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U2 3D

I had a fun surprise last night -- an invitation to preview the new movie U2 3D. Spoiler alert: I'll be telling you how it ends. On the other hand, that might not be so important for a concert film.

U2 fans will absolutely LOVE this movie. I have stood at the feet of all four band members at various points (yes, including Larry -- I was in the very front row on the floor and directly in front of his mini-kit for "Love and Peace Or Else" when I saw U2 in DC). U2 fans know that if you're lucky enough to get tickets for the floor at a U2 concert, you're going to have to make some decisions. In front of Bono, Edge, or Adam, all of whom roam the stage, but have a particular spot to which they keep returning? If you're lucky enough to get into the 'heart' or 'ellipse' that forms a B-stage, are you going to try to be in the very front, knowing that you'll be closer to the band more of the time (being close enough to shout requests -- which they do take sometimes -- or converse a little is VERY fun), but might not be able to see them at all when they roam out on the B-stage?

In U2 in 3D, you don't have to decide; the camera roams. If you want to know the condition of Bono's roots (I'd advise him to lay off the hair dye and stick with his current crew cut) or Edge's pores (best skin in the band, I think), you'll be in heaven. The drawback, of course, is that you don't get to choose on whom you'll focus at a given moment; the director chooses for you. And the director isn't a guitarist, I'll wager; when the camera shows The Edge, there's usually light behind him or something about the angle that prevents you from seeing what he's actually playing. But that's the complaint of a guitar geek, and more often than not, I thought the director's visual choices were solid ones.

The musical choices I would have made differently. For starters, the film in 90 minutes long -- much shorter than a U2 concert. There's no "City of Blinding Lights," which opened most shows on the tour, and that I thought nearly recaptured the exuberance of 80's shows opening with "I Will Follow." "Mysterious Ways" got cut, I believe, as did "Elevation." And one of the most fun things about the Vertigo tour was how many old and seldom-played songs came out again to play -- I particularly loved being there for performances of "The Ocean" and "Cry/The Electric Co.," and I would have loved the chance to see U2 perform "Gloria" and "40" again in the film. But the technical demands and expense of the 3D technology made a longer movie impractical, as I understand it, and the bottom line is that this movie is a blast.

I admit I was wary of the 3D technology; the last time I think I saw something in 3D was from the children's magazine Dynamite, with cheesy glasses, one lens red and one blue, that you tore out of the magazine. The technology is MUCH better than that, as you'd expect, and the 3D contributed to the experience in ways I wouldn't have expected. There were a couple of 3D moments that felt a bit gratuitous -- I don't think I needed to have the neck of Adam's bass zoom out at my face quite as often as I found myself, and watching a 65-foot Bono reach out his hand toward me made me feel a bit like Fay Wray in King Kong, about to be carried up the Empire State Building by a gigantic rock star. And it's annoying enough in an actual concert when someone climbs up on another person's shoulders in front of you; I was even more annoyed in the few (and, thankfully, fleeting) moments when the 3D technology was used to replicate that experience in the film. But the 3D helped to convey the scale and energy of the arena in zooming shots over the crowd, and there's something about it that helped also to convey the chemistry between the band members -- how they communicate and joke around with one another during songs. And the technology was used to great effect during "The Fly," when the words and slogans that flash across screens in concerts drop down or zoom out at you in layers.

The best part of the technology, though, in my experience was the sound. The total surround sound of the IMAX theater made watching the movie feel like being at a concert, but with MUCH higher-fidelity music. The treble is crisp, so Larry's cymbals and even the subtle 'chink' sound of The Edge's trademark guitar picks (dimpled Herdim picks played with the flat end down, creating a percussive sound) came across with astonishing clarity. The bass rumbled impressively, and was brought forward in the mix particularly when the camera was on Adam, and it was the kind of rich bass you feel in your sternum. It felt loud in the ways you want a rock concert to feel loud, but with far fewer decibels; all but the most sensitive should be able to leave the earplugs at home (something that, as a musician, I NEVER do for a concert, and especially when I'm up front in an arena or stadium).

