Monday, September 29, 2014

Music According to Benedict - Thom Yorke's Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Longtime fans of Benedict Cumberbatch who've followed his musical tastes know of his appreciation for Radiohead and lead singer Thom Yorke. In the past, Cumberbatch has openly admitted Radiohead's significance to him - as if their music were the soundtrack to his life (never more so than "How To Disappear Completely" - the song he heard before and during his carjacking while filming BBC's "To The Ends of the Earth.")

Radiohead's first hit, "Creep" is the one most people can recognize, but it's not indicative of the band's sound or the albums released while under contract to EMI. While Benedict talks of an extraordinary life, it seems that if one listens to the artists he mentions during interviews and Q&A's, he is drawn to artists who see the extraordinary in the parts that comprise songs, whether it be the music, lyrics, instruments, orchestration - and, in the case of Radiohead and Thom Yorke, distribution. Just last year, the outspoken Yorke described Spotify as:

 “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” 

Picturesque, isn't it?

Before that, Thom didn't seem fond of CDs, either. In a 2009 interview with Believer, Yorke admitted: "...I always hated CDs. Me and Stanley [Donwood, Radiohead’s longtime album-art designer] always hated CDs. Just a f*cking nightmare," adding that he was happy to see that format disappear.

The message seems to be consistent, even with the press release for the new album:

It's an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around ...
If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work.
Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves.
Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.

One might be able to get around gate-keepers, but that cannot be said of the critics. Reviews have been, well, mixed, at best, although there have been close to 500K downloads as of this writing. Zach Schonfeld of AV Club commented that the record illuminates "how Thom Yorke and longtime co-conspirator Nigel Godrich like to spend their free time," before they begin the newest band album, while Mark Beaumont of The Guardian observed that "much of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes sounds distinctly unambitious" while admitting "it’s unfair to expect Yorke to dismantle and resolder the circuit boards of modern music every time he releases a record." (Mark's review is colorful and well worth the read, by the way. Check it out!)

NME's review, like others, acknowledged the daring that comes more with the distribution of the music than with the contents customers receive: "Not so long ago, musicians like Yorke strived to push the artistic envelope; now it seems the focus has shifted towards finding the most ethical and efficient way to mail it."

For me, the challenge is the delivery service Yorke chose, announcing it on Twitter on Sept. 26.

While elevating the BitTorrent Bundle brand and giving himself artistic freedom and control, what makes it better for the customer? Today's consumers are usually motivated by price AND convenience. The price? $6.00 USD, which is very reasonable IF you love the band and know you'll enjoy the record. However, in the age of iTunes and Amazon, where you can hear a song sample, or Spotify, Pandora and 8Tracks, where you can listen to music at no charge before you buy, it seems a safe bet for Yorke and Radiohead to choose alternative distribution AFTER they earned critical and commercial success with a 6-album deal with EMI that began in 1991. There is less risk and more control for them, but that can't be said for us, the buyer. Times and tastes change - and the music industry has, too. A typical Radiohead fan has likely been along for the ride from the beginning - and my guess is that they enjoy the convenience of digital downloads, streaming radio apps  - and the efficiency of iTunes (and they probably bought a few CDs, too.)

Perhaps this is the evolution of digital downloads, and fans will follow where Thom leads. To find out more, you can click on the Twitter link above or check out Radiohead's press release, which details BitTorrent Bundles method for selling Tomorrow's Modern Boxes - or check out the video and audio tracks for "A Brain in A Bottle" below:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch and the Case of A Beastly Interview


Via HindustanTimes

I debated about writing since reading Benedict Cumberbatch's interview with entertainment editor Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast last week. What he said, what he meant, how the reporter's questions and opinion influenced the interview - and I hoped that Cumberbatch would say something - anything - in response to reader and fan reaction.

That hasn't happened, so here I am, writing - because the interview still bothers me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Quote #6 - My Favorite Movie Hero (by Benedict Cumberbatch)

Courtesy AMPAS

In preparation for the 2013 Academy Awards telecast, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences ("a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures - Wikipedia) created a gallery of actors who would be presenting Oscars during the telecast. Benedict Cumberbatch would be paired with Jennifer Garner during the program, and, earlier that evening, showed his prowess at making the most of his time on-camera for fun by photobombing U2 on the red carpet.

Curiously enough, the whimsy and welling up we saw on display that night (witness his reaction during the acceptance speech of 12 Years A Slave co-star and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o as Best Supporting Actress), may be all some Americans know about him, until they looked at the Oscars' online gallery of photographs and quotes.

