Date Archives December 2012

The Future of the New York Public Library; Renderings by Foster + Partners

New York Public Library 1911

New York Public Library 1911

Because I grew up in a small town, I thought that every town had exactly one library. It wasn’t until I started college in Cincinnati that I realized branch libraries exist. As an example, the New York Public Library has some eighty-seven branch libraries through out the five boroughs of New York City. But the most recognizable of these seven dozen branches is the one that sits between Fifth Avenue and Bryant Park. It is the main branch of the library system, was finished in 1911 and has some 75 miles of shelving. But where are all these books? I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but even after visiting the library I’m not sure I could tell you. They weren’t exactly hiding (how do you hide 75 miles of shelving?) but were in a less glamorous part of the building underneath the photogenic, Beaux-Arts reading room. It took a year to move all of the books into the new shelving.

It’s now a hundred years after the library’s completion and when the library announced that architect Norman Foster would be giving the branch a $300 million dollar update, folks had lots of opinions. One of these folks is Alda Louise Huxtable, whose articulate and somewhat acerbic critique of the library’s plan can be read here. She argues that you can’t update a masterpiece, saying:

“This is a plan devised out of a profound ignorance of or willful disregard for not only the library’s original concept and design, but also the folly of altering its meaning and mission and compromising its historical and architectural integrity. You don’t “update” a masterpiece. “Modernization” may be the most dangerously misused word in the English language.”

New York Public Library Foster + Partners

New York Public Library Norman Foster

So what will the new library look like? Until now, we didn’t know. That’s because today, the library is releasing renderings from he office of Foster + Partners, in part because of the clamor generated by the announcement to overhaul the library. And guess what? These seventy five miles of shelving that I wasn’t sure existed are the center of the action. There, the firm will relocate a significant chunk of the library’s print holdings to make way for more generous and technologically-savvy spaces. But what’s more interesting than the pixels of these particular renderings is whether or not the images will assuage critics. Was the racket because we hadn’t seen the building? Was it image insecurity? Or is it truly just a bad idea to change the building in this way?

There and Back Again – A Review of ‘The Hobbit’

The Hobbit

After almost too many years of waiting, the audience finally gets what it wants. The nerd/geek fantasy first came to life to the tune of billions of dollars of revenue and endless DVD sets, each claiming to be more essential, more complete, more fulfilling than the last. 9 years after snagging 11 Oscars at the 74th Academy Awards for its grand finale, The Lord of the Rings receives the beginning of the prequel that started it all: The Hobbit, elongated and trifurcated for our viewing pleasure.

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The Build Up: Episode 3

The Build Up: Episode 3

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Click Here To Download Episode 3

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, podcast co-captain Jon Setzen and myself decided the final episode of 2012 would be a year in review, the best of the best. 2012 was a really great year for both of us and ’13 is looking to be equally bright.

Our third episode is about a lot of things:

• Most life changing app of the year
• Top 5 favorite albums (and our runner ups)
• Best gadget of the year that’s not the iPhone 5
• Most eye opening design experiences of 2012
• Best design trends of the year
• Best meal of the year (there were actually many)
• Screw you Instagram, we’re back on Flickr
• 3 work-related work-related goals for 2013
• Music from Heavenly Beat, The Walkmen, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and Dirty Projectors

‘It’s a Shape Christmas’ – An Illustrated & Interactive Advent Calendar

The Shape of Christmas - Screenshot

Over the last few days I’ve really been getting into the festive spirit by visiting It’s a Shape Christmas. This special seasonal website is a digital advent calendar that features the work of 25 illustrators from all over the globe. Created by Shape Design Studio, the project is now in its second year and they’ve really brought together a great selection of talent and built a great looking website around their work.

Everyday you can unlock a new illustration from the calender, with illustrators creating Christmas themed pictures based on a number of different shapes. You can take a look below to see some examples of these including Barney Ibbotson’s hexagonal snowflake, Brandon James Scott’s circular present and Dave Raxworthy’s triangular birdhouse. They’re all great pieces!



The Shape of Christmas - Dave Raxworthy

Best of all, each illustration is also available to download as a wallpaper for either the iPhone or iPad so you can visit the site each day and get a brand new festive wallpaper. What more could you want! Go check it out here!

