• On Rachel Ries

    I’m going through a lot right now. Rachel Ries’ music is helping me go through it. I met her last week in Austin. I thought I’d share her influence on me with you.

    Hailing from the vast expanses of South Dakota, Ries can bring audiences to tears with the trembling of her harmonies. A talented instrumentalist, and deft songwriter, Ries has been traveling around the country accompanying Anais Mitchell as part of the Young Man Band on Mitchell’s most recent tour.

    My introduction to Ries was at the Whip In. Just south of downtown Austin, right off of I-35, situated on a busy corner of the southbound access road, the Whip In is a flat-roofed, cinder-block building that at first glance looks much like an ordinary convenience store. But upon entering, its clear that it is a different creature. To the right of the door, there is a cozy dining space warmed by wooden church pews, antique tables, Indian wooden screens, and colorful printed textiles. Beercave, coffeehouse, cozy restaurant: The Whip In is a magical place.

    It was there that I saw Ries play for the first time. She took the stage with Anais Mitchell, Matt Fockler, and Southpaw Jones, and performed a suite of songs including Mitchell’s powerful “Young Man In America.”

    Ries pulled every last one of my heartstrings; she had me weeping in awe. She’s know to make grown men cry. Despite the myriad of performers that I saw across the city during SXSW, it was Ries’ raw performance that impacted me the most.

    That night I chatted with her and picked up a copy of her most recent recording, On Laurel Lake EP._Besides overflowing with massive doses of honesty, the On Laurel Lake EP_ reveals skilled production and recording techniques. Ries tackled the album by herself on a personal retreat in Tennessee and dug deep to patch the songs together.

    On this album, Ries’ trembling harmonies punctuate her sophisticated melodies. Her craftmanship is apparent on this exquisite folk recording. From the slightest wavering of vocals to the gentlest of brushes on the guitar pickups, Ries captured it all on the recording. While not as seemingly hip as Bon Iver’s Blood Bank, her recordings on the EP have a poignant delicacy that allow it to exist free from hype. In a different vein from On Laurel Lake is Ries’ 2007 release, Without A Bird.


    Warmly analog and carefully orchestral, Without a Bird showcases the artistry of some of Chicago’s finest players: Kevin O’Donnell (Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, Neko Case), Joel Paterson (Devil in a Woodpile, Kelly Hogan, Steve Dawson), Alison Chesley (Bob Mould, Verbow, Poi Dog Pondering) and Ariel Bolles (Bakelite 78). Without a Bird was recorded and mixed analog and it shows. As would be expected, in contrast to the On The Lake EP, the songs have much more of the city’s rhythms flowing through them.

    Across albums, Ries’ music constantly grapples with the tumultuous dichotomy between life in the city and life in the country. In her own words:

    “This life I’ve chosen felt suddenly precarious, muddled, and far too far from the source. What do we really need? Out here in the ‘real’ world I ask for so much more than family, faith, food and shelter. So much vapor.”

    While Ries’ songs are heartbreaking, they are not love songs. They speak to life — its joys and its anguish. They talk of so much. Memories, dreams, and illusions sit beside anguished lonesomeness in Ries’ songs to create a heart wrenchingly powerful combination.

    Fans of early Liz Phair, Anais Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and early Regina Spektor  will certainly find much to like in her recent recordings. For those interested in learning more about Rachel and her music, check out  this interview at Gaper’s Block and this interview at WBEZ from 2009.



  • On ZZK Records

    The future of music is blasting out of the sound system at Zizek Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At Zizek DJs and producers mash-up Cumbia, Reggae, Hip-Hop and Electronic Music and create a space where musicians work with new ideas and the chance to show what they’re doing in the current music scene. Arguably the hot bed of the borderline avant-garde transformation of the Latin American sound of Cumbia, Zizek Club has created whirlwind of energy in just a few years time and has spawned the acclaimed record label, ZZK records.

    Born out of their weekly Zizek Club, the rapidly expanding crew of ZZK records all share a hunger for getting on the road and spreading their gospel. Established in 2008 by Texan Grant C. Dull, ZZK records now manages 11  “New Cumbia” groups with “Digital Cumbia” as its most active sound.

