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The latest from our team at South by Southwest in Austin

KXT’s Mark Abuzzahab Talks SXSW Buzz – And Appropriate Footwear

KERA news reporters Lauren Silverman and Stephen Becker are on their way home from SXSW’s interactive and film conference, and the crew from KXT 91.7 FM is gearing up now for the music conference.  KERA’s Sam Baker asked KXT Program Director Mark Abuzzahab what band was getting the most early buzz leading in to the conference.

  • Listen to Mark and Sam on KERA FM:
  • Or read a summary:

Chvrches

Mark Abuzzahab: I think Chvches is the band that is the most universally written about in the music press. They’re an electronic band from Scotland, they toured here in the U.S. last year, opening for Passion Pit. Their new record isn’t out yet and there’s a lot of excitement about them because they have this supposedly incredible live show.

Sam Baker: Well, they spell the name CHvrch?

Mark: I think that goes back to the running joke that all the great band names have been taken.

Sam: One of the great things about living in North Texas is so many bands playing at South by Southwest make a pit-stop,  playing in this area.

Mark: Yeah, artists have to travel to perform at the festival in Austin. So either on their way there, or the way out, they want to make some money. We really benefit from geography in this case. One of the artists I’m really excited to see this year is Dana Falconberry. She played at 35 Denton this past week.

The Relatives

Dallas band the Relatives played SXSW 2 years ago. They’re playing again. And they’ve got their first new record out in 40 years. It’s such a great story, and the Relatives play here at the Kessler Theater coming up on March 22.

Sam: KXT is part of a unique collaboration at the music conference this year?

Mark: KXT is joining with four other public radio stations in New York, Austin,  Philadelphia and Minneapolis, and we’re all sharing a public radio day stage. We’ll all be broadcasting the  sets live, starting Friday at noon. Artists like Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Vampire Weekend, Divine Fits, Iron &Wine. It’s a great lineup, seven bands in all. And the whole thing will be live on KXT on Friday.

Sam: How is SXSW different from festivals like Austin City Limits?

Mark: The big difference is SXSW is bigger. Also SXSW is mainly for the music industry.  However, SXSW has also evolved into a spring break destination, since its the same week as the spring break for most colleges in the area. There are a lot of day parties that happen and you don’t have to be registered for the conference to attend them. And you get this phenomenon of college students staying with friends in Austin, responding to invites on Facebook for  the day parties.  So it’s really multiple festivals going on all across the city of Austin. Whereas something like Austin City Limits is really concentrated in Zilker Park during the day, with a few after-shows in the evenings.  SXSW is just massive and engulfs the whole city.

Sam: Any advice for anyone headed to Austin this weekend?

Mark: Wear comfortable shoes.

 

 

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Fred Armisen and Marc Maron Talk Alt Comedy

Fred Armisen Photo: IFC

AUSTIN – You can call it a panel discussion, but anytime you hand four comedians microphones, it’s really a comedy club you’ve entered. That was the case Tuesday afternoon when Fred Armisen, Marc Maron, Scott Auckerman and Chris Gethard gathered to discuss transitioning alternative comedy to TV.

“I’m an alternative comedian that IFC is trying to figure out how to transition to TV, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing the advice of our panelists,” Gethard, the defacto interviewer, said by way of getting things started. The other three (Portlandia, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Maron) each have shows on the network.

Alternative comedy at this point is more a sensability than anything. Maron said the term began to describe comedians who worked outside the club circuit in alternative spaces – places where they could stretch the boudaries of convention a little more. Now, when you hear “alternative comedy,” you’re really describing anything with a certain level of quirk. And it doesn’t have to necessarily fall outside the main stream – plenty of what Saturday Night Live does these days qualifies.

So how did these guys get here? Aukerman and Maron mostly have very successful podcasts to thank. The beauty of the podcast, Auckerman said, is that, “Hundreds of thousands of people want to hear you, just not all at the same time.” And now that many people have DVRs and subscribe to services like Netflix and Hulu, they can also watch your show whenever they get around to it. But don’t get a podcast as a stepping stone to a TV show, they all said. (Easy for them to say.)

