Posts tagged “music”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] End Of An Era: Sony Stops Manufacturing Cassette Walkmans [Crunchgear] – [I share the author's surprise that this product was still being manufactured! The CD Walkman – its successor – has long been quaintly outdated, so cassettes? Perhaps there was a retro market, or perhaps other countries discarded formats differently than we have here] Sony announced it will stop manufacturing and selling these devices in Japan – after 30 years. Sony says the final lot was shipped to retailers in April this year, and once the last units are sold, there will be no cassette Walkmans from big S anymore. The first Walkman was produced in 1979. The TPS-L2, the world’s first portable (mass-produced) stereo, went on sale in Japan on July 1 that year and was later exported to the US, Europe and other places. Sony says that they managed to sell over 400 million Walkmans worldwide until March 2010, and exactly 200,020,000 of those were cassette-based models.
  • [from steve_portigal] PlumWillow Is Making the Customer Part of Its Culture [] – [Employment criteria: do you represent our target customer? Hiring for insight as an internship strategy] They’re part of a team of 15- and 16-year-old interns who are being tapped for their own special brand of expertise and insight: a bird’s-eye view into the life and mind of high school teenagers, exactly the audience that PlumWillow is seeking. “They definitely aren’t shy about telling us what they like and don’t like,” says Lindsay Anvik, director of marketing at PlumWillow, who helps oversee the internship program at its offices in Manhattan. The interns are also emblematic of how Web-based businesses are doing more than merely shaping their products and services around customer preferences. The companies are corralling those customers in the workplace and making them part of the design and marketing process, according to Susan Etlinger, a consultant at the Altimeter Group, which researches Web technologies and advises companies on how to use them.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] The clever furniture designs of OOOMS [Core77] – Some wonderfully playful furniture by Dutch firm OOMS. The "Low-Res Chair" at the bottom of the page is sheer genius.
  • [from julienorvaisas] The art of slow reading [] – [Will unplugging from technology really help us read more attentively, as the article suggests?] First we had slow food, then slow travel. Now, those campaigns are joined by a slow-reading movement – a disparate bunch of academics and intellectuals who want us to take our time while reading, and re-reading. They ask us to switch off our computers every so often and rediscover both the joy of personal engagement with physical texts, and the ability to process them fully.
  • [from steve_portigal] Pandora, MOG, Apple, and online music’s future [The New Yorker] – [Sasha Frere-Jones writes about the digital listening experience with clarity and insight] No one knows what the future of the music business will look like, but the near future of listening to music looks a lot like 1960. People will listen, for free, to music that comes out of a stationary box that sits indoors. They’ll listen to music that comes from an object that fits in the hand, and they’ll listen to music in the car. That box was once a radio or a stereo; now it’s a computer… Sometimes we will be the d.j.s, and sometimes the machines will be, and we may be surprised by which we prefer.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Gathering insights by having people hand write their stories [DMI News & Views] – Asking people to tell us stories has repeatedly proven to be a rich and productive avenue for important insights. We ask people to tell us a story about a relevant event or experience. For instance, tell me about the last time you baked something from scratch. Or tell me about the last time you purchased a car. We try not to set too many rules or give too much guidance. We let them determine where the story will begin. This, after all, is what we are looking for. We ask for the story to be in writing—and ideally the story will be handwritten, if the logistics permit. We ask for the story to be as descriptive as possible—and we ask that the story be illustrated with pictures (hand drawn stick people or cuttings from magazines or from the Internet).
  • 100 Records: Project turns on fictional jackets [] – Exhibiting as "100 Records", Sonny Smith, a San Francisco musician, artist and writer, commissioned nearly 100 artists from around the world to create the artwork for 100 45 rpm record jackets that represent more than 60 fictional bands and singers.

Cutting Thru Clutter at SXSW

As David Armano writes about SXSW “Hundreds of vendors, brands and companies vie for your attention.” This was certainly one of my big surprises from the recent SXSW event (my first time attending). From the huge attendee bag o’ crap with every kind of sticker, sample beverage, light-up pen, button, pamphlet, coupon, invite, brochure, and screen cleaner imaginable, to the half-dressed-skinny-girls inviting us to try a WiFi cafe, I was struck how by showing up in Austin I was essentially a captive audience to be marketed to. There was free food-and-drink (the Ice Cream Man on 6th street hands ice cream to passerby, with a Nokia napkin; the Sobe people were giving out psych-ward-meds-sized portions), free electricity (via Belkin and Chevy), and on and on.

