YouTube Tag

Glenn Gould on Bach

Almost everything that gains traction on YouTubeexcept for the seemingly endless parade of puppies and kittensis some form of tightrope walking, people doing outrageous, often obnoxious, and inevitably trivial things in an attempt to give their vast audience a cheap thrill before it moves on to the next act in the perpetual online freakshow. You get the sense of an entire culturean entire racejust looking for a way to kill some time. But, like Thoreau said, you can’t kill time without injuring eternity.

 

But in the midst of that vast, silly, and pointless circus, you can sometimes find acts of real dexterity, intelligence, creativity, and courage. This one might not seem to fit that bill, but, believe me, it doesand in spades.

Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould was undeniably a geniushe was also undeniably insane. This 1962 program was made before his madness began to get the upper hand. And if you’re willing to appreciate it not by the current standards of brutality, masochism, and degradation but on its own terms, it is, in its seemingly modest way, an astonishing piece of work.

 

This is a bad recording of pretty primitive TV. Grainy image, awkward camera work, maddeningly bad sound. But everything Gould tries to convey manages to break free of those constraints and take you to someplace beyond the limitations of any medium anywhere, anytime, no matter how advanced.

 

In a mere half hour, he delivers a blistering attack on the Western fetishization of reason, uses Bach to reaffirm the essentially conservative nature of art, and conducts and performs a sublime performance of the Cantata 54 that exists only on this beyond abysmal form of playback.

 

But here’s the tightrope part: Watch the monologue he delivers at the beginningan 8-minute, one camera, no cue cards, no edits soliloquy, both highly intellectual and deeply felt, a quirky but spot-on chiding and evisceration of the culture, delivered in the affected cadences of a preening, supercilious prep-school lad. I’m sure it feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to most of the people who watch it. But for the few who can look past the program’s and Gould’s limitations, it’s truly astonishing. And all too rare. And now all but extinct.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Astral Factor

The funniest MST3K ever isn’t even an episode from the series. It’s not even an official video but bootleg audio from a live show MST veterans Hodgson, Beaulieu, Conniff, Pehl, and Weinstein-understudy Allen did in San Francisco during their final tour under the Cinematic Titanic banner, synced by a fan to a copy—a workprint, no less—of an unspeakably bad TV pilot some misguided soul pumped up into a feature film (mainly by showing off Stefanie Powers’ butt crack).

 

So the video really sucks, and the audio really sucks. But it doesn’t matter because the quips and jabs from these nonpareil virtuosos of movie riffing are really f***ing funny.

 

The film Hodgson & Co. mercilessly bludgeon like a recalcitrant piñata really is about as bad as it gets—bad script, bad production design, bad editing, bad makeup, bad clothes, bad music, lame stunts, bad fonts, and criminally bad acting and directing. To paraphrase a line from MST3K‘s legendary Manos, there’s a buffet of loathsomeness here.

But The Astral Factor achieves a level most MST episodes could only dream of because there’s a whole bevy of has-been stars on the premises, including Elke Sommer, the aforementioned Powers (“with Stefanie Powers come Stefanie responsibility”), and, in a stomach-churning cameo, Sue (Lolita) Lyon, whose production company was apparently responsible for this flaming sack of dog poopie.

 

The pacing of the jokes is relentless, with the crew landing solid blows at least every 20 seconds, and sometimes releasing whole barrages that left the audience in San Francisco’s Castro Theatre breathless.

 

Don’t come here looking for 4K HDR or the perfect aspect ratio or perfectly calibrated sound or even surround sound, let alone Atmos. (Atmos?! On a policeman’s salary!?) This is about laughing your ass off—pure, and simple, and all too rare.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Algorithms My Ass

recommendation algorithms

I was going to write a super-positive, inspirational kind of post about how the man cave is dead and tech & entertainment have become gender-blind and all about the whole family, and we’ve all evolved to a point where the ultimate communal space has morphed from the kitchen to the media room, etc. etc. etc.—and then I took a quick break to check in on YouTube. And I realized YouTube doesn’t know shit about me. And Amazon doesn’t know shit about me. And Netflix doesn’t know shit about me.

 

Etc. Etc. Etc.

 

You read all this crap about how algorithms have figured us out, how they have us nailed, offering up all these dead-on recommendations so we don’t have to think about what we want to experience anymore. Really? Maybe that’s happened to you, but not to me. The odds of YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, or any other service (gotta love that word) recommending anything I actually care about are about as good as that infamous roomful of monkeys ever coughing up any Shakespeare.

recommendation algorithms

This isn’t some neo-Luddite rant. There’s good tech and there’s bad tech. But this love affair with having some anonymous digital Other anticipate our every whim strikes me as not just weird but deeply masochistic. I mean, shit, the next step after knowing what we want is actually becoming us, and who wants that? (Actually, I’m kind of sorry I said that because the answer is just about everybody. But do I really want to go there . . . )

 

Like I said, if you’ve found that any of this AI-for-the-masses stuff actually can read your mind and present you with an unerring stream of things you find satisfying, terrific. Enjoy. Then try to reclaim that missing part of your soul. But it’s just never happened for me. I can instead sense myself being pigeonholed, told who I’m supposed to be instead of who I am. I’m not talking about tilting at windmills—I’m talking about finding anything worth tilting at.

recommendation algorithms

I am not the person the services think I am. Which brings up a more fundamental issue. There’s no doubt people become addicted to tech. (Remember Crackberry?) But there’s absolutely nothing that says we have to become addicted to it. For the moment at least, tech is our tools, and we should treat it as tools and nothing more. The second it goes beyond that to becoming something imbued, something that knows us better than we know ourselves, the ultimate Good Mother, I really have to wonder what’s going on here. But, more importantly, I have to wonder if anybody, once swept up into the light, really cares.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.