‘Know Til Now’, A New Song by Jim James

'Know Til Now', A New Song by Jim James

Yesterday at work my buddy Frank was playing some music when a song came on that caught my ear. I asked him what it was, he looked to his Spotify, and said “It’s Jim James.” For at least 10 seconds I was trying to process this statement. “It does sound like Jim James… but it’s so… odd,” I thought. Sure enough, Mr. James has a new solo album called Regions of Light and Sound of God which comes out on February 5 on ATO Records. The song above, Know Til Now, is the first and holy geez is it an amazing jam. It honestly reminds me of the whacked out solo albums of the late 90s/early 00s that folks like Scott Weiland put out. The track blends all sorts of elements into it like disco, jazz, blues all tied together with James’ signature falsetto. This definitely gets me excited for the upcoming album.

Holly Herndon’s ‘Movement’

Holly Herndon's Movements

December is a little late in the year to welcome a new candidate into the best music of the year chatter. Efforts released in either November or December of any year are always forgotten or simply assumed to be a part of the following year’s releases: it’s very easy to get swept under the rug. Holly Herndon isn’t letting that happen to her. On November 13 she released her RVNG Intl. debut Movement which has stormed the techno and experimental worlds alike: Holly has stepped in as the genre’s new hope.

The seven track LP is a quick roll through vocal performance and mutation, computer geek techno plays, and electronic music card tricks. The title–Movement–is a suggestion of the body, bringing visions of athletic musculature and vocal exercises: Herndon’s focus is on the human body’s performance. Title track “Terminal” eases you into Holly’s world with a vocal piece that is stretched and stretched and stretched until it is nearly mistakable for the hum of an overworked laptop. “Dilato” is a high art cousin to this LP starter and a clear play on distending the voice to shrill scratches and in-synch pitches. This song was my first introduction to Herndon and was cause to perk up at the thought of electronic music digging and digging back toward the experiments they originated from.

As avant garde as she can get, she can and does turn out some ball busters. “Movement” (at top) runs itself closely with alarm sounds and squeezes beautiful vocal sweeps through a fan. It is essentially the song that you would want to have played if you were escaping from zombies on a dance floor. “Fade” (directly above) is clearly the best electronic song of the year, a surprise you will want to build up from after “Terminal.” The song is a complex, layering of vocal chants (The phrase “Reach out your hand.” is folded and unfolded, over and over itself like vocal origami.) underneath powerful synth kicks, bass, and an ending breakdown that no techno genius in Berlin could ever reach. It is complicated, it is fun, and you feel like you need a cigarette after listening to it.

Herndon is so damned good because she is building her own world of academic electronic atop of an already rich history of music in an often obscure genre. Encountering many interviews with her, you find that she is a Tennessee singer who moved to Berlin, discovered techno, and has since dedicated her life to understanding and challenging what singing and music making can be. She is currently studying to be a doctoral student at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics program. Basically she’s getting a doctorate in electronic music: that is how fucking legit Holly Herndon is.

The album is a treasure and a first effort that dares you to question its power. Movement is an on-trend entry into the “doom” house that Andy Stott, Demdike Stare, Laurel Halo, Shed, and more have been making–yet Herndon’s effort deserves to be installed at MOCA. In repeated spins of Movement, you delve into bigger questions related to electronic performance, the female body, and queer theory: in the male dominated worlds of science and electronic music, where does an extremely experimental American female fit in? Herndon is taking cues from historic female and queer electronic artists like Laurie Spiegel and Wendy Carlos and answering this question. Get ready to hear a lot more from Herndon–she’s just getting started.

On Accidents: Thoughts On Creativity from David Huyck

David Huyck's Desk

My drawing table’s natural state. Draw like a photographer: make a lot of pictures, and pick the best ones.

A couple weeks back I tweeted simply, “Is it possible to design by accident?” I had been thinking that morning about the act of design. That it tends to be about problem solving, trial and error, but does that include accidents? Brush strokes can be accidents, pottery can involve accidents, but can Photoshop be an accident?

Thankfully my friend David Huyck – illustrator, designer and professor – had some interesting thoughts on the matter which I found to ring quite true. So he was kind enough to write a piece for the site which I hope you find inspiring.

I love to draw and make stuff. I always have. But there was a long time where, even though I knew I needed to practice, I just couldn’t force myself to even try. I was caught in that gap that Ira Glass describes in this video, where I knew what was good, and I knew that what I was making wasn’t all that good. So I just didn’t draw.

While I don’t exactly regret the eight years I spent making websites and databases, I am sure my illustration career would be in a very different place by now if I had just kept drawing the whole time. Seven years into a career as a college-level art and design professor, I try to save my students from falling into that same gap.