Pepsi had large area with several zones, including tents for…I guess…video conferencing. I saw people hanging out at the bar drinking small portions of Pepsi, but not many making use of this service.

Bing had a fleet of Town Cars, as well as hostess-y types that would offer you a free ride.

This bus was promoting the new book from Tony Hsieh (of Zappos). I just saw it driving around, or worse, idling. I never saw anyone get on, or off. Was it an eco-nightmare billboard? Or some sort of service? I think it’s kind of creepy!

Sidewalk advertising, of course. Let’s hope they cleaned it up after, or that the city was prepared to fine them. I haven’t checked out this URL, but feel free to and let us know in the comments. Or, really, why bother?

There are three concurrent/adjacent festivals: Interactive, Film, and Music. Each of them serves up an insane range of options, well beyond what we normally encounter in our choice-flooded lives. The net effect (and my theme here) is that content creators are expected to shout louder (or more interestingly) to create awareness for their product. Here are ads for all sorts of things, including a cryptic phrase about a hurting vagina (which turned out to be from a movie).

Those posters don’t go up by themselves. It takes work.

As Austin reached beyond-critical-mass, 6th Street, the live music area, was closed to traffic. People were passing out more pamphlets and flyers promoting their events. And here’s where many of them ended up.

Just because.

Drawing attention to yourself to promote an event.

iPad guy was the triggering noticing event that led to this post. On my second-to-last night I saw this guy walk by, with a cardboard iPad around his neck (yes, kids, this was before the iPad was actually available). I yelled out “Hey, iPad guy!” and he stopped and let me take his picture. We introduced ourselves, and I asked him why he was wearing an iPad around his neck (see, that ethnography experience comes in handy!!!). His answer? So people will talk to him, like I did (turns out he works for a Search Engine Optimization firm, so…). While SXSW is a hyper-condensed environment, it represents some early-adopter aspects of typical daily life, and so I was struck to see the continuum between the promotion of Pepsi, Sobe, Bing, an indie film, an indie band, and an individual.

I’ve had my experience with guerrilla methods of promoting myself (from wearing a giant sombrero when campaigning for student government, with the slogan “the little guy in the big hat” to wearing a very loud SpiderMan tie when interviewing for jobs at a CHI conference long ago…only to be upstaged by the guy with a resume-dispensing-box with an embedded recording of him giving his elevator pitch) but the past seemed quainter, where the extreme needs (getting elected, getting a job) permitted extreme norms. But at SXSW it seems like everything is a promotion for something and I feel just a little bad seeing us take our lessons on how to connect with each other from big brands. Is this an exception or an emergent norm?

My favorite content from SXSW:

Check out more of my SXSW pictures here.

Slides and audio from Integrating User Insight, my presentation with Aviva Rosenstein, are here.

You may also like License to Shill, a FreshMeat column from 2004.

There goes my hero…

Exploitative sellout and marketing disappointment, or layer cake of irony?

I saw this Kurt Cobain-branded Converse All-Star recently on the bargain racks at Ross. I laughed, I cried.

Detail of another shoe in “The Kurt Cobain Collection,” from the Converse website

Seattlest had a pithy take on it:

Kurt Cobain shaped the country’s rock music landscape while wearing Converse sneaks. He blithely, angrily altered Seattle’s future, ripped a hole for the city on the map of pop culture, all while wearing Converse. He went nuts on stage. He whispered and screamed. He played the shit out of guitars. He shot up and nodded off in the shoes.

Kurt killed himself while wearing Converse. The shoes were prominent in the image that famously documented his death. Naturally, then, Converse will begin selling Kurt Cobain-“inspired” shoes this May. It is, apparently, the “Converse Century,” after all. What better way to celebrate?

