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canal sunset

Canal Sunset - Amsterdam, 2001

Just an old dug-up photograph, taken years ago (probably around 2001) in Amsterdam. I'm tempted to say, back when we had real summers.

Update: For a larger version, see my snapshots gallery.

game, game, game and again game

For an original and utterly weird interactive experience, check out 'game, game, game and again game' by Jason Nelson, who calls it "a digital poem/game/net artwork hybrid of sorts."

There are 13 curious levels filled with poetics, hand drawn creatures, scribbles, backgrounds and other poorly made bits. The theme (cringe) hovers around our many failed/error filled/compelling belief systems, from consumerism to monotheism.

Compared to some other net art out there, which often suffers from randomness, it's interesting how much a goal, or even the suggestion of one, helps to draw viewers/users into the experience. In 'game, game...' familiar computer game goals like getting your character from a to b are used purely as 'seductions' to explore a poetic and completely unpredictable universe.

As you figure out how to get through the different levels, keep in mind the game's initial message, "belief systems are small clumsy rolling-type creatures" (which describes your game character, i.e. you are a belief system), and interpret your adventures accordingly.

(Via collision detection, who views this as a surrealist game, "where cause and effect [have] only a very inscrutable relationship to one another.")

mancala

Mancala is one of the oldest games in the world - or rather a vast family of hundreds of games with a common ancestor, played in Africa, the Middle East and large parts of Asia. Though little is known about this common ancestor, Mancala (from Arabic 'naqala', 'to move') most likely originated in Africa, possibly Egypt or Ethiopia, and is thought to have been spread by Arab traders. It never gained much popularity in Europe, except in some parts of Germany and the Baltic area, where it was known as the 'Bohnenspiel' ('bean game').

Also called 'sowing games' or 'count and capture games', Mancala games have a deceptively simple gameplay. One of their charms is that very little is needed to play: a number of beads or seeds and two or four rows of pits, arranged on a board or just as hollows in the ground. The rules vary considerably for different varieties, but the object of the game is to capture your opponent's seeds by moving (sowing) seeds around the rows of pits. It is essentially a mathematical, zero sum game.

The varieties best known in the West, and often erroneously referred to as Mancala, are Kalah (played with three seeds per pit), Oware (four seeds per pit) and Bao (one of the most complex varieties).

Online Mancala games are surprisingly primitive. Okay versions are 'Mancala Snails' (Oware, rather childishly animated) and 'Mancala Web' (Kalah).

A good introduction to Mancala games is this MindZine article. For a detailed, anthropologically oriented account, read 'Michezo ya Mbao, Mankala in East Africa'.

Update: An intriguing modern Mancala variant is the 'Glass Bead Game', by Dutch game designer Christian Freeling. The name is inspired, of course, by Herman Hesse's classic novel, though I don't think it resembles in any way the game played in Castalia.

zodiac

Some minor spoilers ahead!

If David Fincher's latest film 'Zodiac' would've been a purely fictional story it probably wouldn't have made it past script stage for lack of closure, a dragging second half and its many improbable events. Which is not to say 'Zodiac' is a bad film, quite the opposite, but the "based on actual case files" story of the unsolved murders by the Zodiac Killer taunts most of Hollywood's drama laws.

The serial killer who called himself the Zodiac and haunted Northern California in the late '60s with a number of random killings has never been caught or identified (technically the case is still open). Part of his notoriety comes from the series of letters the Zodiac sent to the press until 1974, signed with a crosshair symbol and containing threats and ciphers, some of which still haven't been solved.

Zodiac - 1

Even from this brief summary of events, it's already clear this story has no real end, no closure. Partly 'Zodiac', based on the book by Robert Graysmith, circumvents this problem by offering a particular (never proven) theory about the Zodiac's identity. It also introduces two journalists (Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.) to provide an angle to the story, which is otherwise peopled by many different police investigators (the murders were all committed in different jurisdictions). In hindsight, all these separate, non-cooperative investigations seem improbably amateuristic and bureaucratic.