I talk about it with them through a variety of different anecdotes. The Ira Glass video is one. Another is a something Tim Biskup said in a talk I attended in 2005: he had been working as an animation background painter, and he wanted to get better at drawing, so John K. told him that everyone has 100,000 bad drawings in them, and you just have to get those out of you so you can get to the good ones. Similarly, Malcom Gladwell asserts in his book Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours of anything to become a “phenom” in it. Anne Lamott devotes an entire chapter to “Shitty First Drafts” in her gem, Bird by Bird.

One take-away from all those stories might be “practice makes perfect.” But a more important lesson, I think, is that you have to make mistakes. You have to screw up a bunch and make things that might turn out just awful. It’s what you do with those accidents that can make you great. Knowing that accidents are a part of the process makes risk less scary. You are more willing to try things and experiment and, yes, crash and burn. But that is where discovery happens. That is where you begin to make work that is different and interesting and yours.

All of that applies broadly to the creative process. More specifically, when I teach design, one of the more difficult things to impart is that the finished work is all made deliberately. No matter how much time a student spends on a design, the piece they turn in is up for critique in its entirety – accidents, neglected margins, printer problems and all. If you don’t fix something – whether you notice something is wrong or not – you’ve left it in the design, and your inaction is, essentially, an act of design.

Which is not to say that is all bad. When you make the same mistake enough times, you can learn your weaknesses, and you can wrap them into your process. I once asked Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus how to tell the difference between the designs he makes and the ones his partner, Michael Byzewski, makes. To paraphrase Dan, he said, “I’m the moron who makes all these complicated tight-registration designs that take me forever to get right on press. Michael just sets up his designs to be okay if they aren’t printed perfectly.” Wisdom through accidents.

Rdio’s Best of the Year 2012

Rdio's Best Songs of 2012

It’s fairly well known that I’m a huge fan of Rdio, my preferred method of streaming music. It’s got an amazing interface design, a spot-on recommendation and just he right amount of social integration so I can see what my friends are currently listening to. That said, the folks at Rdio also have pretty great taste, as evidenced by their Best of the Year playlist.

They’ve got some great categories like “Album That Never Left Your Heavy Rotation” (it was definitely Frank Ocean) or “Best Album to Take on Your Visionquest”. Definitely 12 great tracks to check out, and perhaps find some tunes you’ve never heard before.

On a sidenote I’d also suggest checking out Aquarium Drunkard’s 2012 Year in Review as well. He’s got a selection of pretty amazing but obscure albums that you’ve probably never heard. Justin’s taste is always on point so I’m sure you’ll find something new to listen to.

It’s New, It’s Old, It’s A Chalet: Villa Solaire by JKA and FUGA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA
Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Last week we looked at what happens when built work gets old. We saw work that got old to the clients rather quickly, old work documented across continents long after intended use, work that is getting older and more public, and a new future for an aging office complex. What you see here is a farmhouse from the nineteenth century that has a new purpose and appearance.

I’m not fancy enough to know what the proper definition of a Chalet is, but allegedly this is an example of one, but it may better be described as a luxury rental unit for folks visiting Morzine, France. The original farmhouse was built in 1826, which is insanely old to me as an American (there were only 24 states at the time!) The architects responsible for the structure’s revival, JKA and FUGA have been mindful of the significance of such an old structure– the town declared it a landmark – and used architectural vocabulary from yesteryear to inform their work.

“In typical Alpine barns the gaps between disjointed wooden planks would allow air to circulate round drying hay, but at Villa Solaire the gaps between each panel simply let extra light into the rooms inside.”

A great video by Pablo Maestres for Fur Voice’s ‘All That’

Fur Voice - All That 2

Fur Voice - All That 3

There seems to be something exciting happening in Spain at the moment. Just last week I wrote about the excellent video and track by Barcelona-based duo PEGASVAS and today I have another excellent video from Barcelona-based group Fur Voice.

What really turned me on to this band was their amazing video. Directed by the Spanish filmmaker and photographer Pablo Maestres, the video is an atmospheric piece filled with beautifully composed shots and a strange, surreal tone which owes a lot to the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson. It’s clear to see that Maestres is definitely a talent to watch, and this video is his first collaboration with the excellent London-based production company A+. Fans of the band can pick up a free copy of the single from the group’s bandcamp page, or check out their album, Onto Endo, here