The full piece here.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Segmenting the Hendrix fan [] – “We believe that there is a Jimi Hendrix fan out there at 99 cents and at $9 and at $20 — all the way across the spectrum,” Mr. Block said. “We want to make each fan an appropriate offering. Is the complete Jimi Hendrix on vinyl something every music fan would want? Absolutely not. Would there be a market for it? Absolutely.”
  • Jerry Seinfeld on ideas [] – Whatever happens to “The Marriage Ref,” Mr. Seinfeld said that he was out of ideas now. “Ideas are a terrible obligation,” he said. “Who needs something else to take care of? I have kids. I’d rather nurture them than another idea.”
  • The Disposable Film Festival – In recent years a new kind of film has emerged: The Disposable Film. It has been made possible by new media (webcams, point and shoot digital cameras, cell phones, screen capture software, and one time use digital video cameras) and the rise of online distribution (YouTube, Google, MySpace, etc.). These films are often made quickly, casually, and sometimes even unintentionally. Everyone has become a Disposable Filmmaker: directors of Saturday night cell phone videos, actors under the eyes of security cameras, and narrators before their webcams. Let's face it – we live in an age of disposable film. Now it's time to do something creative with it.
  • How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions – Scott Anthony [Harvard Business Review] – Resource-rich companies have the "luxury" of researching and researching problems. That can be a huge benefit in known markets where precision matters. But it can be a huge deficit in unknown markets where precision is impossible and attempts to create it through analysis are quixotic. Entrepreneurs don't have the luxury of asking "What about…" questions, and in disruptive circumstances that works in their favor.

    So what's the alternative? Substitute early action for never-ending analysis. Figure out the quickest, cheapest way to do something market-facing to start the iterative process that so frequently typifies innovation. Be prepared to make quick decisions, but have the driver of the decision be in-market data, not conceptual analysis. In other words, go small and learn. Pitch (or even sell) your idea to colleagues. Open up a kiosk in a shopping mall for a week. Create a quick-and-dirty website describing your idea. Be prepared to make quick decisions.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • DEVO – Focus Group Testing the Future [YouTube] – Filled with brilliantly sarcastic soundbites, this is definitely pushing on post-modernism/post-irony. DEVO doing focus group testing (or so they say) on every aspect of their 2010 offering (brand, logotype, instrumentation, clothing). Interesting also to see how this appears in the press with varying amounts of the irony removed.
  • Theater Preshow Announcements Take Aim at Cellphones [] – In a production of “Our Town” the director, David Cromer, who played the Stage Manager, took a minimal approach because he wanted to stay true to Thornton Wilder’s desire to forgo conventional theatrics. “In that show we had this issue, which is that there was to be no theater technology. The whole act of my entrance was that you were supposed to think it was someone from the theater,” Mr. Cromer explained. “We didn’t want the Stage Manager to come out and say, ‘Please turn your cellphones off,’ because that would be rewriting Wilder.” Instead Mr. Cromer simply held up a cellphone upon entering at the beginning of each act and then turned it off and put it away, casually showing the audience what to do without talking about it. “The first time I was watching another actor take over in the show as the Stage Manager,” Mr. Cromer said, “he came out, held his cellphone in the air, and the woman next to me said, ‘Oh, someone lost their cellphone.’ ”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • In defense of inspired design: Deyan Sudjic and "The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects" – Tthe Clift Hotel in 2001 was reborn as an outpost of the globe-trotting cultural elite. The 1913 exterior still exudes staid pomp; inside it's a dark wonderland of affectation, with theatrically scaled furniture, thick silk drapes & techno rhythms in the background.

    The interiors are by Philippe Starck whom Sudjic describes as "constantly seeking to amuse the grown-ups with his daringly naughty tricks."

    The ambiance is profoundly different a few blocks away at Blue Bottle Cafe. Here, light streams through the bare windows of a 17-foot-high corner retail space. The stools are utilitarian, the walls dull white.

    Yet everything here is arranged as deliberately as at the Clift, including the coffee beans in grainy paper bags with the blend names stamped by hand. It's all very DIY – and you can grind the beans at home with the $700 grinder on sale a few feet away.

    "In objects we value the 'authentic,' the hand-pressed. It's often the same thing with cities," Sudjic said .