    Dull first came to Argentina in 1999 and reinvented himself more than once, going from musicologist and online magazine editor, to visual artist for events and finally to curator and DJ. He founded the bilingual cultural website WhatsUpBuenosAires.com, and co-founded ZZK Records and Zizek Club with his Argentine partners. Behind the decks, Dull, who goes by El-G peppers his sets with live percussion, collaborates with his peers on stage and brings his unique vision of global music and culture to the arts community at large. It’s only natural that his label would do the same.

    ZZK Belongs to a new movement of world rhythms born out of cities that are being reinterpreted using electronic music to make something new, fresh, and fun. Baile Funk from Brazil and Kuduro from Angola, popularized by M.I.A. and Buraka Som Sistema respectively evidence the rise of this global movement of sonic reinterpretation.

    In the case of ZZK, membership to this new movement is shown by Tremor, an Argentine trio on ZZK Records. Tremor researches folklore traditions by region and bridges generations, geography and genre through technology to produce their signature style. Their sound is equal parts electronic music and native drum. It owes as much to anthropology as it does to popular music.

    Today, ZZK is now home to  the psychedelic cumbia of Fauna, to the experimental beats of Chancha Via Circuito, the hard hitting cumbia hypnotics of El Remolon, King Coya, Tremor, the theatrical Frikstailers, newcomer Mati Zundel, the first lady of ZZK - La Yegros, and the label’s latest signings, chip tune obsessed brothers Ignacio and Luciano Brasolin, aka Super Guachin.

    Mixing cumbia, bastard pop, and reggaeton, ZZK’s mission is to modernize the sounds of the night of the past.

    Check out this teaser of what has recently been coming out of ZZK.


    And be sure to marvel at this video of Mati Zundel’s Señor Montecostes done by Marco Lizama. Single frames in this video are studies of form and color as brilliant as any work of 20th century color theorists. It rules.


    A personal favorite of mine from ZZK has been Chancha via Circuito’s Rio Arriba. Thanks to him I’ve been listening to Jose Larralde continuously.



  • Native Pennsylvania: A Wild Flower Walk

    Hunt Institute’s collection of plants and watercolors takes viewers on visual tour

    There are few things in life more delicate than wildflower blossoms and the soft splashes of watercolor on vellum.

    Native Pennsylvania, A Wildflower Walk, the newest exhibit at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, pairs the two wonders together to celebrate the historical intersection between the sciences and art in the world of botany.

    A collaborative exhibition between the Hunt Institute and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s botany department, Native Pennsylvania, A Wildflower Walk presents visitors with a painstakingly collected selection of plants and watercolors. The exhibition features the pairing of 36 watercolors by Richard Crist (CIT ’28) from the Hunt Institute’s collection with a significant selection of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s herbarium specimens.

    In addition to Crist’s watercolors and the botany department’s herbarium selections, the exhibit also features watercolors by painter Lyn Hayden and entomologist and painter Andrey Avinoff, which underscore the importance of herbaria in botanical research, education, and conservation.

    The concept behind the exhibit is to create a visual wildflower walk through Pennsylvania’s blooming seasons. A special emphasis is placed on endangered and rare species. Given Pittsburgh’s historically gray winters, visitors will surely welcome this early celebration of nature’s ephemeral splashes of color.

    At Carnegie Mellon, an environment in which most undergraduate students have a hard time taking a break, let alone going outside,Native Pennsylvania, A Wildflower Walk provides a convenient look at the delicate unfolding of Pennsylvania’s natural world. Located in the often-overlooked Hunt Institute, on the fifth floor of Hunt Library, the exhibit provides a quiet space for serene contemplation. The unfolding of the seasons lends the exhibit a gentle, logical progression that is sure to please those in need of a respite.

    In the exhibit, visitors can explore the intersection between the arts and natural sciences by viewing the juxtaposition of botanists’ tools and artists’ documentation on display. For those uninitiated in the traditional practices of botanical collection, the exhibit thoroughly describes common tools and their uses.

    The inclusion of Crist’s work alongside the herbarium selections provides a new perspective on the artist, given that historians remember Crist primarily as an abstract painter. Native Pennsylvania, A Wildflower Walk adds another dimension to the public’s understanding of his work as an artist.