The first half of the film, roughly spanning 1968 to '74, manages to strike a scary balance between the Zodiac's murders and media threats, and the police and journalists' frantic investigation. It is the standard pattern in the serial killer genre, though deftly executed in a very realistic style - not anything like the gothic atmosphere of 'Se7en' but understated, matter-of-factly scary.

Zodiac - 2

Paradoxically, the second half of the film, from '74 to '91 (!), is much more interesting because nothing much happens anymore. The Zodiac is silent and without any new leads the investigations grow cold, the case is filed and archived. Everyone loses interest, except for one journalist (Graysmith), who becomes obsessed with the case, with solving the puzzle. As he is now mostly analyzing old case files - and is therefore once removed from the actual, previously conducted investigation - his search acquires an increasingly abstract quality, reminding of Auster's 'The New York Trilogy' or 'Spoorloos' (the Dutch original of 'The Vanishing').

Zodiac - 3

In the end, 'Zodiac' is kind to the journalist in providing him with a personal solution to the case. But this 'closure' is shaky enough to leave the viewer with an aftertaste of frustration which is probably the most realistic aspect of the whole film.

For those who enjoy true crime reading, Crime Library has a special on 'Who was the real Zodiac?'

ladysmith black mambazo

Legendary South-African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo have had a prolific career since being formed by Joseph Shabalala in the '60s. After collaborating with Paul Simon on 'Graceland', their breakthrough album was 'Shaka Zulu' (1987), produced by Simon. Many albums and awards later, they're still together and touring today.

A fascinating blend of traditional a capella Zulu singing, called isicathamiya (roughly 'on tiptoes'), and Christian gospel, the word that comes to mind to describe their music is immaculate. Besides being incredibly harmonious, these 10 voices have an awesome power, as also testified by their name: Black refers to a black ox, while Mambazo translates as 'axe', symbolic of their early days when they would 'chop down' everyone in singing competitions. (To complete the band's etymology: Ladysmith is the name of Shabalala's hometown.)

Some samples: a performance of 'How Long?' from an old Dutch TV appearance, or this one of 'Hello My Baby' from the Graceland tour.

unknown sage

Unknown Sculpture, Sanssouci, Potsdam - 1

Unknown Sculpture, Sanssouci, Potsdam - 2

No idea who this sculpture is of or by (nor to what extent its weather-worn appearance is intentional). It's located in front of the Neptune Grotto of the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.

(Photo taken last May on Berlin trip.)

ads from the second floor

Check out these 7 commercials by Roy Andersson, director of the absurd masterpiece 'Songs from the Second Floor'. The same slow, tableaux-like scenes (one shot, wide angle) and deadpan humor, with only a payoff and brand name added on. (To compare, watch 'Songs from the Second Floor' scenes here and here.)

Andersson's new film 'You, the Living' is set to come out this summer.

so it is in life

So it is in life: a fool through and through, and yet he wants to express himself.

Under the title 'So It Is in Life', this week's issue of the New Yorker contains some never-before-translated short fiction by Daniil Kharms (see also this earlier post). To quote just one of his absurd, nightmarish vignettes:

When sleep is running away from a man, and the man lies on his bed, dumbly stretching out his legs, while nearby a clock ticks on the nightstand and sleep is running away from the clock, then it seems to the man that an immense black window opens wide before him and that his thin little gray human soul is going to fly out through this window and his lifeless body will stay lying on the bed, dumbly stretching out its legs, and the clock will ring its quiet bell: "Yet another man has fallen asleep." At that moment, the immense and utterly black window will swing shut with a bang.

A man by the last name of Oknov was lying on his bed, dumbly stretching out his legs, trying to fall asleep. But sleep was running away from Oknov. Oknov lay with his eyes open, and frightening thoughts knocked inside his increasingly wooden head.

(Translated by Matvei Yankelevich, with Simona Schneider and Eugene Ostaeshevsky.)

(Via Words Without Borders.)