Monday, July 27, 2015

One Wild Life: Soul

Ahead of it's release, Relevant is streaming Gungor's latest album, One Wild Life: Soul. It actually marks the beginning of a trilogy--Soul, Spirit, and Body.  Gungor actually took inspiration from the format of Ryan O'neil's (aka Sleeping at Last) creative style - that of minimal touring or promotion, and spending nearly all of their energy and resources on artistic creation while also restraining themselves to a thematic project.  So, inspired by Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day" and the question it raises, Gungor aims to offer an answer spanning this trilogy of upcoming albums.

Stylistically here, Gungor has opted more for contemporary synths and beats and less for their previous acoustic sound.  Having emerged slowly over their last few albums as a lead vocalist, Lisa Gungor effectively takes the role even more often.  She leads the album's eponymous track and the song leaves breathing space for her soft quotation of Mary Oliver: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"  Among others, she leads on the ethereal "Moon Song" and "At Sea" as well as duetting harmonically with Michael on "Light" and "Vapor."  Her maternal presence comes through clearly in "Moon Song" and even more so on "Light," a song dedicated their daughter Lucie (meaning light) who has downs syndrome.  She explains their journey beautifully here and the song reflects the delight with which they parent.  In fact, their recently released music video for the track is comprised entirely of home videos.

The social activist facet of Gungor is overt here in a number of ways.  On first listening to "We are Stronger," I'll admit I found the first half trite.  Even now, I find the peppy "We are better together" rather childish sounding--and yet, the second half of the song is so honestly gripping that I can't skip the track.  Here, they use the bridge to whisper-sing over a choral arrangement:
Every black life matters
Every woman matters
Every soldier matters
All the unborn matter
Every gay life matters
Fundamentalists matter
Here's to life and all it's branches
They finesse these ideals further on the later track "Us For Them." Both a beautiful treatise on breaking down divisions as well as a response to last year's backlash against Gungor because (gasp!) they shared they weren't convinced by Young Earth Creationism.  Reminiscent of U2's "there is no them, there's only us" ("Invisible"), this unifying, anthemic piece affirms:
We will not fight their wars,
We will not fall in line
'Cause when it's us or them,
It's us for them
We reject the either/or
They can't define us anymore
'Cause when it's us or them,
It's us for them...
These types of moments are certainly not new for Gungor (see "God is not a White Man"), but as they've become both more artistically nuanced and more lyrically frank, they appear to echo the frustrations many younger adults have with the current state of the Evangelical Church, but they move past defiance into much broader questions.

Their eerily beautiful "Am I"--an apparent inversion of YHWH's name, to which it finally resolves--haunts with both philosophically and personally familiar questions.  It echoes many of the statement's of "I am Mountain" in obverse as questions (e.g. "am I the stars?").  He seems to constrain a scream asking "am I a dream? am I memory?" before turning falsetto to ask "am I awake? am I okay?" The song is one that could appear simple but is, in actuality, fundamental.

Although often wrestling with millenial frustrations or metaphysical questions, they also reach for the soul's true home.  Many songs touch on the mythic or mystic - as the "here's to life and all it's branches" recalls Axis Mundi.  In "Land of the Living," a cover of Matthew Perryman Jones' 2012 single from an album of the same name, they draw in all sort's of imagery of the Promised Land.

The album's finale, "Vapor," matches the sacred finishing touches to their previous two studio albums--"Every Breath" on 2011's Ghosts upon the Earth (which happens to be one of my iTunes Library's 25 most played) and "Upside Down" from 2013's I am Mountain.  Like most of the album, this song circles the holiness of the Divine and erstwhile thinness of life this side of the veil--"the vapor of it all... the beauty of it all..."--to conclude in the marriage of Creator and creation:
Come like dawn
like grace
like sunlight
Bring this world to life
Come like rain
like breath
like springtime
Bring this world to life...

