Archive for the ‘SXSW’ Category

You call that EDM? Moritz Simon Geist’s robots make the most technical techno

April 6th, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—If you find Moritz Simon Geist's "Entropy" on Spotify, you might think nothing of it. The song is built upon repetitive, droning phrases that layer upon each other in ways you can't help but move your head to. Along with the rest of the tracks on The Material Turn, it wouldn't be out of place as deep cuts in the DFA Records catalogue, but they're less obviously electronic—no soaring synths or flourishes of rhythmic glitches here. Instead, "Entropy" has that breathy groove of an early song from The XX along with an overall industrial aesthetic like what music fans loved about Nine Inch Nails. "Entropy" is a dance track, but sinister, something that could soundtrack a highly stylized sci-fi flick or a dungeon level in a cool side scroller.

All that to say, Moritz Simon Geist wrote a catchy song. But what makes this remarkable is—unlike Hot Chip or Trent Reznor or whoever—Geist's music doesn't start from a synthesizer or emanate from his computer. He's "the world's only techno producer playing entirely with his self-made futurist robots," as the press release for his new EP, Speculative Machine, puts it. Glitchy tones on a track like "Maschyn" might come from a circuit board he printed himself. Sizzle sounds that listeners are accustomed to hearing from cymbals instead arrive from controlled bursts of pressurized air. The eerie melody of "Entropy" literally utilizes one of the oldest forms of a DIY instrument: water glasses filled with liquid to produce different tones, only this time they're played by a motorized set of mallets. And unless you see him performing live—as several new fans did during Geist's seven-performance run at SXSW 2019—you may never know something extraordinary is taking place.

Moritz Simon Geist's demo video for his music, showcasing the track "Entropy."

"There's a lot of experimental artists that put a lot of stress on the experimental part. For me, the music has to stand on its own," he tells Ars. "This artwork has a technical aspect to how it's made, but it has to be really good content-wise. I want to make this music good and on the same level as someone with a computer or synthesizer would program music. In the end, mine's just made with robots, of course—and they add different layers or special sounds you can't replicate with a synth or maybe replicate at all."

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, maker culture, Moritz Simon Geist, music, robots, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

New documentary has a good time asking how gene editing might change the world

March 17th, 2019
Promotional image from documentary Human Nature

Enlarge / An artist's representation of a Cas9 protein immediately interrupting and changing a living creature's genes. (credit: Wonder Collaborative)

Here's a poorly kept secret: the internal chatter at a given research and scientific institution is typically more interesting than what emerges on the public record. Published papers and newspaper interviews don't come with the banter, pop-culture references, or sheer wit that pumps through most nerds' veins.

I thought back to all that nerd humor when I reflected on Human Nature, a documentary about gene editing and CRISPR that had its world premiere at South by Southwest 2019. There's a lot of ground to cover on such a topic, and the film, co-produced by Dan Rather, does quite well by identifying existing research and studies, then grounding them with context and equal parts optimism and pessimism. But Human Nature is also the rare science film that isn't afraid to let its smart talking heads be funny, dorky, or just plain sharp.

Meaning: if you already know everything about CRISPR (and if you read Ars Technica, you very well might), Human Nature still has something for you.

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Posted in film review, film reviews, Gaming & Culture, movie review, Movie reviews, science, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

Sloth-by-sloth-west: The good and the Goop of SXSW 2019 (in pictures)

March 17th, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—While sitting in the auditorium waiting to hear Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren talk further about her views on Silicon Valley, an older gentleman leaned over to ask about something that had absolutely nothing to do with politics. "I don't get it," he began. "It's a music festival, but a film festival, too? And you're here for the technology stuff, right? Where do all these politicians fit? How do you describe this conference to someone in 30 seconds?"

The answer, of course, is obvious to Ars after our fourth straight year of coverage: you can't. While the three core tenets of South by Southwest remain film, music, and tech, this conference has become the ultimate convergence event—not just of topics, but of people. Where else can you, in a single day, see a cookie vending machine from Milk Bar baking guru Christina Tosi, a massive HBO installation to promote Game of Thronesexperts from Unicode talking about emoji evolution, and then Senator Warren on -isms from capital- to rac- all in the same place? None of that stuff perfectly fits into SXSW's overarching programming tracks, but perhaps that itself is the message. These days, the boundaries between art, business, and innovation blur together more than ever. Put a bunch of movers and shakers in those areas together for a week, and interesting stuff is bound to happen.