    Along with his painting and printmaking, Crist was also an amateur botanist, author, and book illustrator. He wrote and illustrated several children’s books, including The Mystery of Broken Horse Chimneys, published in 1960 with his wife, Eda Szecskay Crist. He also provided hundreds of watercolor illustrations for the “Herbs” and “Vegetables and Fruits” volumes of The Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening in 1977. His work is in the collections of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh.

    For those interested in expanding their knowledge of the botanical world, The Hunt Institute for Documentation will be holding lectures through mid-June that will focus on Pennsylvania’s native plants.


  • Pets Reign at Warhol Exhibit

    Thanks to a recent partnership between the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, fans of cats, dogs, and Andy Warhol can experience Warhol’s 1976 ode to man’s faithful companions: the Dogs and Cats print series.

    Together, the museums have dedicated the space just preceding the Benedum Hall of Geology in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to exhibiting Warhol’s varied print work. Dogs and Cats is the second exhibit to be held in this space. It follows another exhibit that displayed Warhol’s prints of endangered species. The collaborative effort to put together Dogs and Cats was organized by Natural History director Sam Taylor and Warhol director Eric Shiner.

    In a press release, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History expressed the significance of exhibiting these portraits: “These works remind us of the complex relationships between humans and domesticated animals.” Although the museum claims that examples of this long and intertwined history can be found throughout the museum — in exhibits like the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt’s cat mummies and the Polar World’s depiction of Inuit reliance on dogs for transportation — the justification is weak.

    There simply isn’t a lot in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History that deeply explores the relationship of man and domestic animals. While it may not meet the expressed purpose, Dogs and Cats does provide a colorful passage for museum patrons.

    The Dogs and Cats series is among Warhol’s lesser-known works. The eight silk-screened painting set features common house cats and dog breeds such as the Great Dane, West Highland Terrier, and Dachshund. The series began in 1976, when art collector Peter Brant commissioned Warhol to paint his Cocker Spaniel named Ginger. Warhol made two paintings of Ginger, as well as numerous drawings. Brant liked these works and encouraged Warhol to do a whole series of cat and dog drawings.

    When viewed, a juxtaposition of eeriness and vibrant personality comes forth from the depicted pets. This eeriness is likely due to Warhol’s decision to use stuffed animals for his first cat and dog photos. He took this approach because of the difficulty he initially faced when staging the pets. The subsequent paintings Warhol completed were done from photographs of cats and dogs and, given his predisposition to work from photographs as an illustrator, it is easy to understand why the later pets are so vibrant and infused with personality.

    Dogs and Cats’ _vibrant colors and energetic swatches of paint contrast the rigid tension created by the exhibit’s wallpaper. The backdrop of the current exhibit, a three-color wallpaper print on sand-colored paper, is actually a reproduction of the fish wallpaper that was created as a backdrop for Warhol’s exhibition Painting for Children_ at the Bruno Bischofberger Gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1983. Like much of his art, this backdrop was visually engaging because of its hypnotic repetition.

    Despite the interesting background, the mundane subject matter of domestic pets does not create as much excitement as the previous exhibit’s endangered species prints did. As such, the fish backdrop is an essential element of the curated exhibit that prevents the room from feeling too sparse.

    Despite Dogs and Cats’ small size as an exhibit and its seemingly lofty mission, the exhibit is a pleasantly whimsical contemporary experience that will add to patrons’ museum visits.

    (This article appeared in the Tartan’s arts and culture digest, Pillbox.)


  • New Project: Analyzing how folks read comics

    The biggest thing that I’ve been up to here in the ivory tower is work related to developing a way to quantifiably analyze how people read comics.

    Here’s a peek at the eye tracker that I’m trying build. I’ll be changing the code so that eye movement paths are recorded for later analysis.


    The hypothesis that I’m moving forward with is based upon the recent work of Frank Santoro regarding page layouts. Do the natural harmonics of the comics page determine how the reading experience flows?  It would seem like they intuitively do, but it doesn’t seem that we know how. If one deviates from respecting the harmonics of the page, what does the reader’s eye do? Is there back tracking? Are sections read over multiple times?  It is my belief that with this quantitative data you can begin to have a way to explain why some comics read better than others.There are many directions that this work can go in.

    Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I can’t seem to find a way to capture how comics are read on paper and will have to settle with having test subjects read off of screens or projections. I know that Frank would probably argue that the reading of comics project by light on a screen is a wholly different one from reading print comics, but for now it’s going to have to do. This is an exploration after all.(Here’s a device that could possibly handle eye tracking of print comics:the EyeSeeCam.)

