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Wild Flag: Romance

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Wild Flag - Romance from Merge Records on Vimeo.

In my perfect world, Tom Scharpling would direct all the music videos.

This is his latest.

Alumni Newsletter: September 6, 2011

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St. Vincent: Cruel

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A sweet yet haunting late-night listen. St. Vincent was on Letterman last week singing "Cruel" from her new album, "Strange Mercy", which is set for release on Sept. 13th. If you want to hear more, you can stream the album now on NPR.org.

Stop Podcasting Yourself 181 - Cam MacLeod

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Guests: 
Cam MacLeod

Cam MacLeod returns to talk about all we can eat, blog spam, and avoiding Craigslist murder.

Download episode 181 here. (right-click)

Brought to you by: (click here for the full list of sponsors)

Brandon Bird in Your Pocket

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I'm happy to announce that, in exchange for a rather modest portion of your worldly fortune, you may now obtain protective covers that will permit you to carry the delightful artwork of Brandon Bird on your iphone, in your pocket, near your heart.

Lucky, lucky you.

Errol Morris: Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)

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What does this photograph suggest to you? If I told you that it was taken in South Dakota in 1936 by a man named Arthur Rothstein who was working for the Farm Security Administration, would that impact your answer? This picture was quite a source of social and political controversy in its day as many felt it had been posed to raise sympathy and support for FDR's programs. So what is this work of art, really? A meditation on light and form? Straightforward documentation of farm and weather conditions? Or subtle propaganda?

One man who has a unique talent for getting to the bottom of mysteries like this is filmmaker Errol Morris. His new book, "Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)", contains a series of essays that investigate the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs. Including this one.

The review from the LA Times summarizes it beautifully, saying: "[A]t its core . . ."Believing Is Seeing" is an elegantly conceived and ingeniously constructed work of cultural psycho-anthropology wrapped around a warning about the dangers of drawing inferences about the motives of photographers based on the split-second snapshots of life that they present to us. It's also a cautionary lesson for navigating a world in which, more and more, we fashion our notions of truth from the flickering apparitions dancing before our eyes."

Cory Doctorow: "Why Should I Care?"

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If you're involved in independent media making of any kind, this piece by Cory Doctorow is worth your time. It's about books - Doctorow, if you don't know, is a writer by trade - but it's also about what independent media really means for the creator.

Doctorow asks writers considering self-publishing to ask themselves the question "why should anyone care?" It's an important one, and one that's not asked enough. So often, we get so tied up in our own passions, the ones that drove us to create in the first place, that we forget to consider what our audience might want.

That should be an essential question when you create: how will this excite people enough that they will want it? Want it so much that they'll pay for it, or seek it out when it's inconvenient? Am I, as a creator, willing to pave that road?

So yeah: worth your time.

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Road Stories

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Vital stats:
Format: a bunch of comedians talk about their careers (and lives)
Episode duration: 15m-1h15m
Frequency: erratic

Getting familiar with and laughing at the jokes of all sorts of comedians on all sorts of comedy podcasts, I've grown curious about the nauture of their, y'know, actual careers. Podcasting's great and all — nay, the greatest form of media in our time — but it doesn't tend to pay the bills. So what do all these funny folks who host the podcasts and/or loop around the podcast guest circuit actually do?

Turns out that most of them do just what you'd expect them to do: straight-up stand-up comedy. Even though the late-eighties stand-up bubble burst long ago and most podcasting comedians seem to take a lot of roles on movies and television shows (that sometimes see the light of day and sometimes don't), comedians still seem to earn their bread and butter by getting in front of the old brick wall (actual brick or no), taking to people, and — if the stars align — making those people laugh. I learned a little more about that bursting stand-up bubble and all those supplementary media appearances from Road Stories [RSS] [iTunes], but oh, how much more it's taught me about the comedian's life.

Specifically, it's taught me that the comedian's life often just totally sucks. Don't take that the wrong way; I admire the craft of comedy more every day, and most comedians I hear on podcasts seem like dedicated, hardworking, freakishly intelligent — or, at the very least, freakishly fascinating — people. But man, the crap they deal with. I cringe even now at the memory of some of the road stories told on Road Stories: performing at county fairs under the beating afternoon sun, consignment to anonymous midwestern hotel rooms for weeks at a time, dealing with hecklers as the audience slowly tilts over the tipping point to the hecklers' side, the bitter spite of colleagues, crowds who can't grasp the existence of more than one comedic sensibility, grabby swarms of fans-who-aren't-really-fans. I remember once working alongside a smooth jazz radio announcer and former comedian. One day, I asked him about his old career telling jokes. He set his cigar down, fell into a thousand-yard stare, and muttered only, "The road'll kill ya."

Yet for all the grimy, car-crash appeal hosts Murray Valeriano and Joe Wilson draw out of their podcasting-favorite guests like Jackie Kashian, Chris Hardwick, Graham Ellwood, Chris Fairbanks, Maria Bamford (who offers a particularly trenchant criticism of the women's events she works [MP3]), and Matt Braunger, an even more enduring appeal lies at the show's core. At their best, the panels confront one of the ultimate questions: "What makes it good?" In this case, "it" could mean "comic's performance," but it could also mean "audience," "venue," "tour," "midwestern hotel room," or even "heckler." And the discussion spends as much or more time on the all-important "What makes it bad?" (Not always happy people, these comics. Don't know if you knew that.)

In these conversations, I find the participants' occupations almost irrelevant; I'd listen to a table of firemen talk about what makes a good or bad kitten retrieval, a good or bad farmhouse-burning exercise, or a good or bad pole slide just as readily as I listen to a table of comics talk about what makes a good or bad joke, a good or bad set, or a good or bad hellish morning radio appearance. Maybe you can chalk this up to the fact that I spend to many hours a week thinking and writing about what makes a good or bad podcast. The practice has generated dispiritingly few solid conclusions, but I can say this: any podcast that goes deep into the workings of an unusual pursuit may well be a good podcast. Even more so if the podcasters can make a few good cracks about having to fly to Poughkeepsie so often.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]

My Brother, My Brother and Me 70: Spit on a Dog

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We hope you guys share our rampant fervor for Emmy season, because it's basically all we're talking about on this week's episode. Actually, we start out the episode talking about it for like two minutes, and then never return to it again, which is kind of par for the course.

Suggested talking points: Nuclear Family, Lonely Dew, Recovery Sandwich, The Bounty Hunter, Expectorate, Cat in a Hat with a Hat, Ambiguous Boyfriend, A Lonely Year, Skinny Driving

Tina Fey in Conversation with Steve Martin

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I've come to believe that we'll never successfully book Tina Fey on The Sound, but this will have to do. Tina Fey in conversation with Steve Martin, from earlier this year in Los Angeles.

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