And the performances in U2 3D are classic U2 -- occasionally dramatic to the point of being maudlin or bludgeoning a metaphor, but earnest and moving. Bono's voice isn't what it used to be, but he knows how to use what he's got. The Edge's bluesy solo on "Bullet the Blue Sky" remains one of my favorites of his career. The rhythm section is tight (and Larry fans will rejoice to see lots of his bulging biceps). And this movie is about the music -- Bono doesn't preach more than a couple of sentences at a time between songs, and, interestingly enough, the ONE/Make Poverty History campaign aren't even fleetingly mentioned.

It's possible that politics (even politics with as diverse support as the Millennium Development Goals attract) were minimized in the film to maximize the opportunity posed by U2 3D to win new fans -- people who like U2 when they hear them on the radio, but who would never shell out the money and go through the traffic, crowds, and hassles of a live show. I doubt the film will do much of that. U2 is such a huge band that they're hard to avoid, and I think they've won most of the fans they'll have. That's an awful lot of fans, of course, and now fans of multiple generations (a LOT of parents bring children to U2 concerts, and in many cases, the kids know all the words too). I kind of missed those fans at the movie last night; the preview crowd was a very small one, and it looked to me mostly like executive types (grey hair, arriving in a suit and taking off their tie as they settled into their seats). The cheering and singing along was, I think, all from people in Buenos Ares, where U2 3D was filmed.

But folks, this is as close you'll get to the experience of a U2 concert without going to one -- or until U2's next tour. And that's more than good enough for the fans. U2 3D is a movie I'd be tempted to see again.

January 23, 2008 in Movies, Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

virtual sweatshop, real clothes

This is really, really interesting. There's a pair of artists at Sundance who are paying characters in the Second Life virtual world virtual currency to operate a virtual machine that generates graphics files of designer jeans. These files are then printed on cotton and assembled into jeans that are wearable by people in 'realspace.' It's interesting on a number of levels.

There's the relationship between 'virtual' and 'real,' certainly. There's another set of issues this raises, though: One can buy Lindens, the virtual currency of Second Life, with your ('real') credit card. The workers in this Second Life/'realspace' factory get paid in virtual currency worth roughly 90 cents for each hour they work. Makes me wonder what the Second Life workers' stories are. Possibilities I can see as to who is attracted to work in a Second Life sweatshop:

  • a kid who doesn't have a credit card, or wouldn't be allowed to use it to buy virtual currency;
  • someone who is addicted to Second Life and would be interacting with its environment and characters for hours anyway, and so figures s/he may as well get paid for it, even if the pay is horrible;
  • people who find it fun to work the virtual machines and/or like their co-workers in the virtual factory (the artists who put this together mention this one specifically).

Curious? Here's some video of the artists at Sundance demonstrating and talking about their work:

January 23, 2008 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Real Live Preacher on new wineskins and Episcopalians

I'm a huge fan of Gordon Atkinson, AKA Real Live Preacher, and am also glad to call him a friend. Today he was talking about eating a whole can of olives, and, as sometimes happens, he ended up thinking about homosexuality and the church. Specifically, The Episcopal Church:

To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows quite what to do in church anymore. For years church people told us that homosexuality was evil and not just a sin but a very bad sin. They had us all scared of homosexuals, that we might even become one or something if we were around them. And you just assumed that the Bible was chock-full of commandments about homosexuals and them even going to hell for being that. I mean, you just assumed that because the church people were so sure of themselves and talked about it like it was a fact.

But then some people started reading the Bible very carefully, all the parts people said were about homosexuality. And some of them said, “Oh shit! The Bible hardly says anything about homosexuality at all. And what it does say is pretty hard to understand.” So those people said we should just leave homosexuals alone and let them come to church and let their relationships be between them and God, like all relationships are.

