Monday, September 26, 2011

Versus marketing

Rebecca Black is probably not a bad person. However if you are familiar with that name, you dislike and disrespect her. Heck her song is not nails-on-chalkboard material either. But I have just gotten judged negatively for saying that. And somewhere, someone is making a lot of money out of this situation.

The fundamental thing about contemporary marketing has become a drive to achieve the highest profit with the least possible effort. While that does not sound like a bad thing at all, a rabid pursuit of this ideal is something I find very undesirable. The problem with this concept is where it fixes the threshold of effort required. While it tries to minimize the effort involved by either the use of technology or some other iterative process the desired threshold for effort required is disrespected and that is where you end up with an inferior quality product that still manages to achieve the desired profit. The world is rank with such output and there is more being pumped out by the day. The marketers are happy, the makers are happy and somehow the public is happy and therefore the concept is here to stay. But there is a problem.

A strong link exists between effort taken and fun generated. Not too much focus is put on the matter but many think about it in some form or the other. Why are we such big fans of the old school way of doing things? Ideally we should have improved on old school methods and ended up with superior grade products that have the positive elements from the old school ways with newer additions thus making it some sort of super product. Somehow that does not seem the case in pretty much everything around us. The current generation of television cartoons is a computer-generated pile of colorful tripe with toilet humor and painfully stretchy formulaic situations that really need to be used in some kind of torture chamber. To my horror, all my nieces delightfully lap up hours of that treatment with their proud parents buying into all of it. The old-school merry melodies and silly symphonies that I grew up with were not just cartoons, they were productions. There was beautiful hand-drawn artwork and perfectly orchestrated music to go with it. The music was in fact a celebration and the cartoon characters came to life to etch out the music in all that they did. I am not alone in stating that these classics are a better watch any day over the current computer monsters. Then why does the industry not cater to this market?

I have really put a lot of effort into understanding the current class of industrial music with its autotune and repeat sound effects but I have failed. There was a time when music too was a production, every hit song - an original string of great synchrony and every album - a story that spoke many volumes. Why is there not a single great band of the likes of the beatles in current existence? Some grey old remains of the rock bands of yore still remain but they have over lasted their shelf life.

Indeed it is a difficult thing to create something and that is why Ilayaraja does not make the kind of music that he used to in his prime. However, just because there are easier ways to make money, a pursuit of aesthetic value in everything that we do should not be abandoned! There, that is my problem.

So there is a system that comes into existence. Someone likes something. Someone else creates it. We define it, study it and become scholars on the subject. And then we try to apply it and that is where we fail. Trying to define a winning formula is like trying to define love; it is impossible and most every one of us fails. But everyone sees a winning formula and tries to duplicate it to succeed. While they may or may not achieve their ends, here is where the dreaded marketing gurus come in and unleash their devastation on the system. It is hard for me to say this but I have to admit that current generation marketers are amazing at what they do. They know exactly how to make you crave for something, whether you appreciate its true value or not. That is why everyone of us has a google+ ID even though we do not know what to do with it. A sinister marketing drive tells you that you must have this because everyone has it and the social police will ensure your embarrassment if you don't. While we may laugh off this stupidity in all our badass right, the effect of the need to remain fitted into society is very powerful and while it should ideally never be subscribed to, it needs to be respected because most of us are subscribers.

So the marketers come up with a model. "Do a, b and c - all that are obvious parts of the winning formula that someone else put the effort to come up with and you will have a concoction that looks the part. For our bid, we will create an idea and influence minds to tell them that you are the drug that they need to be doing right now." Yeah, inception. The marketers are happy to make money out of it, the creator is happy to finish it off with least effort and the hypnotized public is told that happiness lies in following the shiny red dot.

But behind all of this madness, there is lost the aesthetic value of the product. The fun generated because there was an effort put into the product to just make it nice is lost. That is why google and apple products create such a controversy. It is not like they don't have flaws or they don't have formulaic marketing strategies. But in a broader strategy, a product like Macintosh is aesthetically done with the need to make it something elegant and not the need to implement something profitable with the least work.

