Creating A Disco Smash in 2013? Daft Punk Pulls It Off – The Creative Mind

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“The present has no ribbon,” Pharrell Williams sings on Get Lucky, and he’s right. The early line from Daft Punk’s already-smash new single foreshadowed the surprise release of the band’s new album, Random Access Memories. After months of hype around a May 21 release date, there it was on Monday, streaming on iTunes – no pomp, no circumstance, no ribbon.

But it was definitely a present. Random Access Memories may go on to be one of the biggest-selling albums of the year, and deservedly so. There is also a distinct possibility it will do even more: Daft Punk, the French house pioneers who delivered electronic music to mainstream audiences in the 1990s, has crafted an album that intends to disrupt the movement it helped create.Some observers are going so far as to call this a “Zeitgeist moment.” Maybe. What’s definitely true is that with Daft Punk’s disco experiment – “We wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers,” member Thomas Bangalter told Rolling Stone , “but with people” – he has already produced an instant No. 1 single and broken music-streaming records .

This album, which rewrites Daft Punk’s approach to music, could steer pop in a direction it hasn’t dared go since disco died one fateful night in Chicago in 1979 . It is man-powered instruments recorded with electronic precision. It’s slinky rhythms no one has successfully recorded for decades. It’s something only Daft Punk could pull off. Random Access Memories pays homage to pop’s past while totally disregarding contemporary expectations.

There’s nothing objectively wrong with dance music, which is perhaps more popular now than it ever has been, as artists such as Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta rule charts and win hearts. But for every new artist and subgenre that emerges of electronic dance music – the catchall dance music term is now shortened to EDM – there is an argument, which Daft Punk shares, that the genre is getting stale.

The band’s chief co-conspirators, Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, have stripped the E from EDM to prove that just because they dress like robots doesn’t mean they need to sound like them. And so we have an album soaked in disco, all slinking guitar riffs and hi-hat flicks, flourishing synths and popping bass.

Daft Punk spent more than four years enlisting the album’s inspirations to perfect its sound. You can thank Chic’s Nile Rodgers for the bouncing guitars across tracks such as Get Lucky and Lose Yourself to Dance. And that Quincy Jones influence? That’s deliberate , and replicated as faithfully as possible with the use of session musicians such as drummer John (JR) Robinson, who played on the Jones-produced Michael Jackson album Off the Wall. One of the only tracks to feature programmed drums is Giorgio by Moroder , a nine-minute synth jam overlaid with a monologue by disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder on how he first approached music.

Consistent with Daft Punk history, vocal manipulation is laid on thick, but even the Vocoders’ execution is a means to an end: “Here, we were trying to make robotic voices sound the most human they’ve ever sounded, in terms of expressivity and emotion,” Bangalter told Rolling Stone. It’s a sharp contrast to the garbled robotics that chart toppers such as Skrillex feature on their tracks. (De Homem-Christo says he hasn’t even really listened to Skrillex , who coincidentally hadn’t yet been born when the chief inspirations for this album were recorded.)

Many of today’s mainstream EDM artists, such as Skrillex, came to the fore by producing larger-than-life sounds. With Random Access Memories , Daft Punk shows us that the sound of life itself is pretty great, too. There’s no reason these two approaches can’t coexist – but if someone’s going to start a tectonic shift, it makes sense that it’s the duo that laid the foundation in the first place.

These shifts have happened before. After 20 years of inflating egos, hard rock’s bubble finally burst with the release of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II in September of 1991. It had grown too big, too rich, too saturated in excess (both in sound and attitude) to have any more sense of character. The week after the wildly anticipated pair of albums went for sale, Nirvana’s grunge classic Nevermind was released to the public. Within a couple years, Axl Rose found himself on the wrong side of music history.

Yes, it’s far too naive to argue that this is about to happen again, but there is at least one certain similarity here: Random Access Memories will show a new generation of musicians that it’s okay – no, it’s great – to make pop like this. Only Daft Punk could have pulled that off. Dance music, we’re learning again, is human after all.

Amy Winehouse Documentary Headed to Cannes

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Using never-before-seen archival footage, the untitled film will recount the recording artist’s life and career; Focus Features International will shop the high-profile project to foreign buyers at the Cannes Film Market.