Unfortunately, explaining that (even succinctly) takes more than 30 seconds, so we failed this impromptu summarization quiz. But our time in Austin certainly felt like a success overall. Above is just a small sampling of the sights that spanned almost every topic you can find on the pages of Ars Technica. We may have missed Bill Nye crashing New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Q&A to talk about the environment, but we damn well made sure to snag one of those cookies.

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Posted in Ars gallery, gallery, Gaming & Culture, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

It’s time to start caring about “VR cinema,” and SXSW’s stunners are proof

March 16th, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—You may love, hate, or shrug at the idea of virtual reality, but one niche is still unequivocally devoted to the format: film festivals. The reasons aren't all great.

Because VR usually requires one-at-a-time kiosks, it invites long lines (which film festivals love for photo-op reasons). These films also favor brief, 10-15 minute presentations, which are the bread-and-butter of the indie filmmaking world. And the concept reeks of exclusivity—of the sense that, if you wanna see experimental VR fare, you need to get to Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW to strap in and trip out.

But—seriously, hear me out—VR filmmaking at its best replicates the experience of live theater in a really accessible way. (I've been saying this for years.) You can't watch something like Hamilton on DVD and expect the same impact. And when a VR "film" is done right, with smart technical decisions at play, it really meets (or, sometimes, exceeds) Broadway's best without requiring a flight to New York or a ticket lottery.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, htc vive, oculus go, oculus rift, SXSW, SXSW2019, virtual reality, vr films | Comments (0)

HBO’s Elizabeth Holmes documentary tells a bloody good story of a bad con job

March 15th, 2019
Poster for the documentary The Inventor.

Enlarge (credit: HBO)

AUSTIN, Texas—While watching new documentary The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley, I constantly marveled at the film's effort to do the seemingly impossible: to present Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of Theranos, as a likeable person.

For one, that's an uphill battle for a Silicon Valley burnout whose crash-and-burn reputation precedes her. For another, this documentary comes from famed takedown artist Alex Gibney, who's previously focused his filmmaking lens on the obvious-villain likes of Enron and the Church of Scientology. Shouldn't we expect the worst?

Things get savage in The Inventor, certainly. Theranos' worst stories have previously been laid bare, and anybody familiar with the company's original promises—transparent, affordable bloodwork for all—won't learn much new in this documentary. (Though, yes, The Inventor is still a fine primer for anybody going into the story blind.) Rather, what Gibney really contributes is a better look at Theranos' secret sauce: how Holmes got so far with so little.

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Posted in Elizabeth Holmes, film review, film reviews, Gaming & Culture, movie review, Movie reviews, SXSW, SXSW2019, Theranos | Comments (0)

How “Elon Musk” came to SXSW and launched a rocket to Mars (but not really)

March 13th, 2019
How “Elon Musk” came to SXSW and launched a rocket to Mars (but not really)

Enlarge (credit: SXSW)

AUSTIN, Texas—In 2018, Elon Musk showed up at South by Southwest to inspire humanity. In 2019, "Elon Musk" showed up to destroy it.

“By the way, my accent? It’s correct," "Musk" told a sold out theater on Friday night toward the beginning of "his" SXSW Comedy keynote, Elon Musk: The Frightening and Awful Future of Humanity. "I’m South African and also Canadian, so I’m evil but kind of shy about it.”

If you're thinking something looks a little different about "Musk" at SXSW 2019, it's not the choice of sweater. "When I’m doing an impression, I’m most interested in making fun of folks who are already larger-than-life personalities: bombastic figures, figures with giant egos, and maybe bigger blind spots—I love that," "Elon," aka comedian James Adomian, tells Ars. "That’s what makes it interesting to me and the audience. I’m not going to be doing a Robert De Niro impression. Obviously, sometimes you do an impression someone else has done before, but you want your own take on it, and that involves finding the craziest thing about them and exaggerating it—that’s where the comedy is. It’d be boring if I didn’t pick big targets."

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Posted in Elon Musk, Gaming & Culture, spacex, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

Congress at SXSW: Yes, we’re dumb about tech, and here’s what we should do

March 13th, 2019
The United States Capitol Building, the seat of Congress, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Enlarge / The United States Capitol Building, the seat of Congress, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (credit: Omar Chatriwala / Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas—Some legislators have an easier time attracting a sexy headline at an arts-and-tech conference like South By Southwest. Famous Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren did just that over the weekend with their respective, radical suggestions about government oversight.

Meanwhile, other members of Congress sat in poorly attended panels, and their low numbers weren't helped with snooze-worthy names like "Politicians Yell at the Cloud" and "Politicians in Tech: When the Bubble Bursts." But what these panels lacked in pizzazz, they made up for with fascinating context, direct from three House Representatives, on how starved our American Congress is in terms of staffing and support for understanding and tackling America's biggest tech priorities.