    On a side note, while I’m focusing this particular work on analyzing the relationship between semantic units on the page, page layout and effectiveness of storytelling related to comics, this kind of work is applicable to any kinds of visual documents. Does a poster read well? Why does that infographic blow?

    If you have any recommendations of comics pages that I should have people read, let me know in the comments. (One page stories would seem to be best in that they contain complete ideas that don’t need further context. That is to say, Big Tex by Chris Ware would be good, as would most of Ivan Brunetti’s work.)

    I’ll keep you posted on the development of this work.Santoro Format


  • Wilfred Santiago interviewed at the Comics Journal

    _ In the mainstream most of the time they make cartoons and such look like this dumb thing, but whether it’s the most powerful cartoon known to man, Mickey Mouse, the cartoons that can piss enough Muslims off to commit acts of terrorism, or the inspiration of some imagery for contemporary movements like Anonymous or the OWS, it’s obvious you can’t fuck with cartoons. _ > > Wilfred Santiago > >

    Wilfred Santiago talks a bit with Eric Buckler at the Comics Journal. It’s a short, but interesting little interview. Check it out.


  • Odds and Ends: Pillbox Cover

    I’ve recently been working on covers for the Tartan’s arts and culture magazine, Pillbox. I’m using this as a way to teach myself the basics of visual composition, clean illustration and strong typography. Hopefully the Tartan let’s me keep making the covers. They’re nice challenges.

    Here’s the digital version that I sent for approval. Nothing too fancy. I’ll let you know how it looks when it prints.


  • Odds and Ends: Work for the Tartan

    A computer science program for women in CMU’s Qatar branch.

    How Antihistamines work. Real Science.


  • Color and Design in Comics

    A while back, Gene Fama put together some essays online that explore the process of effective comics production. I found this courtesy of Ed Piskor’s blog. The process section that I found particularly interesting was on coloring. I would certainly argue that unless making art comix or anything avant garde as a commercial illustrator, your best bet is to respect the principles that Fama puts forward.

    Truth betold, No one wants to see the Incal recolored nor does it ever need to be. (Before - After)

    Here are some morsels to pique your interest.

    _Computers are wonderful. They're especially good at reducing the costs that prevent entry into fields of endeavor. People who can't afford rent on a comic shop can now open an online store with very little overhead. People who can't handle Dr. Martin dyes can color and "undo" their mistakes with a click of the mouse. The only problem is that the people with the discipline to master Dr. Martin dyes are more likely to be those with the discipline to use good taste._

    And another:

    _If you look at Herge´s coloring in _Tintin _it'll look strong and primary, but if you actually try to match his colors you'll find they're quite pastel. Similarly, good painters almost never use colors directly from the tube with no mixing. Good coloring is often about finding a shade just outside the primary shade._


  • Can dead men die again?

    Thanks to Phantom of The Attic Comics in Pittsburgh, I’ve gotten the pleasure to experience the 1986 mini-series put together by Andrew Helfer and Jose Luís García-López. They were kind enough to bundle the 4 part series and to sell it at the ever reasonable cover price of 75cents a pop.

    If you’ve read this blog, you’ve probably picked up that I’m not too huge a superhero fan. Nevertheless, these Deadman stories have really caught my fancy. They’re fun, extremely well drawn and have a great sense of page design. I’ll scan some pages to show you what I mean real soon.

    For the uninitiated, this was at a time when DC was reinventing its characters. The story is intended to follow directly on the heels of the events in original series (at that point just recently reprinted in a 7 issue mini-series)…thereby ignoring and negating most of the other Deadman stories published in the ’70s and early ’80s.

    Helfer’s Letter in the first issue was interesting and particularly helpful in contextualizing the 4 part story arc in the history of the Deadman character. It’s a weird story that evidences the narrative puzzles that the idea of continuity poses to the hundreds of different illustrators and writers playing together in the DC and Marvel sandbox. This aspect of the DC and Marvel Universe is one that is odd, and that Grant Morrison rightly expands upon in his Animal Man series.

    I’ll keep you posted on more of my reading and how the editorial shift of Deadman’s character evolves away from mystery towards a consistent style and reality of essentially no more than a superhero.