Universal Music and acclaimed documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia are teaming to bring the story of Amy Winehouse‘s life and career to the big screen.

Focus Features International, a division within the Universal empire, will shop the high-profile project to foreign buyers at next month’s Cannes Film Market.

“This is an incredibly modern, emotional and relevant film that has the power to capture the zeitgeist and shine a light on the world we live in in a way that very few films can,” said Kapadia and Gay-Rees.

“Amy was a once-in-a-generation talent who captured everyone’s attention; she wrote and sung from the heart, and everyone fell under her spell. But tragically, Amy seemed to fall apart under the relentless media attention, her troubled relationships, her global success and precarious lifestyle. As a society we celebrated her huge success, but then we were quick to judge her failings when it suited us,” they added.

Winehouse rose to international fame with her second album, Back to Black, which has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide since its release in 2006. The English artist died in 2011 of alcohol poisoning.

“Asif and James have the remarkable ability to bring a moving and thought-provoking story to life, as evidenced by Senna. We look forward to seeing their vision of Amy Winehouse,” Focus International co-president Alison Thompson said.

The untitled Winehouse doc reunites Kapadia with producer James Gay-Rees; they worked together on the 2010 award-winning doc Senna, which recounts the life and death of Brazilian car-racing champion Ayrton Senna.

“There’s another part to her character and persona very few people knew about, and that was her gentleness and warm-heartedness,” says Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father, noting that his daughter often took care of homeless people and needy children.

Creating With The Machines – The Creativity Post

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Synopsis

“The future of economic value will not reside in work as we now know it (…), but in our ability to connect with communities of people that share our purpose.”

The Luddites were a group of expert weavers in the 19th century who, upon seeing that the invention of the factory loom had made their skills obsolete, smashed the machines in protest.  Ever since, “luddite” has become a disparaging term for those who fear technological advance.

As I wrote previously in Forbeswe’re all Luddites now, at least in the sense that many of the hard won skills that we’ve come to depend on for income and social status are now being automated.

MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have argued that the solution is to learn to “race with the machines;” to become less like the mythical John Henry struggling to outdo a steam hammer and more like an Indy car driver, using technology to race at incredible speed.  If so, we will need to not only redefine work, but ourselves as well.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

In How to Create a Mind, technologist Ray Kurzweil makes the apt observation that creative genius stems from the ability to compose metaphors.

From Darwin’s transference of geological concepts to the biological realm to Einstein’s thought experiments to Shakespearean sonnets, the ability to see important connections between vastly different contexts has driven civilization forward.

Metaphor is also a powerful force in the business world. When Steve Jobs looked at MP3 players, he didn’t see a particular combination of hardware and software protocols, but “1000 songs in my pocket.”  That simple concept became the iPod, and its success led to the greatest turnaround in corporate history.

The ability to create metaphor is something that we’ve come to consider uniquely human. We are not, after all, calculating machines, but creative ones.  As Immanuel Kant argued long ago, the essential human trait is dignity, the right to create out of our life what we intend, rather than what we are directed to.

And that’s what’s so disturbing about the rise of the machines.  Computers are now learning to create as well, from music, to books to Haiku.  If we are to learn to race with the machines, it is not so much technology that we need to understand, but the creative act itself.

Recognizing Patterns

We have standard ways to describe particular creative talents.  A great musician is said to have “perfect pitch” while a talented visual artist is praised for having a “good eye.”  This ability to recognize patterns is critical to the act of creation.

When we begin to develop as infants, we first learn very simple patterns, such as as lines and colors. As we mature, we learn to combine these into shapes and symbols, (i.e. letters and numbers) and develop the ability to combine strings of symbols into writing and calculation.   We then learn to weave those patterns into higher-level concepts.

Eventually, the patterns we acquire evolve into value distinctions of profession and culture. Our life’s work becomes embedded into our knowledge of specific high-order patterns that are native to our chosen field of endeavor.

At some point we come to regard the ability to recognize those patterns, in ourselves and others, as a skill; a mark of both quality and of inclusion to a particular tribe, such as trade specialists, artists, marketers, doctors, finance professionals and so on.