Benedict's quote offers insight into what moves and motivates the actor  - at least to my mind, because it connects his love of art, language, the human spirit - and performing. Given the characters he's chosen to play and the causes he chooses to promote, it seems no coincidence that his favorite hero in film - unlike, say, Kristen Bell's choice of Ace Ventura (for his care of animals) - was someone quite real, quite remarkable and quietly fighting to LIVE, despite circumstances beyond his control.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams, Vincent van Gogh & A Spark of Madness by Benedict Cumberbatch

Courtesy BBC
"I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process."
- Vincent van Gogh

Self–Portrait with a Straw Hat 1887 - Metropolitan Museum of Art
 "If I succeed in putting some warmth and love into the work, then it will find friends." -Vincent van Gogh
Recent news reports of untimely celebrity deaths - in light of the suicide of Academy Award winning actor Robin Williams - have also brought Vincent Van Gogh to mind for some: the Picasso painting sent by Disney in an attempt to settle a dispute (in which Picasso painted himself as van Gogh) or, a similarity in personalities (a genius with a touch of madness who found life too difficult) Observations and opinions are flooding website and social media, as well as the sorrow felt by others whenever a brilliant mind, capable of creating vivid images and emotional connections through prose, personality or paint, is - however briefly - unable to cope with living and takes ultimate control by cutting their life short.

Mental health is far too complex an issue to be addressed in a blog such as this. If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with depression or any condition that affects well-being, you know how complicated treatment is, how terrifying it is to be unable to control your thoughts and feelings, how others can misunderstand - and what is unhealthy for you to watch or read.

What we can do here is celebrate the legacy of beautiful minds in strong bodies who kept working, despite the challenges caused by emotional, psychological and/or mental distress. Robin Williams widow  released a statement regarding her husband: " he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson's Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly. It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"War Horse" - Finding the Words for World War I

Courtesy Dreamworks

“They fight a war and they don't know what for. Isn't that crazy? How can one man kill another and not really know the reason why he does it, except that the other man wears a different color uniform and speaks a different language?” 
― Michael Morpurgo, War Horse

The 100th anniversary of World War I will make news this week, primarily in Europe, as families recall their personal connection to the war, and journalists recount the war's impact on soldiers, families, and animals.

The loss of life - as well as a way of living - is cause for some to mourn, to honor and, even today, speak out against all that is lost, futile and senseless about going into battle.

The thing is - creative people who served and survived the Great War had been doing that for some time, from poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to composers Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as authors J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit) and C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch, Ed Sheeran - and Espresso Martinis

To celebrate the weekend, especially one that includes Peter Jackson AND Benedict Cumberbatch appearing at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, it seems appropriate to raise a glass to these fine folks - and the fact you made it through another week.

Earlier this summer, Ed Sheeran released his second album, Multiply, and mentioned to the press that Cumberbatch hoped to appear in the video, but that part of his management team decided it was a poor idea.

Ed Sheeran and Benedict Cumberbatch didn't necessarily work together for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but it is a shared reason for them to celebrate.

We start with the more traditional Q&A, courtesy of TwoTubesTV, where we hear a glimpse into the songwriting process for Ed, and Benedict's tribute of sorts to his dad, actor Timothy Carlton, by playing "Smaugy."

Benedict Cumberbatch at Comic-Con: The Characterization of Smaug

During a Q &A with MTV's Josh Horowitz Thursday after the DreamWorks Animation panel for "Penguins of Madagascar" at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, Benedict Cumberbatch confirmed that he would be back in Hall H on Saturday for "The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies" panel. Of course, attendees and Hobbit fans will be excited to see director Peter Jackson, who missed last year's event due to filming conflicts, along with cast members from the film trilogy - and the chance to get a sneak peek at the director's vision of the final chapters in the beloved book.

However, if Thursday's reaction in Hall H is any indication, the big draw, once again, may be Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed Smaug (which doesn't rhyme with 'smog') and the Necromancer.

During Thursday's panel, attendees were cautioned to avoid off-topic questions for Benedict, or, as Craig Ferguson warned, "Comic-Con will be cancelled."

That's unlikely to recur during "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" BUT,  those who were allowed to ask questions of the panelists on Thursday found themselves at a loss as to what to ask.

We're here to help. Think of this as your source material, with links to even MORE information - should you find yourself in a long line waiting to catch a glimpse of "he-who-shall-flirt-with-the media-about-future-projects."