The Senate is “woefully uninformed”

Conveniently for Congress's most tech-fluent members, they had an easy reference point to use for their messaging. "There was a glaring lack of knowledge from Senators when they interviewed [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg," Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said on Sunday, in reference to a 2018 Congressional hearing. "They were woefully uninformed."

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Posted in congress, elizabeth warren, Policy, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

It’s definitely aliens: Teen girls save the world in genre-bending Snatchers

March 12th, 2019
Sara (Mary Nepi) and Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse) team up to save their Arizona town from an alien invasion in <em>Snatchers.</em>

Enlarge / Sara (Mary Nepi) and Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse) team up to save their Arizona town from an alien invasion in Snatchers. (credit: Stage 13)

A teen pregnancy goes horribly awry in Snatchers, a charming genre-bending send-up of B-movie creature features, infused with the anything-goes spontaneity of sketch comedy. The horror/comedy debuted last weekend at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

(Mild spoilers for Snatchers below.)

High school student Sara (Mary Nepi) is pretty and popular, but she's also just been dumped by her hunky boyfriend, Skyler (Austin Fryberger) because she wanted to wait to have sex. He tells her he's "changed" during his trip to Mexico over the summer and now has "different priorities"—essentially he's turned into a mass of teenage hormones seeking any outlet for release. Desperate to hang onto her social status, Sara relents to his advances, but they don't use protection. She wakes up a day later not just pregnant, but fully nine months pregnant. And what she's carrying is definitely not a baby but some parasitic alien creature that shoots out from her uterus like a bloody cannonball. Things just get weirder (and gorier) from there.

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Posted in Entertainment, film, Gaming & Culture, Snatchers, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)

Stuffed documentary: Maybe taxidermy isn’t such a dead industry after all

March 12th, 2019

The trailer for Stuffed, a taxidermy documentary.

AUSTIN, Texas—Growing up in a suburb of a suburb in Pennsylvania, my hometown's main street looked like you might expect: funeral home, gas station/convenient mart, VFW pub... and a taxidermy office. (Back then, the state even gave public schools a day off at the start of deer-hunting season.) As someone more interested in playing text-based adventure games after-hours on my dad's work computer, I never saw the inside of that last communal institution. But I had a pretty crude mental image based on context clues: antlers lining the walls, camouflage outerwear tossed over a chair, pickup truck parked out back with dead animals in the bed.

Hosting its world premiere this week at South by Southwest, the new documentary Stuffed has come to fix this exact kind of misconception. "You get anything from, 'You do taxes?' to 'That's really creepy.'" That's how one profiled taxidermist describes people's reactions when he tells them what he does. (It's easy to see why another taxidermist has rebranded as a "3D-animal preservationist.") "Some folks will lie and say it's not creepy, but in the back of their mind, they think you're Ted Bundy."

The reality, of course, has little to do with any kind of fascination with death or killing. If Stuffed's ~85-minute ride is to be believed, modern taxidermy is as much if not more about art and nature preservation as it is about dead animals.

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Posted in Animals, documentaries, Gaming & Culture, Stuffed, SXSW, SXSW2019, taxidermy | Comments (0)

Breakthrough, the rare science documentary that feels like a miracle

March 11th, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—"It's astonishing how few documentaries there are about gifted scientists," filmmaker Bill Haney tells Ars about Breakthrough, his new documentary premiering over the weekend at South by Southwest. "Part of it is most filmmakers don’t know much about science, they’re thinking about film. But science can be complex, and audiences can be overwhelmed by scientific subjects. If you’re not careful, you can make NOVA, which hits your head not your heart."

Luckily for audiences, Breakthrough has both. And that's because (luckily for Haney) recent Nobel-winning scientist Dr. James Allison agreed to be the film's focal point. For those familiar with Allison's groundbreaking work centered on empowering the immune system to battle cancer, the documentary spends ample amounts of time in the lab detailing everything from how the scientist first became fascinated by T cells to his years of work leading up to the potentially game-changing cancer drug, Ipi. (No less than Woody Harrelson narrates each of Allison's scientific steps along the way.)

And while it may not pack in the same amount of information as reading an Allison paper directly, Breakthrough remains loyal to its academic source material in a way that's clear enough for any viewer to follow. The film quite frankly feels a little bit like a science communications miracle in this regard.

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Posted in cancer, Dr. Jim Allison, Gaming & Culture, medical science, Nobel prize, science, SXSW, SXSW2019 | Comments (0)