dunno. I really don't.

So yeah-- "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" is really great if this sort of thing floats your boat. We watched Picasso Trigger the other night as well, but that one was a little slower. I'm looking forward to learning more about this man's work. I can tell you, though, that his Wikipedia page is certainly worth a look.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brown Rainbow: Down Here With Me


The latest session from Brown Rainbow, featuring yours truly on a few tracks. I play keyboards on "Universal Love Refresh" and "Mother Antonym", the little kid synth on "Private Label Terabyte", and I whistle on "Theatre Of Non-Color".

Hear/ download "Down Here with Me" by Brown Rainbow

"Improvisational collective" is perhaps a bit of a high-falutin' phrase to describe Brown Rainbow, and yet that's pretty much what it is.

Personnel on this release: Bryce Beverlin II, Charles Gillett, and myself. Trevor Adams provided the artwork, which I believe he created while we played.

Thanks for another fun session, fellas!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hunter Fuel: Help fund our new album of WoW Hunter songs!


The long and short of it: I'm collaborating with eminent World of Warcraft blogger Frostheim (aka Brian Wood) to create an entire album of songs dedicated to Hunters-- his character class in the game. Please donate to our Kickstarter!

I have a great time working with Brian, and I love helping to create these songs and videos, but the fact is I'm usually too busy with paid work to put the time into it. So my wily cohort came up with the solution of making these projects generate revenue ahead of time.

Though I geek out on plenty of stuff, I don't play WoW myself. I think the graphics and animation are pretty cool though. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm talking about when I sing these songs. Frostheim, on the other hand, appears to have made quite a name for himself in the WoW community. There's even a Recovered Cloak of Frostheim named after his character, which I imagine is quite an honor. So I've been quite honored myself that he'd ask me to create some pieces with him.

I was originally recruited to help out on Brian's anthemic "I'm A Hunter". The music track and the lyrics were already together by the time I came aboard; my task was to set the lyrics to a melody, sing the vocals with the help of my wife Jen, and down mix the results. Frostheim cut together a video for the track:

At 849,743 views (as of this writing), this piece has been viewed by way, way more people than have witnessed any other work I've ever done. Apparently there was an audience out there for this stuff. We decided to try another video and offer another track as a paid mp3 download, to see if we could monetize the project. So Brian crafted the wry lyrics of "I Won't Miss You", rife with double entendres. This time I wrote the music myself, put togehter all the instrumentation, and sang all the vocals. The result was 2010's "I Won't Miss You":

"I Won't Miss You" was certainly well-received, though it didn't experience quite the runaway success its predecessor. The mp3 sold ok, but not enough to make it a viable revenue stream. We've tried to figure out why the two songs fared so differently. I think maybe it's because the first one worked better as a fist-pumping anthem that people could crank while they played the game.

Anyway, it was clear that in order to continue these productions we needed a way to make it financially viable as well as fun. So if there's still time, and you want to support our endeavor, please consider making a donation to our Kickstarter today!

Thanks for your time.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Audiobook : Mrs. Dalloway


Strange, she thought, pausing on the landing... strange how a mistress knows the very moment, the very temper of her house! Faint sounds rose in spirals up the well of the stairs; the swish of a mop; tapping; knocking; a loudness when the front door opened; a voice repeating a message in the basement; the chink of silver on a tray; clean silver for the party. All was for the party.

--Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mysteries of "Prometheus"


Like most fans of the xenomoprh franchise, I was beside myself with excitement over Ridley Scott's "Prometheus", wishing the days away between learning of it and getting to see it.

I tried to keep my expectations low. And my experience of the film so far has been... complicated. By now the widespread disappointment is quite evident online, and while I feel like the film has a lot of merit, I too found it poorly written, the characters thin, and the concept muddled.

I will say, though, that this article goes a long way toward unraveling the mysteries of this now-expanded universe.

But one enigma remains: Why, during one scene, do we witness Idris Elba's character playing a concertina which, as he relates, once belonged to Stephen Stills? What possible purpose could there be to this?

In pondering this riddle, my sole comfort arises from finding that no one else online seems to get it either. Perhaps some of the film's mysteries are simply beyond human understanding.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jen DeGolier, 1975 - 2012


I honor the memory of Twin Cities lighting designer and friend Jen DeGolier, who recently passed away at the age of 36. That such a lovely soul has departed this world so young has been sad news indeed.

My work of late has been more often for the screen than for the stage, so I hadn't seen Jen for a while, maybe even a year or two. And I wouldn't say we were bosom buddies or anything like that. But it wasn't difficult to bond with Jen. I have many fond memories of spending long nights with her on ladders, in a tech booth, and of course at a bar or three. I'll never forget her smile, her laughter, or her wit. Even when I knew the work would be long and hard, I always looked forward to it if Jen was involved. Everything was a ton better when she was around.

Widely acclaimed, Jen's lighting design was uniquely diaphanous. Productions she lit always had something of an unearthly glow about them, a sumptuous, otherworldly atmosphere. It was a gorgeous sight.

She was a devoted Star Wars fan, and she sang some mean Bon Jovi karaoke. She loved animals too. And she was one of the first people I ever successfully rickrolled.