  • Dance Off with the Star Wars Stars 2009 – Many YouTube videos to explore here, but possibly one of the most inauthentic things ever. Taking beloved character archetypes out of their true context and into a tepid cheesy new context. Funny, or a betrayal, (or cool?) depending on where you come from. While the related video, Star Wars Weekends – Special Effects Edition (with real lightsabers!), evokes a real authenticity, even though it creates humor by mixing fantasy with reality, there's a underlying difference – love for the original versus exploitation of the original
  • The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock – Another complex and rambling Errol Morris investigation into politics, authentication, media, photography, truth, fakery, and more
  • Les Sans Culottes: a French band from Brooklyn that isn’t really French – "Brooklyn’s Les Sans Culottes have taken the whole faux-French-band thing pretty far—the group’s live shows are superenergetic, fake-multicultural events. You might not learn anything about French culcha, but you’ll probably hop around like a lunatic."
  • Authentic Organizations — aligning identity, action and purpose – A blog that explores
    * What does it mean for an organization to be “authentic”?
    * Why does it matter that an organization be authentic?
    * Which organizations are being authentic, and what are they doing to pursue authenticity?
    * Which organizations are not being authentic, why, and what could they be doing to become more authentic?
    * What should an organization do to become more authentic, or to address a specific authenticity dilemma?
    * What can you and I do, as organization members, as managers, leaders, scholars or practitioners, as persons, to help organizations pursue authenticity?
  • When Consumers Search For Authenticity: In The Eye Of The Beholder? – "Consumer identity goals (or their idealized images of themselves) underpin assessments of whether a brand is authentic (genuine, real, and true) or not." The researchers identified three primary identity goals: a desire for control, connection, or virtue. "These goals reflect three respective societal norms: the need to be practical, to participate in community, and to be moral," the authors explain. "When seeking to achieve these different goals, consumers choose different brands. When consumers desire to be in control, they may view McDonalds as an inauthentic brand partner because fast food leads to increases in weight. Alternately, McDonald's may be viewed as a genuine partner when the same consumer is seeking to connect with others."
  • Creating Authentic Product Experiences: a teaser for this presentation – Authenticity is an increasingly crucial attribute for successful products and services, but understanding how to apply it is slippery. In this presentation, Steve presents a number of facets of authenticity, from product form and aesthetics, to the evolution of meaning over time, to personal interactions, and brands. While there is no magic answer to "what is authenticity?" the journey to answer that question is an essential one.
  • All This ChittahChattah (Kindle Edition) – Understanding culture, design, and business – For only $1.99 a month. Not available to customers in the US, for reasons I don't understand.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Japanese cultural norms – asking about weight – Insightful little culture-clash story; an American working in Japan isn't sure how to deal with blunt (especially from the Japanese!) questions about his increasing weight
  • Clive Thomson on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, renowned for his use of mathematical game theory models for prediction – Those who have watched Bueno de Mesquita in action call him an extremely astute observer of people. He needs to be: when conducting his fact-gathering interviews, he must detect when the experts know what they’re talking about and when they don’t. “His ability to pick up on body language, to pick up on vocal intonation, to remember what people said and challenge them in nonthreatening ways — he’s a master at it,” says Rose McDermott, a political-science professor at Brown who has watched Bueno de Mesquita conduct interviews. She says she thinks his emotional intelligence, along with his ability to listen, is his true gift, not his mathematical smarts. “The thing is, he doesn’t think that’s his gift,” McDermott says. “He thinks it’s the model. I think the model is, I’m sure, brilliant. But lots of other people are good at math. His gift is in interviewing. I’ve said that flat out to him, and he’s said, ‘Well, anyone can do interviews.’ But they can’t.”
  • New York Times Magazine on the Beatles’ Rock Band videogame – This is a fantastic article that spans many big issues: gaming, music, performance, art, history, culture, product development, authenticity, creativity, entertainment, technology. It's a must-read.
  • Brian Dettmer turns books into sculptural pieces – Contemporary visual artists see opportunity in what many bemoan as the twilight of the age of the book. John Latham (1921-2006), Hubertus Gojowczyk, Doug Beube and others have treated books as sculptural stuff. But no one whose work I have seen tops that of Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer at Toomey Tourell.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Slot Music – it’s more than just a new format – Here's SanDisk's ecosystem approach (for digital music, not digital books, but still, it's illustrative). Leveraging their technology, they've begun putting digital music on solid state media (i.e., SD cards and what-have-you) that will go into multiple devices. They are piggybacking on the ecosystem of slots that already exists. I think it fully matures as an ecosystem when other other plays start making products, services, and accessories to support this standard.
  • New Yorker cartoon – “This one, when you open it, smells like the Times.” – Cartoon by Leo Cullum showing a sensory-enriched Kindle. Thanks to Tom Williams for the pointer!
  • Book Display Norms – Jan Chipchase – To what extent does the form, peruseability of books facilitate the behaviours around where they are sold?
  • San Franciscan Reads Finnegan’s Wake Aloud, In Public – In the aftermath of the Finnegan's Wake Book Club dissolution.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood says MP3s sound good enough – [In ReadingAheda we explored the "Gold Standard" of previous generations of technology]
    SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point.

    SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity?

    JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
    (via kottke)

  • Yoostar lets anyone act opposite Hepburn, Brando – It's a consumer-level greenscreen system, so you can record video of yourself composited into classic movie footage. While it's amazing that this is being productized at a consumer level, the reviews make it clear that it's riddled with difficulties and limitations.
  • Microsoft tries Tupperware-party-esque promotion for Windows 7 – If you can find 9 friends and provide a decent pitch, you could be chosen to host a Windows 7 House Party and win a free signature copy of Windows 7. There are four pre-defined categories for the party: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The process of converting books to Kindle format introduces errors in the text – The cost of a printed book covers some degree of proofing and checking—not enough, but some. The cost of a Kindle book does not support editorial quality control, and the multi-step conversion process, handled in bulk by third parties, chops out content and creates other errors that no one fixes because no one is there to do QA.

    As the economics of publishing continues to change, perhaps one day soon, a Kindle edition will contain the same text as the printed book. Until it does, Kindle is great for light reading. But if it’s critical that every word, comma, and code sample come through intact, for now, you’re better off with print.

  • The Social History of the MP3 – For Reading Ahead, we're looking at other transitions to digital: "So omnipresent have these discussions become, in fact, that it's possible the past 10 years could become the first decade of pop music to be remembered by history for its musical technology rather than the actual music itself. This is a chastening thought, but at the same time we have to be careful not to overlook how the technologies we invent to deliver music also work to shape our perception of it. When radio came along, its broadcasts created communities of music-listening strangers, physically distant from each other but connected through the knowledge that they were listening to the same song at the same time. Where radio brought listeners together as a listening public, the LP started splitting them apart. The LP and 45 rpm formats took the phonograph, which had been in existence for over half a century, to the masses, right as the American middle-class was going suburban and privatizing their lives."
  • Medical Students Experience Life as Nursing Home Patients – Students are given a “diagnosis” of an ailment and expected to live as someone with the condition does. They keep a daily journal chronicling their experiences and, in most cases, debunking their preconceived notions.

    To Dr. Gugliucci’s surprise, she found nursing homes in the region that were willing to participate and students who were willing to volunteer. No money is exchanged between the school and nursing homes, and the homes agree to treat students like regular patients.

    “My motivation is really to have somebody from the inside tell us what it’s like to be a resident,” said Rita Morgan, administrator of the Sarah Neuman Center for Healthcare and Rehabilitation here, one of the four campuses of Jewish Home Lifecare.

All This Machinery Making Modern Music

At the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, I took a picture of an old picture, presumably of the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer


The museum is filled with every crazy variation on musical instruments you can imagine (and then beyond) so this struck me because it doesn’t connote musical instrument the way everything else did. It looks like an old computer. Well, sure, old electronic music tech was computer tech. In the lab, at least. This didn’t come from two people banging sticks together and liking the noise, it came out of a computer lab, and so the destiny of that sort of musical instrument is cast from that point of origin.

Physical objects evoke a reaction and interpretation (of meaning, of function, of value) based on the symbols we’ve learned. Products, especially those based on advanced technology, will naturally reflect the assumptions of their creators (without some sort of intervention or um design) about form, interface, and thus meaning, function, and value.

See more of my Belgium pictures here.


About Steve