But now, see, the ones who thought homosexuality was a really bad thing were getting tired of the changes. It seemed like you hardly heard a hymn in church anymore, and people were dressing sloppy on Sundays, and women were preaching, and you could hardly find a King James Bible anywhere. So I think they just decided to dig their heels in on this whole homosexuality thing. And it became like a religious war, and it’s gotten so bad that even the Episcopalians are fighting over it. And that’s scary because you expect the Baptists will make fools of themselves over stuff like this, but we’ve always counted on the Episcopalians to keep their wits about them and be careful and never ever allow themselves to get so divided over something that they might actually split their church in two.

Read the whole thing here.

January 21, 2008 in Churchiness, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

an interview with Phyllis Tickle: oy veh.

Blogger Kimberly Winston has published an interview with Phyllis Tickle about her most recent book, The Words of Jesus. The book removes words attributed to Jesus in the four canonical gospels from any narrative context and then prints them with reflections from Tickle.

I like Phyllis Tickle, and am a great admirer of her previous work, but this sounds like a project that, if not misbegotten entirely, is at the very least built on the shakiest of premises. She seems to think that when you remove text about Jesus' actions and setting, you "get rid of the author" of the gospels and get direct access to Jesus himself. "And when you get rid of the author," she says, "you have removed the filter" of previous interpretation of Jesus' words (and, I'd add, actions). "You can be stripped naked," she says, "of all the preconceptions and the conditions that you have come to the scriptures dressed in or robed in or anaesthetized in and meet here stark naked what your God is."

How on earth could she think that the writers of the gospels aren't exercising their authorial voice in their selection, ordering of, and, yes, the wording of speech attributed to Jesus? Anyone who reads Matthew's version of the Beatitudes alongside Luke's version would have a hard time making that claim, I'd think. And how on earth could she think that we as readers can shed our skin and read anything without our reading being shaped by the lense of OUR cultural, social, and historical context? Reading communities shape our views of texts. That's not a bad thing; it's just part of the package of being human and making meaning. If we did get "stripped naked of all the preconceptions," as Tickle says her book will do for us, we wouldn't be able to interpret texts about Jesus at all -- they'd be nothing to us but a bunch of chicken scratches on pages had we not been taught to read, and in a particular context that inevitably shapes what we think of what we read.

Oy veh.

And besides, I think that Jesus' actions -- particularly his healings, confronting oppressive powers, and most importantly his willingness to suffer death on a Roman cross rather than undermine his prophetic ministry or retaliate with violence -- are a crucial part of the frame through which we interpret Jesus' words. Would it matter if he said "love your enemies" if what he did when people came to arrest him was to hack several of them to death with a machete? And what would it do to Jesus' words, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" had he said them about someone getting his order wrong in a cafe in Jerusalem rather than as he faced his death?

I'll probably read this book, and I hope it turns out to be better and more helpful than it sounds. But at the very least, I'm rather sad about how it's being presented by the author.

January 20, 2008 in Books, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

meet the Reverend Nadine

Nadine There's someone to whom I should introduce you. This is Nadine. The Reverend Nadine Charger. The first guitar I've named, actually -- she's the lovely electric guitar in the foreground. She's a Reverend brand guitar, I'm glad to say, as Reverends are well and rightfully known for their exceptional craftsmanship, sound, and value, and this one's no exception. I thought that this was a Reverend Jetstream, and that's what it was advertised as being, but as it turns out, Nadine is a Reverend Charger HB-FM, an increasingly rare discontinued model. The body of the guitar is mahogany, like a Les Paul, but it's chambered in the interior, making it lighter (Les Pauls are known for being so heavy that guitarists who perform regularly with them have gotten repetitive stress injuries!) and more resonant, and it's got a flame maple top that brightens the sound a bit. The pickups are two Reverend humbuckers. The color is tobacco burst. The combination of features makes this guitar a true rarity -- one of only ten made, Joe Naylor, president of Reverend, tells me. And I LOVE this guitar! The sound is incredible, and incredibly versatile. It's got a 'bass contour' knob that lets me get everything from classic and full Les Paul sounds (but without the 'mud' to which Les Pauls are sometimes prone) to Fender-esque twangy blues and even surf music.