So where are we getting? Whatever you do, do it because it is beautiful! It will be hard but it will be fun! Don't study for a degree. Don't learn the guitar to pick up groupies. Don't talk in pig latin because that is what gets you drinking beer with the jocks. Create something because it is fun. Put the effort because it deserves that and more. The market is like a little guy with horns on your shoulder telling you things that should not interfere with your drive to chase excellence. Don't become his zombie bitch.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

How I created my studio

It all started with just my trusty Jack and Danny brothers EG3/P lead guitar - Lois. It had a great sound box but needed the right strings. So picked up a standard D'Addario nickel-would steel set and a plugandplay mini-amplifier and I was all set to just strum away at home. But then one day Matt decided that we needed to start jamming together. He did bring it up in the past but somehow it always got put off.
So one fine day we started jamming. A week later we decided that the most fun thing to do at the moment was to go to bestbuy to browse around. There I spotted a Dean Edge hammer bass and suddenly I just had to buy it. Of course I needed a decent amplifier to go with it so within a week came a Fender 10G basic amplifier that worked fine enough for both the bass - now named Lana - and the lead.
But what is a good guitar combo without a voice? So in came a Sony F-V220 Uni-directional microphone with MDR-XD200 headphones. There now had to be a system that allowed for digital recording of vocals and instruments together because garageband sounded so much better without ambient noise. The next piece of the puzzle was therefore a Behringer XENYX502 5-Channel Mixer. I could now connect both the lead and the bass as well as a mike but by now the old 10G amplifier did not seem juicy enough and so a Fender Mustang 1 got involved.
Did I mention that by now I had gotten tired of the old Danelectro distortion pedal so I invested in a Zoom G1N multi-effects pedal? Everything I did now involved wah-wah in some consistency or the other.
It has been one of my oldest wishes to learn to drum at some point in my life. Now seemed like a good time so an Alesis DM7 kit joined the band. The old 10G amplifier now had a new boss. Within a few weeks I had to admit, drumming is way more fun than strumming. It really is.
Of course no collection is complete without a keyboard so a Casio CTK-4000 entered the pack so I could be a little bit Maroon 5 if I chose to. And that is where it stands. For now.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Are you a man of faith Mr. Venkat?

I have been dealing with a few personal losses in recent months and to get some clearance and closure on them I decided to visit a guidance counselor. I poured out my story to her over hot chocolate and at the end of the story she asked me a single question, "Are you a person of faith?". I squirmed in my seat a little bit. I wanted to say 'It is complicated' but I requested a few days to think about it and get back to her with an answer.

By a number of social definitions, I am what one could call an atheist. But I am of the honest opinion that the word is very broad and poorly defines a whole spectrum of psyches that are not unified in their approach to concepts like god and faith. Atheism implicitly demands a point of conformism - that one should be opposed or should reject the existence of the religious convention of a superior power. So a true atheist would be a religious separatist that is now involved actively in the process of rejection and removal of this so-called deity. Unfortunately that fails to cover a whole set of others that do not respect that requirement either. Broadly they may be classified into two types of people - the anarchists that just want an escape from the rules and tediousness of these organizations and the confused souls who still have not found their calling with atheism; something is still wrong.

If you are a true atheist and you are reading this, I am glad that you have found inner peace despite the warlike exterior you have going for you. But that is probably not possible because that would involve a certain calmness that should prevent you from your oppositionist tendencies. I have not managed to understand that paradox and therefore I am not one of you. But I respect your discipline towards your goal and while it is no different from that of a religious zealot, hopefully you have something right going for you. It is the same thing I would say to the other guy.

The inherent problem that I have with accepting atheism is that it fails to be a bottoms up approach where one would start from a point where they do not identify with a god and build up from there. Instead what we have is a new religion of people who are no different from the ones you see everyday debating the morality of Microsoft Versus Apple Versus Linux or what have you. If you think that I have said something positive here, contact me and I will give you my guidance counselor's phone number.

On the ones that embrace a bottoms up approach and do not fight on the battlefield of who is more blind, the two above classifications apply.

I have a simple definition for the anarchists. Basically you do not let religion get in the way of your pursuit of happiness. While I understand the point, it leads me to wonder how your happiness still gets defined by a convention of materialism that conflicts with the very same non-conformism that you originally left religion for. Many people would call that shallow and I hope your current iPhone 4 and your future iPhone 5 help you deal with that very well.