Tangling Hierarchies

Familiarity with patterns, however, does not result in a creative act.  It is only a prerequisite.  Creativity occurs when we combine an aspect of one particular hierarchy of patterns with an element from another.  Douglas Hofstadter called these strange loops and they often happen in the waking hours, when our brains’ alpha waves are at their peak.

Kurzweil estimates that our minds are capable of holding 100,000 patterns and technological advances throughout history have allowed us to augment our abilities by outsourcing them.  From writing to printing, slide rules to hand calculators, we have limited our need to retain low-order skills and freed up our cognitive energies for higher-order ones.

We now outsource complex information to the cloud and no longer need to remember things like directions or recipes, because we can access them in seconds, wherever and whenever we need them.  Supercomputers like IBM’s Watson are beginning to master patterns, such as those inherent to lawmedicine and finance, that today pass for highly specialized knowledge.

Our machines are learning to take over much of what we value in ourselves and we will have to learn to adjust.

Destructive Creation

As Joseph Schumpeter pointed out over half a century ago, truly substantial creative acts also destroy by replacing what came before them.  This wasn’t a mere observation, but a crucial insight into how innovation produces prosperity.

In a similar vein, Dee Hock, the legendary founder of the Visa credit card and a creative destructor in his own right, had this to say about creativity:

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

That’s all well and good, but if you were a skilled weaver in the early 19th century or, for that matter, an educated professional today, the notion is far from comforting.  The idea that capabilities that you have spent your life developing have become “archaic furniture” is not one you welcome.  It’s enough to make anyone want to reach for the nearest sledgehammer.

Nevertheless, that is the situation that we find ourselves in.  Our professional skills are becoming obsolete and the old order of things is rapidly dying away.  Our ability to survive will be determined by how fast we can build a new skills to replace them.

The Passion Economy

It is a matter of historical fact that Steve Jobs created the iPod and the method in which he chose to do so is well documented.  What is not much discussed is why he ever wanted to.

The answer is simple (and also very well documented).  Steve Jobs loved music and wanted to make a device for others who loved it too.  He didn’t hire consultants or commission market research, (in fact, he famously eschewed them), nor did he analyze the technical specifications of existing products.  He just thought MP3 players were “sucky” and that annoyed him.

And that is the key to racing with machines.  We are subtly moving from a skills economy to a passion economy, where the primary function of organizations is not to direct work, but to focus passion and purpose.  Formal legal entities, while still important, will be subservient to communities of meaning, which will transcend barriers of formalism.

Indy racecars, after all, have steering wheels for a reason.  Nobody would pay to see hunks of metal run hurtle around a track if people weren’t driving them. It is not pistons or spark plugs that we cheer on, but shared intent.

And so, we now face the same dilemma as the Luddites of centuries past. While we cling to our soon-to-be-antiquated skills, the future of economic value will not reside in work as we now know it (much of which will be automated), but in our ability to connect with communities of people that share our purpose.

This article originally appeared at DigitalTonto.

By Greg Satell

Greg Satell is an internationally recognized authority on Digital Strategy and Innovation who has served in senior Strategy and Innovation roles for the Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s premier marketing services companies. In 2012, Innovation Excellence ranked Greg #6 on their annual list of the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers.
Previously, he was Co-CEO of KP Media and spent 15 years in Eastern Europe managing a variety of media businesses ranging from market leading web sites to history making news organizations to women’s and lifestyle focused media.

Find out more at http://www.digitaltonto.com/

Daft Punk’s Top-Secret ‘RAM’ Is Streaming Now

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Daft Punk YEAH!

Daft Punk’s hotly anticipated new album Random Access Memories has leaked, Spin has revealed today, according to a Reddit user and ElectronicDanceMusic.com. The former started a thread titled “I HAVE THE ALBUM” in the section of the site devoted to the French eletrco-house duo, Spin added. The latter shared the news (and a WeTransfer link) via Facebook and Twitter. Neither the label nor the band has confirmed that this is the actual album, of course. But it so is. How do we know? Because the whole thing is streaming at iTunes right now. Click this link, “view in iTunes,” and press play.

Columbia Records kicked off the day’s Daft festivities by sharing a video portraying the duo opening up the first copy of RAM while hurtling through space in the UFO we’ve always suspected they own.

In a recent interview with Spin, Daft Punk compared the new album to Lord of the Rings.