Maron said he knows the tricky transition to television well. He auditioned back in 1995 for Saturday Night Live and didn’t really connect well with Lorne Michaels (Armisen theorized that since he never really heard back from the show, maybe they’re still considering him.) And he pitched plenty of pilots to networks before IFC picked up Maron, which debuts this spring.

In the past, when other networks passed, Maron said he would just wait out his time on the bench.

“Then you hope your life becomes more interesting or worse so you can pitch it again two years later,” he said. “No, I’m not that guy anymore – I’m much sadder!”

After about a half hour, the floor was open to questions. And a useful lesson was learned: Be careful when you approach a table of live comedians. The first person who approached the mic asked about how the comedians’ humor translates internationally. Armisen explained that he was recently in Sweden and happy to see that there didn’t seem to be any cultural gap in understanding Portlandia. The woman seemed satisfied with that response and began to head back to her chair as Maron was about to add his two cents.

“Stand up! Get back at that microphone - we’re still answering your question!” Armisen shouted with mock rage. “What kind of a person asks a question and just walks away?”

After that, each audience member with a question politely asked if they could be seated once they received their answer.

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SXSW Where High-Tech Meets High-Fashion

 

Wearable Technology designer Jennifer Darmour created this garment to help people improve their technique in Pilates. Multiple sensors detect positioning and provide feedback to the wearer. (Leo Lam)

3-D glasses, sleep-monitoring headbands, energy-generating jackets…Wearable technology is on the verge of becoming mainstream. But can ski goggles with a built-in GPS and leotards that remind you to sit-up-straight actually be stylish and not just, well, geeky?

Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable technology in the 1970s, demonstrating three of his inventions (CC, Glogger).

The world of wearable technology has come a long way from the “wearable computer” of the 1970s. Back then, researchers at the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts were experimenting with attaching computer parts to their bodies and clothing. The early prototypes were  not exactly stylish.

Today, there’s a movement to blend technology and fashion more seamlessly together. Designer Jennifer Darmour came to South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive to talk about how we can literally weave technology into our clothing.

“Let’s face it,” Darmour says, “if we are going to be making these wearable devices and gadgets and we’re asking people to wear them, they need to look good.”

She says it doesn’t matter if your sweatshirt can protect you from UV rays and your shoes can track calories if their  uncomfortable and unattractive.

Read More »

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Lytro cameras at SXSW: Re-focus Those Pix After You Shoot ‘Em.

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Experience my Lytro gallery here. 

Lytro cameras were all the rage at SXSW interactive this year.  The company set up shop in a tent near the Austin convention center, and offered a 24 hour loaner camera to anyone wiling to give a copy of their credit card to cover lost or damaged property.  With the cameras starting at $399, this seems reasonable.

Lytro is the first consumer grade, light field camera on the market.  The cameras allow photographers, and viewers of photos, to re-focus an image after it has been taken.

How it works:

A newly announced feature retroactive to all models further processes images, giving the ability to use “perspective shift,”

I was able to get my hands on one of the cameras, and took a few test shots while out scouting locations for Art&Seek and KXT’s On The Road series.

See the gallery here, and click around on the images to try out re-foucs and perspective shift for yourself.

 

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SXSW: A Film Recap

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz star in Upstream Color.

This morning, I chatted with KERA’s Morning Edition host Sam Baker about what I’ve been up to at SXSW. We talked about the wild Spring Breakers, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color – all movies I’ve also written about  here on the blog.

If you missed our conversation, you can listen to it here:

So far, Upstream Color is really the film that’s stuck with me the most – I think I’ve thought about it at least some everyday since I saw it. And you’ll be able to see it soon, too – it’s scheduled to open at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on April 19.

I’ve caught other films down here, too, including some that will soon be playing at the Dallas International Film Festival. I’ll probably wait until closer to the festival to write a little more about those.