These people occasionally manage to frustrate me with their shiftiness. I do not enjoy the moral recesses that they invoke to save themselves the embarrassment of their lack of botheration over the above conflict. While the pursuit of happiness is not a wrong thing at all, If happiness just involved getting the next better thing, you enter an endless loop of attempting to find greener pastures once you have polluted your own enough. You value nothing, you respect nothing, there is a lot of selfishness and very little else. There is a heavy duty expectation of conformism from the rest of the world; something that their imperfections would never let them measure up to. It does not make you right or wrong, it just makes you a jerk. While I would love to fall for this kind of an easy life, by your definition the happiest people in the world should be Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and their million-dollar baby. If you think I was not being sarcastic there, call me and the number is yours.

As for the hapless ones that have still not found your calling, I guess I could be one of you. The question is, are you comfortable and happy with not having found it or is it still bothering you? If it is, then brother, there is no spoon. It is really all you. Love, peace and happiness are not in finally finding a system that defines you, the system is already in place. Content. That works. There will be people that will tell you that your are not aiming high enough but they are just jealous. Funnily enough, that kind of thought process would put you in the same category as a religious person in the truest sense of the world. Something like the Jim Carrey from Bruce Almightly. Does that really matter?

So after a few days of soul searching, I returned to my counselor and told her, "Yes I am a man of faith. I have faith in my family and friends. I have not seen or measured brotherhood but I have felt it and it gets me by. Someone held the door open for me today. Someone joined me for lunch. Not everyone needs to do it but someone did. At the end of my day, my dog loves me even if I dared to kick him for pleasure. I have good faith in that."

She responded, "You may leave, you have no need for me anymore. Good day."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It starts

I saw this article today on the Indian Express and my first expression was a raised eyebrow "What the hell?!!". It is not like I can confirm the authenticity of the article beyond its publication in a leading daily. Maybe it was drawn out of context and written from a skewed perspective.
But it is very important. Anything good can only be started with losing ego and apologizing even if it is not really your fault. A majority of the world's problems even the big ones, can actually be solved if someone just manages the balls to say sorry and make up. Hope some good comes out of this at least now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Waiting for Superman

There are two kinds of Pessimists and Optimists - one that use their perspective to do something about the situation and the other that don't. The optimist that does not do anything is essentially a pessimist that feels that anything done changes nothing. Except with a veiled reality of utopia wrapped over his face by either ignorance or media stimulation. The pessimist that does something about a situation - well they don't really exist. If you are doing something about a situation on your own then you feel at least mildly optimistic about the result. If you still insist that you are a pessimist and are doing something about a situation then your "situation" probably does not exist and you are going monkey-tripe over a non-issue.
I struck gold in grad school when I entered the McKenna lab because I needed life lessons and Rob offered them in subtle plentifuls. Rob has been a very inspirational mentor and it has often come when I needed it most. In seconds, a dark mood is replaced by a bright one and it becomes time to change the playlist you are listening to. However we have had moments where my spirit has been crushed brutally and I am urged to listen to RATM for the rest of the day. Why does that happen?
Either out of a larger than life marketing of social icons by the media or a personal sense of fantasy, we romanticize a bit too much with a certain ideal personality in people that is never going to exist too long. Human society is not as evolved as your social bugs or even dogs to get past our imperfections. Romanticizing with an idea is a great high; that is what even got me writing this blog instead of staying in bed with Scoobie. But like all rehabilitated drug addicts will tell you, life cannot be run on highs.
So do I go listen to RATM at that moment? Not when AC/DC still exists on this planet! The point is that Rob never promised to me that he will be the Gandalf that I imagined him to be at my major moments of high. And getting disillusioned now would be of detriment to me and me alone. As my grandmother once said...well never mind what she said; there is always hope. Running away from a situation in a moment of weakness may sometimes involve a lifetime of justifying it with a more stupid idealistic plot or worse.
The important thing is that at least Rob is trying and bless him we need all of that and more. 'Talk happiness. The world is sad enough without your woe.' says a cheap poster on my bedroom wall. My dad bought me that when I was 8. He probably saw me go through this phase after experiencing my first real earthquake.
However it is not entirely wrong to romanticize, in fact it is very important to do that! That is what will drive you towards a certain ideal, build your personality and keep you sane. But it is important to be detached from it enough to save yourself for the future when it does not work the last time you tried. That is exactly what gets Rob from doing something destructive when he stops smiling. All he does is go into a shell and come out a butterfly.
It does not matter what drives you to do something to help the situation, debating ideals really gets you nowhere. What would be real useful though is to be working towards them continuously and consciously. You are never really going to marry Johnny Depp but I am sure if you got the chance to do so it will be a lot less fun than it was in your dreams. But with a little detachment, your life could be pretty cool just the way things are.
So don't get annoyed at that person that smiles a bit too much just because she has too many facebook friends. She is probably doing something right. On the worst day of your life if you laugh at yourself before you go to sleep, all is well.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Midnight inspiration

