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Like most moviegoers after Inception, I left the theatre with a lot of questions about the movie. Last week, we were presented with yet another.  Inception‘s soundtrack is comprised of two elements: composer Hans Zimmer’s largely ambient, stringy score, and “Non, je ne regrette rien” – the classic chanson sung by Edith Piaf, which Leo and his crew use to communicate with their dreaming teammates.  It is just a tiny bit more complicated than that: Zimmer used a sample of the Piaf tune in the making of his score, which he confirmed last Wednesday (after Internet speculation).

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVkQ0C4qDvM]

The device is a pretty clever manipulation of what film people call “diegetic music” — any music the source of which appears on screen, such as a radio playing.  (The score itself is “extradiegetic” music.)  Film composers have done this before — think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or For a Few Dollars More, in which Morricone eerily incorporated the melody played by an old watch.

Zimmer takes it a step further.   He’s applied one of the major themes of Inception to his treatment of the Piaf sample.  Because time moves more slowly for the Inception dreamers employing “Non, je ne regrette rien,” Zimmer slowed their cue music to match.  The chanson is a quick waltz whose downbeats are accompanied by a trio of light French horns going “da-dum” — the pairs of brassy throbs that permeate the score are a sort of slowed-down version of those.  Throughout the score, there are lines marked by the kind of distinct artifacts left by music slowed down: slight imperfections in pitch, and a lack of upper overtones recognizable to anybody who has accidentally played a 45 at 33 rpm.

But rather than impressed, some vocal Inception fans feel cheated.  Long chains of internet comment have been just a tad more polite than a YouTube user who remarked of Zimmer, “what a fucking thief.”  Even the MSM are in on the action: The Guardian erred grossly with the headline “Inception soundtrack created entirely from Edith Piaf song.”

Zimmer made a tried-and-true compositional device innovative for the first time in decades.  And there’s hardly a measure of pop music now that doesn’t use sampling.  So the outrage seems inexplicable.  But no more so, I guess, than a few other things about Inception.

— Becky Sullivan

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Over the last few days, the internet has ooed and aahed over a viral marketing campaign from Old Spice.  In just two days, a production team and a charming actor named Isaiah Mustafa created 183 short videos; instead of paying for TV airtime, Old Spice simply uploaded them to YouTube.  It was the kind of bombshell that the creative minds at Sterling Cooper could only dream of.

The fictional ad agency at the center of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper is late to the game on a lot of ideas. The show’s writers often appropriate real advertising campaigns of the 60s for their plot lines.  In an early episode, creative director Don Draper opens up a magazine to the iconic Volkswagen “Lemon” ad; Maidenform’s racy bra campaigns push them to propose a sexier set of ads to their client, the more conservative Playtex.

The last season ended in November 1963, so I’d bet money that this season uses the famous “Daisy” ad from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign, which startled the nation by linking Barry Goldwater to nuclear war.  (It was yanked from the airwaves, but replayed often on news outlets; you can see 1964 ads from both candidates at the Museum of the Moving Image’s website.)  “Daisy” was designed by Doyle Dan Bernbach, a firm that Mad Men’s writers have already co-opted as one of Sterling Cooper’s competitors.

And Mad Men has itself become the subject of real-life ad campaigns.  Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers have both used Mad Men to entice men to make like dapper Draper and his boss, the slick Roger Sterling.  Last fall, Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky explored the Draper fetish among American slobs, and you can hear it here.

— Becky Sullivan

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It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? Until one of the art world’s most renowned institutions began trafficking in amateur YouTube videos…

That’s the turn New York’s Guggenheim Museum is making. Instead of enlisting high-art hot shots, the museum will look to the masses for their fall schedule. Internet nobodys are currently submitting their video art for “YouTube Play,” an exhibit filled exclusively by online entrants.

I find the idea very cool. People who are not professional artists have the chance to present work in one of the world’s finest museums. Plus, the pieces will undoubtedly be engaging and weird — after all, it is the Guggenheim.

But the self-described “Biennial of Creative Video” begs the question of whether we need a museum, or any physical space, to show this kind of art. YouTube is already something of a gallery, a free one that operates 24/7 right from your computer. Why leave your house to see something you can pull up in any web browser?

On the other hand, the point of an art exhibition is to get many people into the same room, thinking and talking about what’s in front of them. “YouTube Play” would be a vast improvement on the way people usually interact with these videos: by leaving anonymous, half-baked comments on a website.

