Sunday, March 19, 2006 

Burn it dowwwwn! Down, down, down! Down, down, down! Burn it down!

"Sarge, with your permission, I'd like to lob a snowball over the top of the frame and into the house. ... Damn, I didn't make it!"
They were burning old buildings at UAF yesterday. I expected them to turn me and my camera away, and I was all set to Play The Journalist Card (where I show them a business card and say I'm a journalist), but they turned out to not care. At all. There were plenty of spectators, and they let me get so close I had to cover my face with my scarf to tolerate the heat.

"Every house has a dragon," one of the firefighters told another one. "True story -- you need a good camera to catch it, but if you look at your photos afterwards, and you took a picture at the right time, you'll see it.

"Damn, I forgot to save the Jetsons chimney!" he then exclaimed, pointing at a bright red chimney sticking out of the house. "It's such a Jetsons fireplace." He hummed the Jetsons theme, and pointed out how the heat hadn't even made the paint flake off the chimney.

Walking back to my car, I realized I'd spent more time taking pictures and thinking about how to anecdotize it than I'd spent actually experiencing it. When did I start commodifying my experiences? When did my stories become a form of capital?

Saturday, March 18, 2006 

My Articles, March 9-15

We read him first (Flashlight)

Now David Marusek is getting attention in even more highbrow places. In November, right before his debut novel, Counting Heads, hit shelves, Marusek, a science fiction author who lives in a dry cabin in Fairbanks and spends his time thinking about the future, was profiled in the Press (This Alaskan Life: “Everyday science fiction,” November 3, 2005).

On March 5, The New York Times Book Review kicked off a new science fiction column by pouring praise over Counting Heads, which columnist Dave Itzkoff called “one of my favorite books of last year in any category, and an exemplary entry in the sci-fi genre.”

Marusek said this week that the Times review has prompted “a nice bump” in his book sales, as well as an increase in interest from Hollywood producers. Itzkoff wrote that Marusek's 10 published short stories are “as concentrated and potent as a dwarf star.” Marusek said he hopes the compliment might convince his publishers to collect those stories, which are out of print.

- Brandon Seifert

Nothing on the radar
Pioneering turntablist DJ Radar spun vinyl... and nobody came. Fire dancers from Seattle spun flaming poi, a traditional Maori dance prop... and nobody came.

Just a few dozen people turned up at The Blue Loon on Friday, March, 10 - probably because most of Fairbanks seemed to be packed into The Marlin, where local punk band Junk Show was giving away tickets to Mexico. The Loon's Quonset hut felt like a cavern.

What do you do when you're a DJ, and there's nobody to DJ for? You play the music you want to hear. “You've got to work with what you have,” Radar said. “That's what DJing is about is adapting.” Mostly Radar just seemed happy to be in Fairbanks for the fourth time.

“I'm trying to showcase the turntable as a modern day instrument,” Radar said. He explained some of the different ways he's gone about it: creating musical notation for scratching, writing the world's first Concerto for Turntable and performing it with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall, teaching Turntablism 1 at a community college in his native Arizona, and building songs out of the sound of scratching without using any pre-recorded music.

Ask him what kind of music he spins, and he answers “everything.” At one point in the night, Radar juxtaposed The Jackson 5 and Jurassic 5.

“Electronic music, it's really separated by tempos,” Radar said. “So me, I don't see it as this genre or that genre, I see it as tempos.”

- Brandon Seifert

Thursday, March 16, 2006 

Interview with Corey Lewis (SHARKNIFE, PENG) on Buzzscope

In January I took a vacation to the Pacific Northwest, and while I was in Seattle I looked up comics creator Corey Lewis, the guy who made SHARKNIFE and PENG. Corey's just this 23-year-old dude and I went over to his house and interviewed him. He writes graphic novels with video game bits (like power bars, and button combos that unlock the hero's special moves), about robot ninjas and super-powered kickball players and incredibly badass rock bands.