There once met the Huskies and the Huskers
On the gridiron like raging tuskers
But the predictions got beat
and the corn got eat
and the huskees had become the Huskers

-Based on the 2011 Holiday Bowl

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Testimonial - Dennis Neeld

It has been my distinct privilege to know Mr. Dennis K. Neeld. He is by far the coolest person I know in the dictionary meaning of the word. Mr. Neeld is a professional bowler, comic sketch artist and a microbiologist but that is not what makes him a great person to know. To just put it simply, whatever he does, he does with style. He owns every book I wish I had. He has every piece of clothing or accessory I was thinking of getting. Any movie that I thought was cult he had already memorized the dialogues. If you got a hi-five from Dennis, you have done something really cool. He has basically been the determinant of what is cool and what is not. He has perfected the art of saying 'thats what she said' within 0.2 seconds of an instance, a day after that episode. You get the idea.
But that is not what makes Mr. Neeld a good friend. We started off quite badly actually; I called him out for talking during my first presentation in my graduated program. He muttered something under his breath but did not beat me up later. A week later however, I did my first serious socializing in the program at his place and I just took off after that. I have learnt to appreciate and judge fine beer from being around him. His wedding was my first american wedding and indeed the first wedding of a friend that I have been to and observed closely. Even during the wedding, Dennis added his own touch to it with a sober hi-five to his sister right in the middle of the ceremony. I have spent countless hours playing rockband at his place and appreciating the finer aspects of american football. Despite my prosperous self-image I still feel like that annoying little friend kid around Mr. Neeld. A privilege indeed it has been sir.


For the next few months I plan to post a testimonial every friday about one special close friend. Yeah thats that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Lucy in the sky with Darbari Kanada

A lot of people do not choose to attach a genre to their favorite music simply because of a seeming disparity observed sometimes. "I just like to listen to anything good that my friends bring to me". Cool. My girlfriend once told me that she has an eclectic taste in movies. She likes Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd and The Nightmare before Christmas. I suggested to her that she probably would like the Corpse Bride too, because she just described every trademark Tim Burton movie this side of Batman (Interestingly she had never bothered to check on who the maker in every one of these movies was). The point is sometimes it can be fun to explore what common thread links your taste, just so you can explore better on your own and find new treasure.
However some threads are a bit more elusive that just a surprise common maker. I have always identified two broad genres to define my primary taste in music - heavy metal (with its allies - grunge and punk) and carnatic classical music. Yeah, Metallica and MS, Nirvana and nadaswaram. There is something of a superficial disparity in the matter but I insist that it is not difficult to pick up the general equation to this. I will use the Chala Nattai raga as an example in this.
Here is a standard carnatic classical piece in Chala Nattai. Ilayaraja has been a genius in the use of this raga here and here. A. R. Rehman added some Oscar glory to this (and this) and world audiences noticed. Some more work from "machans" Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy gave them stardom. Finally some talented youngster came up with this and we have hit mainstream psychedelic rock. So what has really changed beyond the beat and some mucus in the voice?

What was psychedelic rock when Black Sabbath and Led Zep started was derivatized to metal after gaining blues rock influences. A decade or so later Grunge was created. And that, is the linking thread.

Waitaminnit!? Am I daring to reduce pure carnatic music to something that people listen to while smoking pot? Is that all carnatic music is? Psychedelic rock? No. But it is definitely psychedelic! And that is what I am talking about. Every so-called rock song composed by Ilayaraja, who had such profound carnatic influences in all his songs, has been a bluesy psychedelic rock piece.

So, fellow explorers, stereotyping (if that be the word for it) may not always be a bad thing if it allows you to identify and understand some fundamental links in the theory of music to make one a better listener. Listening to music is after all, an art.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yaay life.

Rob reminded me on Friday to bring my passport to TN. He forgot his on Monday when I waved mine in his face. So he went home and bought his green card but Mavis' passport. After a last minute check we went to his house to correct the mistake. He now has Mavis' green card and his passport.