And how did I get this guitar? It's a classic story of the wonders of connectivity in a network -- both the Internet and the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. I'd blogged about my lust for a Reverend guitar. As it turned out, a used one was being sold via Craigslist in Tuscon. That's a rare thing to happen -- people who buy Reverend guitars tend to love them dearly and never, ever let them go, so they're hard to find used. This one was at an incredibly low price as well. But it was in Tuscon. Who did I know in Tuscon? No one. But fellow EpiscoBlogger Nick Knisely did, and gave a call to a deacon he knew there. Nadine (the deacon) didn't play guitar herself, but was willing to get a little online tutoring from me in how to check that one is a genuine Reverend and in good shape. And Nadine very generously met the seller, examined the guitar, bought it on my behalf, and packed it lovingly for shipment to join me in the Distant East. And so the guitar got her name -- the Reverend Nadine, after the Reverend Deacon Nadine who connected me with the guitar.

Once I knew this guitar was heading my way, I actually wrote a song with it in mind -- "No Greater Love," a chorus with lyrics taken from John's Gospel in memory of Jonathan Daniels, suitable for congregational use on his feast day or that of any martyr. I've been describing it as "Peter Gabriel takes The Edge (U2's guitarist) to Taizé," and people have found that an apt description. I actually play it by hooking up my guitar to a soundboard and my Mac Book Pro, which runs a program called Guitar Rig 3. Guitar Rig lets me emulate via the software just about any amplifier, cabinet, or guitar effect I could want -- including the multiple chains of amplifiers and effects that performers like The Edge use to create their sound. It's fabulous -- a package that's not cheap for a seminarian, to be sure, but that lets a musically-inclined seminarian get and record sounds that used to take $40,000 worth of equipment to get.

To play "No Greater Love," I start simply by slapping the guitar strings so they click against the pickups. That sound is run down multiple chains of effects including some interesting delays, creating a sound that some listeners swear is a troop of drummers on congas and djembes, and that gets looped so it will continue while I play other things. The guitar part has a kind of swelling, orchestral feel, again due to effects. I'm hitting the strings all at once and in a carefully controlled manner with my fist, blunting the initial 'attack' of the notes, but starting the strings vibrating in a way that grows with feedback -- and especially with a guitar as resonant as Nadine is. I don't know how much of that came across when "No Greater Love" debuted at the Jonathan Daniels memorial lecture at seminary -- my amp wasn't really made for the task, and was very close to its limits -- but it was fun to try, thanks to the good humor, "why not?" spirit, and solid support of the EDS Singers, our chapel choir.

I'm hoping to record the song soon, at which point I'll release it -- and instrumental tracks that could be used for worship in congregations without a resident guitarist/technogeek -- under Creative Commons license, meaning y'all can use it freely as long as you don't sell it for money or claim that you originated it. I'd like to do that for psalm settings and other music I've written as well. All I lack to record is a quiet space for it, I've put a request in to EDS to set aside a bit of space for a music room, and I think it's going to happen soon. So here's hoping that "Grace Notes" will include a lot of musical notes in 2008 and beyond!

And to answer a frequently asked question: yes, I think it's funny that my guitar has apparently already been ordained while I'm still discerning a way forward, and what my next steps might be if ordination isn't going to happen soon. But hey, at least there's one Reverend in the household, and she certainly is a blessing to me! Thanks to Nick and Nadine for making it happen -- I still can't believe my luck!

January 15, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Integrity Eucharist sermon - GC 1994

The sermon from the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention 1994, delivered by Dr. Louie Crew

January 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Integrity Eucharist sermon - GC 1997

Sermon for the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention 1997, delivered by the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton.

January 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

test post

This is a test. This is only a test.

UPDATE: Clearly the test was successful! Consider Grace Notes back up!

January 15, 2008 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack