About Me
I'm a Canadian PhD student living in Scotland, where I study music, media, and culture at Stirling University.

My Work
Curriculum Vitae
PhD Abstract

Academic Articles:
The rough guide to critics

Conference Papers:
Down Beat vs. Rolling Stone (IASPM Rome 2005)

Web Articles:
Sounds Prohibited
Brain Machines

CD Reviews:
Proffessor Undressor

m.t.brennan at stir.ac.uk
Friends With Websites:
Dru (The Dominion)
Sylvia Nickerson
Inez Templeton
Inez: the blog
Clark Richards
Tara Wells
Max Liboiron
John Haney
Eva Bartlett

Musical Friends:
David Myles
Jamie (Near Earth Astronaut)
Jay (Proffessor Undressor)
Jim (Shotgun and Jaybird)
Jon (Rhume)
Kirk (Orchard Hill Road)
Mark, Mike (Barriomatic Trust)
Matt Johnston
Pat (Random Andy)
Troy (Pimp Tea)

By Category:
academiks (2)
aural creativity (10)
books (1)
flicks (8)
inspiration (3)
mad science (4)
media theory (4)
music biz (10)
other (6)
personal (12)
powers that be (7)
travel (3)
visual creativity (9)
words (1)

By Month:
April 2006 (2)
March 2006 (1)
January 2006 (3)
December 2005 (1)
November 2005 (1)
October 2005 (1)
September 2005 (1)
August 2005 (1)
July 2005 (1)
June 2005 (1)
May 2005 (1)
April 2005 (1)
March 2005 (3)
February 2005 (3)
January 2005 (1)
December 2004 (1)
November 2004 (2)
October 2004 (5)
September 2004 (3)
August 2004 (1)
July 2004 (3)
June 2004 (3)
May 2004 (6)
April 2004 (6)
March 2004 (8)
February 2004 (7)
January 2004 (11)
December 2003 (2)

January 2004

January 28, 2004

Pope blesses breakdancers


I love weird news. And this is of the loveliest and weirdest order:

CNN: In an unusual spectacle at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II presided over a performance of break-dancers who leaped, flipped and spun their bodies to beats from a tinny boom box. The 83-year-old pontiff seemed to approve, waving his hand after each dancer completed a move, then applauding for the entire group. He watched the performance from a raised throne. "For this creative hard work I bless you from my heart," he said.

Posted by matt at 12:34 PM

January 27, 2004

Revolutionzing the economics of popular culture?

Here's a little excerpt from a column by music critic Barry Ulanov:

"It’s extraordinary that year after year, decade after decade, the beautifully polished machinery of manufactured spontaneous combustion can be set in motion in our popular culture without any protest, or with no more than the most timid and tentative sort of objection. One cannot help wondering about the broader implications of this procedure. If a whole country can be such a pushover for a song and a dance, what does that suggest about that same nation’s political susceptibilities?"

This succintly describes an aspect of the climate of popular music on the radio these days. It also makes what I feel is a solid connection between our apathy about what we're fed on the radio and the apathy of most people to engage in political participation.

Thing is, Ulanov wrote that in 1957. The voice of protest has always been around in popular culture, and it's scary to see how little the arguments have changed over the decades. Makes you wonder whether activists like downhillbattle.org and the groups who preceded them (Ulanov was a big advocate for the economic independence of musicians in the 1950s) have studied the history of previous (failed) attempts to transform the economics of popular culture.

Hey, maybe they have. In fact, I wish them the best of luck. But while the prospect of revolution is always exciting, I'm skeptical about whether it's realistic, or more importantly, whether their vision of completely evading the need for an industry middle man has any possibility of longevity.

Most of all, I'd rather not be reading the same recycled arguments for cultural revolution years down the road.

Posted by matt at 04:15 PM

January 26, 2004

Corporate Social Responsibility, or two-faced capitalism

There's a thought-provoking piece in the change in strategy among activists toward getting corporations to conduct their business ethically. As usual, however, the Economist staff end on a particularly idiotic note. Here are the last few paragraphs:

The Economist: This week Christian Aid … published a report claiming to reveal the true face of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The charity is “calling on politicians to take responsibility for the ethical operation of companies rather than surrendering it to those from business peddling fine words and lofty sentiments.” … It regards CSR as a “burgeoning industry...now seen as a vital tool in promoting and improving the public image of some of the world's largest companies and corporations.”

The report features case studies of Shell, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Coca-Cola—all of them, it says, noted for paying lip-service to CSR while “making things worse for the communities in which they work.” Shell, says the report, claims to be a good neighbour, but leaves oil spills unattended to. Its community-development projects are “frequently ineffective”. BAT, it says, claims to give farmers training and protective clothes; contract farmers in Kenya and Brazil say otherwise. Coca-Cola promises to use natural resources responsibly. The report accuses an Indian subsidiary of depleting village wells. So, “instead of talking about more voluntary CSR in Davos, government...should be discussing how new laws can raise standards of corporate behaviour.”