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A Picture and a Thousand Words

AUSTIN – A walk throught the trade show at the Austin Convention Center is a curious experience in that it can somehow make you feel smarter and dumber at the same time. You’re getting an insider’s look at brand new innovations and tools. And when a company rep begins to explain exactly what it is they do, I mostly just stand there and blink like Homer Simpson. I’m certain they can see the cat playing with a ball of yarn inside my head. (This is territory better explored by my Interactive running buddy, Lauren Silverman, anyhow.)

But when I saw an impressive looking booth covered in New York Times logos, I figured I’d found something I can relate to. How far above my head can something nicknamed The Old Grey Lady be?

The main goal, of course, was to get people to subscribe to the paper. I couldn’t tell if the rep I spoke with was glad or disappointed when I told him I’m already signed up.

Still, he let me get my word cloud portrait made anyway. It really is the coolest of the trinkets on the trade show floor this year. Basically, they take your picture with an iPad and then fill in the outlines with words from your favorite section. I, of course, chose the Arts section. And would you look at the word that happened to populate right in my eye. (If you click the image, you can take a closer look.) Maybe The Times is more prescient that I’ve given it credit for?

Of course, my brain seems to be highly focused on “Nintendo,” so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into this.

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Wearable Tech At SXSW

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This prototype pilates garment helps track your moves in the studio and provide feedback on your performance. The designer, Jennifer Darmour, spoke at SXSW Interactive 2013. (Leo Lam)

This year at SXSW, it’s all about wearable technology. Everyone’s talking about what we’ll be able to do with our clothes in the future.  And while it’s fun to think ahead to what you MIGHT be able to get your hands on, or put your hands in, next year, there are high-tech fashion items available now. Here are a few interesting products I’ve heard people talk about:

  • InPulse Smart Notification Watch
    You don’t have to wait for the rumored Apple iWatch to check your text messages, email, or recent phone calls on your wrist. A few companies already  have watches keeping you from relying on your phone for updates, including Inpulse’s Smart Notification Watch.
  • Lumoback
    This device nags you when you slouch. Worn on your lower back, it vibrates when you need to straighten up and connects to your iPhone or iPad. You can also track your progress over time to see whether you’ve learned to maintain better posture.
  • BodyMedia FIT LINK Armband
    This is a Bluetooth-enabled system that measures calories burn and relative effort levels throughout the entire day to help manage fitness and weight loss goals. The device has four sensors that measure skin temperature, heat flux, and galvanic skin response;  a 3-axis accelerometer built into the armband tracks motion/movement.

And if you’re into golf, there’s the glove that tracks your swing

Have you tried any of these devices? What do you think of their performance, and how they look? What do you want your clothes to do for you? Let us know, and stay tuned. Tuesday I report on a tank top that doubles as a Pilates coach, and a dress that allows you to send messages to friends on Facebook.

 

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‘Spring Breakers’: The Good with the Bad

 

Harmony Korine with the cast of Spring Breakers following Sunday night’s screening. Photo: Dane Walters

AUSTIN – Since Sunday night at approximately midnight, people have been asking me what I thought of Spring Breakers.

And the lame answer I keep giving them is: “I don’t know.”

The setup is simple: Four college coeds fund their spring break trip by knocking off a chicken shack in their little town. Once they make it to Panama City, Fla., any internal partying governors they may have had are released. And in scene after scene (after scene) we are witnesses to their seemingly very high tolerance for booze, drugs and anything else they can get their hands on.

Of course, they eventually run afoul of the law and are booked on a possession charge. But lucky for them, they’re bailed out by a low-level hood played by James Franco. He’s pretty much a walking rap video – all fast cars, exotic weapons and illicit substances. The remainder of the film pretty much follows their collective partying mixed in with occasional bursts of violence. There’s a bit of an open-ended finale, but don’t worry – this ain’t Inception.