His work is great, and he's awesome. The interview was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

My Articles This Week (March 9, 2006)

Saturday night with the Fites (Strobe Light)
Tim Fite is very weird, and very, very entertaining.

When the Man With Itchy Legs finally took the stage at the UAF Pub in Fairbanks Saturday, March 4, the crowd had been well prepared for strangeness. Q-Dizzle played bass in a giant bunny suit while rapping over beats from his iBook, and Isaac Paris played his usual songs about Transformers, Charlie Brown and being made very uncomfortable by SeaWorld. The Chaos/Mojo Project rocked the place with a two-man marathon slam poem, and plenty of people made buttons and stickers at the arts and crafts table near the bar. Still, after all the local talent, Fite's antics topped it all.

Listening to Fite's album gives an idea of his music's content - Americana and hip-hop squished together - but not its presentation. Live on stage, Brooklyn-based Fite plays an acoustic guitar, but he's got recordings of a bunch of other instruments - keyboards and electric guitars and more - controlled by his brother Greg. On a screen behind Fite, there he is again, playing the other instruments you hear and making spaced-out expressions.

That's just the starting point. After that, Tim Fite cavorts around the stage, makes strange gestures and expressions, recites weird poems that are illustrated and close-captioned on the screen behind him, and refers to himself in third person as “The Man With Itchy Legs.” All the while Greg Fite sits in his corner, uttering inaudible things to the audience.

When the Man With Itchy Legs told us to throw our hands in the air, we did. When a drawing of a barn showed up on the screen behind him and he told us to yell “burn it down,” we yelled “burn it down!” And when he said “I can safely say this is the hypest audience I have ever had,” we just got loud.

- Brandon Seifert

Web mushing (Flashlight)
Iditarod fans can follow their favorite mushers online now, using a computer application developed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

EarthSLOT lets you follow the route from Willow to Nome through a 3D computer simulation with graphics comparable to those of late '90s computer games. Each checkpoint is highlighted, and updated from Iditarod headquarters every 15 minutes. Wonder how far your favorite musher has made it? EarthSLOT shows you when he or she has passed through each checkpoint, and you can zoom ahead to see what kind of terrain they're facing in the next leg of the race. You can explore the map yourself or watch automated fly-throughs that follow the trail, and you can even plug a small version of the program into your homepage. The primary map is disconcertingly rendered with no snow, so the mushers look like they're going to have to somehow ford rivers, but there's an authentically snowy version too.

“It basically seemed like a nice public service to us, a way to make the race more real and exciting to those who follow it,” EarthSLOT developer and UAF Institute of Northern Engineering professor Matt Nolan explained by email. “That's basically what we hope to do for science, too - make it more real and exciting to the public who funds it.”

The program is available for PC users at, which also includes links to a file Macintosh users can run in the globe simulator Google Earth... as if Flashlight needed to waste more hours playing with Google Earth!

- Brandon Seifert

Thursday, March 02, 2006 

My Articles This Week (March 2, 2006)

Angry Young and Poor no more? (Flashlight)
Interior Media Evolution started because there wasn't enough to do in Fairbanks. Three years and many concerts, art shows and theatrical performances later, IME is ending because all of its members have too much to do.

IME, the non-profit that organized the annual Angry, Young and Poor Fest in Fairbanks, celebrated their own destruction Saturday, February 25 at the Annex Art Space. After a formal-ish reception, the party moved behind the Golden Eagle saloon in nearby Ester. “We had a nice bonfire,” said IME President Hannah Hill. “We burned all the minutes and the agendas.”

The members of IME still plan on organizing events, including a possible Angry, Young and Poor Fest this summer. With their non-profit dissolved, Hill said, they have the freedom to approach it from a new, underground direction.

- Brandon Seifert

Photonz rise again (Strobe Light)
The Photonz are again shining on Alaska.

Fairbanks was the first to see the Girdwood jam phenomenon rise again on Friday, February 24, as the Photonz took the stage at The Blue Loon, and showed the first-timers in the crowd why they're so beloved.