Jen also loved dinosaurs. I decided we had to have a movie night when I discovered she'd never seen the original Willis O'Brien "Lost World" or O'Brien protege Ray Harryhausen's "Valley of Gwangi", my two all-time favorite dinosaur movies.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel both nights we arranged to do this-- I was sick once, and I don't remember what the other dealbreaker was. So I'm sad that it never happened. But if there's a heaven, I know Jen's there, and I know there'll be lots of real dinosaurs there to play with. And she'll finally know for sure whether they had feathers or not.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

War is peace: new sonic weapon


According to this BBC article, "The Ministry of Defence has confirmed a sonic device will be deployed in London during the Olympics". Despite the device's ability to "emit a beam of pain-inducing tones," we're assured that it'll be more in "send verbal warnings over a long distance" mode. And although this "device" has been used "to repel Somali pirates" and in Iraq for "crowd control", we're to understand that it's certainly *not* a weapon. (It will, however, soon be in use in the United States as well.)

Why even bother with the doublespeak? As the roles of police and military continue to blur in the West, it's clear that the capacity to crush dissent grows increasingly as a priority. The Obama administration has, frighteningly, refused to dismantle the national security regime established by its predecessor. And just as stirring speeches embody a deft deployment of sound to the end of persuasion, this new weapon-- excuse me, device-- offers a new entry in the growing field of acoustic coercion.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Slow Jam The News with Barack Obama


See, Millard Fillmore sure never would have done this.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Digital Artifacts


An interesting article about the environmental impact of digital content distribution in The Wire magazine recently.

Some notable quotes:

"The alarmingly short lifespan of computers also means that more energy is spent in their manufacture than the total electricity they consume when in use; and disposability implies a cumulative pressure on mineral resources. Mining these minerals essential to their circuitry often involves both a resource grab and a land grab, which dispossesses local communities, destroys ecosystems and poisons local soil and water sources. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western corporations hungry for the coltan used in mobile phones and computers are complicit in a resource conflict in which over five million people are estimated to have died."

"In 2010 the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights likened conditions inside a US-owned high tech factory in China to those of a minimum security prison. Working conditions at these facilities regularly drive people to suicide."

Reminds me of the excellent documentary Manufactured Landscapes-- well worth a look if you've ever wondered just what happens to that techno trash when it gets thrown out.

In the wake of Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster, the world seems to have shrugged collectively and just plain kept on using nuclear power. Maybe I'm wrong about that, and maybe something has actually changed. I hope so. Just as I hope I'm wrong about what I fear will be my ultimate reaction to reading something like the above article, which is to feel bad for a while, and then... just keep on participating. Think different, but do nothing.

The article does, however, end on a hopeful note. And so should I.

I really, really should.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Recent Listening / Viewing

William Finley in "Phantom of the Paradise"

MUSIC

Hanne Hukelberg: Little Things
Belbury Poly: Farmer's Angle
Misel Quitno: Sleep Over Pieces Vol 1
Black Flag: Damaged
Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
Ugly Stick: Shaved
Elvis Presley: Elvis 75
John Zuma Saint-Pelvin: cassette release
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282: Lovelyville
Phantom of the Paradise: original soundtrack
Morton Subotnick: Volume 1: Electronic Works
Cowboy Crooners Sing Songs of the Old West (compilation): I just plain cannot stop listening to this stuff.

FILM

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE



One of my favorite terrible movies. A Rocky Horror knockoff-esque mishmash of Frankenstein, Faust, Alice Cooper theatrics, and of course Phantom of the Opera: because you demanded it! There's also a dash of a classic early 60s film in there, but to specify would be to spoilerize what passes for the climax of this one.

Paul Williams plays a tediously Mephistophelean record company executive and also crafts an utterly forgettable score for the film, defying the notion that he would one day pen the soundtrack to "The Muppet Movie".

Written and directed by Brian DePalma, and, to be fair, some of the camera work is pretty interesting... either the Steadicam hadn't been invented yet, or they just couldn't afford one, but you can tell he sure wanted to shoot that way. Some nice 2 camera/ split screen setups as well. I love this film so much.

LISZTOMANIA



Oh wait, this movie... oh man. I forgot I'd even watched this till the soundtrack came up on shuffle. Wow, where to begin...

OK. Flush with the success of the film version of The Who's "Tommy" (which I recall being quite good), Ken Russell decided to make a biopic based on the life of Franz Liszt. Russell was, demonstrably, able to persuade Roger Daltrey to portray the title role in this, one of the most expensively, spectacularly disastrous screen spectacles I've ever witnessed.

Over the course of this film we witness vampires, Ringo Starr, space travel, Richard Wagner in Nazi regalia shooting people with an electric guitar/ machine gun, and original songs by (who else?) ELP's Rick Wakeman. Thanks ever so much to my friend Pat for turning me on to this flick. Not available on DVD in the US, but if the above appeals to you and you got some Web savvy, do yourself a favor.

And:

Hugo
Flash Gordon (the 1980 film adaptation: wonderfully campy!)
Spirit of the Beehive
Superstarlet AD
Once Upon A Time In The West
I Walked With A Zombie
The Saga of Biorn
How To Train Your Dragon
Dark Star
Death Race 2000
Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park
This Island Earth
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (make sure to watch the special features making-of on this one-- wow.)
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
Forbidden World
Cannonball Run
Cannonball Run II

TV

Downton Abbey: as good as you've heard.
Arrested Development: ditto.
Shaun the Sheep: tritto.
The Money And The Gun: this is from back aways, also courtesy of Pat. Deserves an entry of its own.