This is a switch. CSR was conjured up in the first place because government action was deemed inadequate: orthodox politics was a sham, so pressure had to be put directly on firms by organised protest. Ten years on, instead of declaring victory, as well they might, disenchanted NGOs like Christian Aid are coming to regard CSR as the greater sham, and are calling on governments to resume their duties. Might this be a sign … that CSR has finally peaked? If so, it might be no bad thing. If bosses are no longer to get credit for pandering to their critics, they may as well go back to doing their jobs.

The problem is, of course, that the corporate bosses never pandered to their critics - they only presented the appearance of doing so. Hence the sham. Silly Economist. Tricks are for kids, not readers.

Posted by matt at 04:39 PM

January 23, 2004

Autotuners: "punk" bands use them all the time


Most of us have heard by now that pop stars like Britney Spears use computers in the recording studio to digitally alter their voices, and hence even if they aren't great singers, every note that escapes their mouths is processed to perfect pitch. But did you know that "autotuners" are also used in live concerts, and not just by the likes of Spears? Everyone from country-rockers like Reba McIntyre to pop-punkers Sum 41 and Good Charlotte use this technology, and it's been around for awhile. Check out this story for the scoop:

Globe and Mail: "Pop stars and punk bands alike are piping their voices through the hardware, which corrects and improves their vocal pitch during concerts and on records. 'It's actually been used on stage for quite a while,' said Marco Alpert, vice-president of marketing at Antares Audio Technologies, a major supplier of autotuners. With musicians on the road touring for weeks on end, the autotuner has become a safety net that catches the occasional clinker on days when their voices may be off. (In a nutshell, the autotuner is told what key the vocal is in and analyzes the wave form in real time. If the singer is off-key, it will adjust the pitch to the closest note in that key.)"

Posted by matt at 05:05 PM

January 20, 2004

Will downloading digital music help or hurt artists and consumers?


The landscape of the digital music world is currently undergoing great changes. And guess what? Things aren't necessarily swinging in the favour of artists or consumers. Only a year ago journalists were making exciting statements like the following:

Neumu: "I know indie bands that now make a living touring — not from record sales. I also know artists who can live modestly releasing albums on their own labels, selling them off the Web, at shows and at record stores. This is the real "present." And in it, artists are proving to be smart and innovative. We are watching as the Big 5 run out into the ocean, chasing the elusive million-plus seller, and soon they'll be dragged to their deaths by the undertow."

But while it onced seemed like the advent of digital downloading technology would eliminate the need for major label middle men, the Big 5 (record labels: Sony, BMG, Warner, Universal, EMI) have smartened up. They're currently in bed with the likes of Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Apple to usher in legal music downloading. That would be great, but instead of increasing access to music for consumers and royalties for artists, the opposite is occuring. Check out downhillbattle.org for an explanation of why legal downloading isn't really helping artists:

downhillbattle.org: "Apple says iTunes is "better than free" because it's "fair to the artists and record labels." That's simply not true. First of all, Apple gets 3 times as much money as musicians from each sale. Apple takes a 35% cut from every song and every album sold, a huge amount considering how little they have to do. Record labels receive the other 65% of each sale. Of this, major label artists will end up with only 8 to 14 cents per song, depending on their contract. Many of them will never even see this paltry share because they have to pay for producers and recording costs, both of which can be enormous. Until the musician "recoups" these costs, when you buy an iTunes song, the label gives them nothing."

And to see how the new trends in legal downloading (i.e. computer manufacturers' new commitment to digital rights management) will affect consumers, check out Bill Thompson's excellent and frighteningly revealing opinion piece:

BBC: "[Hewlett Packard is] putting digital rights management software in every one of its consumer devices, encrypting any recorded content stored on HP systems so that it can't be transferred to other computers or players. [...] I used to think that our fears over the ways that the entertainment industry were cracking down on file sharing and other copyright violations were unfounded, because the computing companies would refuse to see their products crippled by the need to keep the Recording Industry Association of America happy. I was wrong."

The issues surrounding music downloading are pretty complicated, and I don't necessarily agree with all of the content on the sites mentioned above. I'd welcome any comments you have on the matter.

Posted by matt at 03:44 PM

January 19, 2004

Artistic genius may lie dormant in all of us


There's a great article in the special quarterly issue of Scientific American on savant syndrome. You need to pay to read it online, but I've pasted the opening paragraphs below. To be amazed and inspired, read on:

Scientific American: Leslie Lemke is a musical virtuoso. At the age of 14 he played, flawlessly and without hesitation, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 after hearing it for the first time while listening to a television movie several hours earlier. Lemke had never had a piano lesson--and he still has not had one. He is blind and developmentally disabled, and he has cerebral palsy. Lemke plays and sings thousands of pieces at concerts in the U.S. and abroad, and he improvises and composes as well.

Richard Wawro's artwork is internationally renowned, collected by Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, among others. A London art professor was "thunderstruck" by the oil crayon drawings that Wawro did as a child, describing them as an "incredible phenomenon rendered with the precision of a mechanic and the vision of a poet." Wawro, who lives in Scotland, is autistic.

[Lemke and Wawro] have savant syndrome, an uncommon but spectacular condition in which people with various developmental disabilities, including autism, possess astonishing islands of ability and brilliance that stand in jarring juxtaposition to their overall mental handicap. Savant syndrome is seen in about one in 10 people with autism and in approximately one in 2,000 people with brain damage or mental retardation. Of the known savants, at least half are autistic and the remainder have some other kind of developmental disorder.

Much remains mysterious about savant syndrome. Nevertheless, advances in brain imaging are permitting a more complete view of the condition, and a long-standing theory of left hemispheric damage has found support in these imaging studies. In addition, new reports of the sudden appearance of savant syndrome in people with certain forms of dementia have raised the intriguing possibility that some aspects of such genius lie dormant in all of us.

(Excerpted from "Islands of Genius", by Darold Treffert and Gregory Wallace, published in the June 2002 issue of Scientific American.)

Posted by matt at 07:06 PM

January 15, 2004

Is the music industry really suffering?


From record labels to retailers, the music industry has complained for years now about how much illegal downloading of songs is hurting their profits. In a report today, however, HMV seems to be doing fine:

"Music and book seller HMV Group has posted a 70% surge in interim profits and says it is on track to meet profit targets for the full-year."

HMV Group has the biggest market share of CD retailers in the UK and Canada, and is steadily gaining ground on the Japanese market. But for some insight into how this affects everday musicians, check out the new article I just posted, entitled "The Rough Guide to Critics". Discussions pertaining to HMV start on page 13 of the article, under the heading.

Posted by matt at 06:10 PM

January 10, 2004

Homer good, Homer Simpson bad?


I'm traveling for the next week to do some research, so updates may be infrequent for the next few days. Until then, chew on this... Journalists generally tend to be derisive towards media studies programs at universities, and a growing number of new journalists are coming out of those same media studies programs. Is there any value in studying popular culture? Only you can decide, but here's a BBC article from last year to get the debate started:

"Media studies as an academic subject is under fire once again as universities reopen. This year, students opting for the course are accused of returning us to the dark ages..."

Posted by matt at 01:42 PM

January 06, 2004

Ever heard of talk therapy?


I've always found the idea of a Prozac nation disconcerting, not least of all because I see peers suffering from depression and anxiety disorders all too frequently. I guess I'm not alone in observing this, because the World Health Organization predicts that within 20 years, depression will become the second leading cause of disability in the world.

Much as I know that anti-depressants can help people who are suffering, it's doesn't make it any easier to see people you love experience the mad side-effects that accompany many anti-depressants. (For more on that check out this great BBC documentary on Seroxat - the same drug is called Paxil in North Ameria - online). That's why the following news inspired some hope:

"A new Canadian study has found that talk therapy may give sufferers of depression an even bigger boost than popular drugs such as Prozac -- with none of the accompanying effects. In fact, the benefits of talk therapy over antidepressants were so high, they surprised even the researchers involved in the study."

Posted by matt at 10:00 PM

January 05, 2004

Great Teacher Onizuka


Everyone my age seems to have at least one friend who's teaching English in Japan. One of my good friends just returned to Canada and showed me an amazing Anime TV show called "Great Teacher Onizuka." Here's a quick synopsis:

"Tough on the outside, all heart on the inside, Onizuka turned to the life of a high school teacher for less excitement and action... or so he thought. GTO, A.K.A.: Great Teacher Onizuka, is the racy story of Onizuka, a former motorcycle gang member who becomes a teacher to make a difference and... to meet girls?"

Small wonder all the foreign ESL teachers in Japan love it.

Posted by matt at 08:23 PM

January 03, 2004

Man needs no food or water

I often peruse the web for interesting news, and occasionally there's a story that just rocks my socks. I would never have believed the piece below had it not been on the reputable BBC News site. It's an inspiring bit of freak news that proves that even the most indisputable "laws" of life on earth can be challenged or smashed to pieces.


"Fasting fakir flummoxes physicians"

Doctors and experts are baffled by an Indian hermit who claims not to have eaten or drunk anything for several decades - but is still in perfect health...

Posted by matt at 09:31 PM