So back to my inability to weigh in. On the one hand, Spring Breakers is an exercise in repetition – a treadmill of a movie. Party, gun play, bikini change, repeat. On the other, director Harmony Korine is a master of style. The only substance in Spring Breakers is the illegal kind. But Korine has an expert eye for images and a deft touch at piecing together scenes. Who else would have Franco sit down at his outdoor piano to play Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” and morph that into a montage of the girls and their gangster violently robbing unsuspecting spring breakers?

The real question in Spring Breakers dates back to the ancient Romans: Are you not entertained?

It’s hard to not answer yes.

It helps to see it with the crowd assembled at the Paramount Theater on Sunday night. I waited in the longest line I’ve ever waited in in my nine years of coming to SXSW – five city blocks long. So I think these folks were really hoping to like something they’d stood in line for hours to see.

During the Q&A after the show, Franco pretty much summed up what’s at work here. He talked about how Korine created a space where the actors could go as far as they wanted.

“Harmony makes a movie that could support that character, and that’s why I could go so crazy is because there was no way to go over the top.”

What it really comes down to is: Climbing and climbing as high as you can in search of over-the-top is it’s own kind of thrill – one Spring Breakers strives for earnestly. But there will be plenty who understandably won’t have the stomach for the ride.

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A Texas Social Revolución At SXSW

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The Social Revolución party At SXSW promises local music, networking, ‘blogeando,’ and good times.

You might not rock out at SXSW Interactive quite as much as you would at SXSW Music, but there are still a lot of parties to party at and lounges to lounge in.

For the second year in a row, Social Revolución – the official Latino event at Interactive — is throwing a big fiesta this Tuesday. What for? To celebrate online Latinos influencing cultural shifts and trends. One of the organizers is Armando Rayo — known locally as the taco guy. He’s featured in this KERA radio story about creating content online that speaks to Latinos in Texas.

There are over nine million Hispanic-Americans in Texas —  approximately 38% of the state’s total population. Here are a few more facts about Texas’ Hispanic-American population. After you digest this information, get on over to the fiesta in East Austin.

  • Texas has the 2nd largest Hispanic population in the nation.
  • There are 3.8 million eligible Hispanic voters in Texas, which constitute 25% of all eligible voters in the state.
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Matthew McConaughey Builds a Treehouse


AUSTIN – Mud is about a guy trying to say one step ahead of the law after killing a guy in San Antonio. He camps out on a little island on the Mississippi River, where he cooks up a plan for how he’ll be reunited with his true love.

It’s hard to imagine Matthew McConaughey not playing the part. In fact, it will probably surprise no one to learn that he actually camped out on the island while filming.

“On set, somebody came up and almost whispered, “Matthew’s gonna camp out on the island. He wants a tent. Do you know anyone who has a tent?’” Mud director Jeff Nichols recalled Sunday morning. “And I remembered thinking, ‘This is awesome. … This is the guy. This is the right guy.’ I never camped out on that island.”

Part of what also made McConaughey the right guy is his small-town Texas upbringing. The main characters in Mud are actually a couple of 14-year-old boys who cross paths with Mud while boating up the river. They strike a deal with the fugitive to help him get a boat running that’s stuck in a tree on the island.

It’s the sort of trouble that only rural kids can get into. And McConaughey said he remembered well being a kid and having nothing but time and wide open spaces to explore. And while he never aided a fugitive (at least he didn’t confess to that Sunday morning) he did manage to construct a 13-story treehouse in the tallest oak tree he could find.

He had a certain gleam in his eye as he recounted the summer he spent on the project. He snuck out some wire cutters from his dad’s trailer, broke into a nearby lumberyard, and used those materials to construct his masterpiece.

“At the very end of the summer, after it was done and we were gonna move, I asked dad to come take a walk with me,” McConaughey says. “And I showed him it was 13 stories, and I think he knows I got the wood from over there.”

 “And I thought you were going to say, ‘And it collapsed’,” Nichols chimed in. “You’re quite the engineer.”

After SXSW, Mud will play the Dallas International Film Festival in April.

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