One Wild Life: Soul will be available on August 7th.  
You can read some of my thoughts on Ghosts upon the Earth here or I am Mountain here and here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Pride and Prejudice joins Twitter"

I've had a second paper accepted to a conference!  This November I'll get to present on the "Comparative Media" panel for the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association in Portland.  This is an exciting move for me as the audience will be made up of both grad students and professors from around the western region.  Here's the proposal:

Pride and Prejudice joins Twitter: Transmedia Adaptation on a Narrative Continuum

This paper explores The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a transmedia retelling of Pride and Prejudice set as a vlog in modern day California.  Across platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, this Emmy-award winning web series spent a year reworking the 200-year-old novel in “real-time.”  While the creators simply update certain aspects for the 21st century—Mr. Bingley is now Bing Lee—other concerns are completely reinterpreted—the Bennet’s entailed estate is now a faulty mortgage; Collins “proposal” is for a job, not a marriage.  Enabling and encouraging audience members to interact with the story through multiple modalities, this transmedia adaptation provokes questions about its relationship to the source material.  While it can be read vertically as palimpsest, a retelling layered on top of the original, might we also consider the transmedia web series as part of storytelling’s historical continuum?  Do the novel and web series share more than a familiar narrative arc and a handful of characters? 
 In the historical moment of their emergence, both of the novel and the transmedia adaptation have been discounted for reasons such as the demographics of those participating, its reproducibility, their creators being perceived as amateurs, etc.  In her landmark Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon discusses the constructed strata of high and low culture revealing the economic arguments attached when she says, “we tend to reserve our negatively judgmental rhetoric for popular culture, as if it is more tainted with capitalism than high art” (31).  As an example, she notes academia’s tendency to deride the commercial-driven choices of a blockbuster, often ignoring that Shakespeare made similarly calculated artistic moves based on economic principals.  In a similar vein, some scholars may overlook a web series adaptation because it seems “tainted” by the enthusiasm of teenage girls, the advertising that funds it, the commonality of its chosen platforms, or a myriad of other “low culture” tags.    
However, my paper suggests that exploring these social conditions highlights The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as not only an adaptation of plot, character, and setting, but of the historical emergence of a narrative form.   Just as Austen’s novel was not only arguing for proto-feminism and against classism but also for the very form of the novel, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not merely making claims about female friendships or stereotyping but that adaptation through transmedia is a valid form, participating in what John Fiske refers to as “culture making” and Robert Stam calls an “ongoing dialogical process.”  By placing the interactive web series on a continuum, we recover the emerging status the novel held in the past and are also able to look forward at part of the burgeoning future of narrative form thanks to new media.

I'm in the throes of research and have had some setbacks, but I am really excited to tackle the LBD from the angles of high/low-culture arguments, adaptation of form, and the question of interpreting it vertically/horizontally...  I don't have many conclusions yet, but a lot of intriguing questions!  

And now... back to the work in front of me. :)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Happy Birthday, Benedict!

It has been an amazing year to be a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch (see Oscar Nomination), but for me this year has been especially amazing because my Birthday Wishes for him from the last several years have come true.  Benedict's 38th has all been about:

And then his biggest wish came true:
"Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter are delighted to announce the arrival of their beautiful son."

Congrats to Benedict, Sophie, and Baby Batch :) on a banner year!
Cheers to 39!


Annnd this year, a wish of mine is actually coming true.
Recently, one of my closest friends won a pair of tickets to see Lyndsey Turner's Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch!!!
She graciously invited me to come with her, I couldn't say no, we've booked a flat near Hampstead Heath for 4 nights, and, as of yesterday, I have a ticket to London.
Sooo... in just about 6 weeks, I'll be at the Barbican seeing him perform live. 
And I can. not. freaking. believe. it!
Can you say "trip of a lifetime"?
More anticipation and news forthcoming, but for today:
Happy Birthday, Benedict! And see you later :) 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dreams to Dream

"Dreams to dream... in the dark of the night
When the world goes wrong
I can still make it right
I can see so far in my dreams,
I'll follow my dreams
Until they come true."

Like many, I was saddened to hear about the passing of James Horner last month.  Many have noted his Titanic and Braveheart scores, but the song that's playing over and over in my mind lately has been his "Dreams to Dream," the Oscar nominated song which Horner created with Will Jennings for Fievel goes West.  This scene made a lasting impression on me as a child.  And, lately, I've found myself humming it often.


Is it just me, or is this song overdue for a modern cover?  One can dream.
Happy Friday!