And the Guggenheim must have an eye on YouTube’s audience: that coveted demographic of younger users most (if not all) museums long to capture. We live in an age in which some of the most interesting new art is already at our fingertips – it takes years for it to reach gallery walls. So perhaps what the Guggenheim is saying is: if you can’t beat them, join them.

Submit your video through July 31 (read the fine print here) — a selection of up to 20 videos will be on view to the public October 22–24, with simultaneous presentations at the Guggenheim museums in Berlin, Bilbao, and Venice.

-Stephen Reader

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In 1969, experimental composer Alvin Lucier designed a simple project with a not-so-simple intention.   He sat in a room and made a short recording of his voice, which he then played back into the same room and re-recorded.  Lucier then re-recorded the re-recording, and repeated this process over and over again, making copies of copies until his voice became completely unintelligible. However, he found that the shape and size of the physical space emphasized certain frequencies over the course of the process – so what you’re hearing by the end of the actual “piece” is the room’s natural harmonic tendencies.  In effect, Alvin Lucier turned his room into an instrument.

The work was appropriately titled, I Am Sitting in a Room.  Last year, YouTube user canzona took inspiration from Lucier to begin his own project, I Am Sitting in a Video Room, which came to conclusion just last month.  canzona did the same thing as Lucier, only with a YouTube clip; he uploaded a video of himself, ripped it from YouTube, re-uploaded it, and repeated the process 1,000 times.

It’s worth noting that in the updated version, the project shows how the internet and all digitized information produce unexpected phenomena the same way physical environments do.  At work in canzona’s project are the “artifacts inherent in the video codec of both YouTube and the mp4 format.” Just as Lucier “played” a room, canzona “played” YouTube.

Each iteration of canzona’s video is available on YouTube.  A redux version of I Am Sitting in a Video Room is forthcoming, which should allow users to experience the gradual disintegration continuously from start to finish.  The effect may not necessarily be pleasant – but it makes you wonder if doing the same thing to another, more sonically- or visually-rich clip could result in something more beautiful than the original.  With an estimated 120,000,000+ on YouTube, the possibilities for this kind of experimentation are endless.

– Stephen Reader

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We all know that the Internet has its drawbacks. (Why do I know that Sandra Bullock’s husband cheated on her?  Why does a certain relatives think I enjoy videos of kittens?)  But its power to aggregate—pulling material from across time and around the world—can still knock your socks off.  I stumbled across an example this week: the UK Guardian’s list of 50 greatest arts videos on YouTube.

The list is a couple of years old, but the clips are classics.  Madonna’s very un-polished first show at Danceteria in 1982.  Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discussing Lolita.  Stravinsky conducting Firebird.   Pollock dripping paint, Nirvana practicing in a garage before they hit.  All these things existed before, somewhere; but you’d have spent years of your life hunting them down.  In the mountainous slag heap of YouTube, there are plenty of loose diamonds, if you know where to look.

And if you do want to see some kittens, click here.  

—Cary Barbor

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Finally, a YouTube time-suck guaranteed to delight you with repeated viewings.  If, by the end, your jaw is not scraping the floor, you will be sporting an ear-to-ear smile of gee-whiz amazement.

The band OK Go made viral video history back in 2006 with their goofy treadmill choreography. For one of their new tunes, “This Too Shall Pass,” they hired pals, who by day work for  NASA and the Jet Propulsion laboratory,  to execute a mechanical feat of genius inspired by Rube Goldberg contraptions. The vid was posted Monday after the band’s brief battle with their label EMI, which originally wouldn’t allow the video to be embeddable.

It’s extraordinary geekery with one potential setback: the mesmerizing visuals may just eclipse the music. As one commenter on YouTube posted today: AMAZING! but did anyone actually pay attention to the song?

– Michele Siegel

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Last week, singer-songwriter Zee Avi brought her ukulele by the studio. From what we’ve been hearing from listeners, she has a bunch of new fans since the broadcast – including me.

Hearing her play the uke took me back. I can picture the one we had lying around our house and I remember how my school-age fingers found those fat strings much friendlier than the sharp metal ones on the guitar. It’s cool to hear Zee Avi making grown-up music on that instrument.

I recently discovered some other musicians who make cool, grown-up music on a “kid” instrument too. Their choice: the recorder. Remember the recorder? That whistling torture device employed by children nationwide.

I never really got anywhere with mine. But I was thrilled to find Tim Eriksen playing “Carol of the Birds.” Like Zee Avi, he does something special with the instrument + YouTube. In his case, it’s playing all four parts of the piece of music and using a split screen to form his one-man quartet. Neato!

– Cary Barbor

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