The Photonz - still informally known as The Photon Band, despite the Lower 48 group with legal rights to the name - are Romero Begay, Pete Townsend and Steve Norwood all on guitar and vocals (Townsend also plays mandolin), backed by Tony Restivo on bass and Benjamin Robinson and Toby Quinn on percussion. The band was an Alaska favorite at festivals and First Taps, from 1997 to 2002, when life got in the way of music and music got in the way of life. Since then they've briefly reunited several times, but never for anything more than a concert here and there. Their Loon show is the first of several scheduled shows this spring. “We've going to gig as much as we can whenever everyone's around,” Restivo said. “Otherwise, we're just living.”

The band had trouble hearing each other on stage at the Loon, and Restivo promised the band can “rock out harder” than they managed.

But to the untrained ear the band sounded great, and the Loon's crowd ate it up.

The Photonz' tagline is “electric bluegrass and cosmic funk” (“Whatever that is,” Restivo says), but they fit comfortably into the Alaska jam band tradition. The Photonz' brand of jam rock isn't 20 minutes of tinkering with a chord progression you'd need to be stoned to appreciate. They're fun and catchy, and the dance floor at the Loon saw the usual dreadlocked suspects surrounded by a varied crowd who were just as moved.

The dancing is the point of The Photonz. “I want people to jump out of their clothes” dancing, Restivo said. What's different about an audience in Fairbanks? “They wear more clothes.”

- Brandon Seifert

Saturday, November 19, 2005 

Why not? Come on! What century is this, dammit?

Oscar Brahim is an Argentinian living in Buenos Aires. He was a cab driver for a while, and has had other odd jobs. He's got a wife and two kids. And he's a guerilla artist who fights the advertising encroaching on public spaces, constantly using paint and posters to subvert billboards, revealing hidden truths behind them (giving figures on cigarette billboards speech balloons talking about cancer), profanely pointing out the conditions of society (lots of erect penises in his work, standing in for social forces that he feels "fuck" the public), or just breaking the spell of ads by making them look weird (why is that man staring so intently at a chicken? And why is the president of Argentina just sort of hanging out in that corner?).

I just saw a documentary about him, "Oscar," as part of the Margaret Mead film festival. It was great, really well done. The soundtrack especially impressed me; it was original music by a guy named Miguel Rausch, who'd work ambient sound into these electronic songs, sampling the sounds of someone using a rebreather and using it as percussion, weaving the ringing of a telephone or something approximating the sound of a train into appropriate scenes. I want this soundtrack.

What's more, I want to give these people money. This was a good documentary, I'd like to give the filmmaker some money. The soundtrack was wonderful; I want to buy it. I really like what Oscar is doing, and I know his family is having problems; I'd like to, at the very least, tip him for his work.

Why can't I?

The technology exists. As soon as I finished watching the movie, I could've logged onto a website and sent the filmmaker and Oscar each $5 or $10 or $20, clicked a couple links and had PayPal transfer the money from my checking account into theirs'. I could've logged into iTunes and bought the soundtrack. I could be paying them all for their efforts, and buying them more time to do more interesting things too. (As English writer Warren Ellis points out, when you give an artist money for their work, you aren't just reimbursing them for their time, each dollar you spend is one less dollar they need to earn at a day job, giving them more time to make more art.)

We have the technology. It's just not implimented right yet.

Monday, November 07, 2005 

Placebo Activism

It's activism that does nothing but make you feel better, make you feel like you're doing something about it. It's proactive, and makes no difference at all. It's a sugar pill that you imagine is actually medicine.

I did a little of it this weekend. I've done a lot of it in previous years. Much of it was Atavism Activism, activism that worked once but no longer has any effect on a social structure that's adapted defenses against it; but that's just a form of Placebo Activism.

I think 99% of activism, at least on my side of the political spectrum, is Placebo Activism. It you're trying to have children, you aren't going to get there by masturbating a lot.