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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Finding My Way

As expected, this past week has left me physically and mentally exhausted. My wife and I had hoped to celebrate our wedding anniversary by going to a nice restaurant on Friday evening but we were both simply too worn out to even think about making a reservation. We'll have to leave it for another day...probably Monday.

Meanwhile, the first week of the academic year went quite smoothly, even if it was jam packed with activities for both new and returning students. I particularly enjoyed lunch with the postgraduate students on Friday. What a civilized way to start a postgraduate degree! The fish & chips at the university canteen was even better than it has ever been in recent memory. It was surprisingly very non-salty and I guess that's what made it most appealing to me. The average fish & chips punter would probably find this dull or simply drown the meal in salt and vinegar.

To make me remember that a new academic year doesn't mean that everything else just goes away or changes, I made sure to relish the time I spend every weekend producing my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. This week's edition adds four more tracks to the list of nominations toward the 2008 Listeners' Picks.

The first selection continues in the same vein I explored recently with Maltese rock bands fronted by female singers. Jeanelle and Uncharted provide an alternative sound that is quite refreshing on the local rock scene. You can hear their new song The Dream on my podcast and, if you're in Malta next weekend, you can catch them live at the Poxx Bar on October 11, along with Airport Impressions.

I normally avoid featuring the same act twice on my podcast within a short period of time. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, but I gladly bring The Myth back to my podcast playlist as they have released a new single called How Does It Feel. This is a very welcome follow-up to Star as it shows that the band can do more than produce a song that sounds like an Oasis out-take. This new song is so much better that I've decided to replace Star with it on my list of nominations for the upcoming 2008 Listeners' Picks. I have a feeling that this band, which has been around for almost two decades, is still on a journey towards finding its own voice and when they do we may very well be hearing some remarkable new tracks from them.

I've also previously featured the Maltese-Australian singer-songwriter Renee Cassar on my podcast. She is on a very similar path to the one I just described for The Myth, even if she's come quite some way in a very short span of time. Although she has released several original songs through her MySpace page, apparently she still hasn't released an album yet. It would seem that she's aiming to rectify this by taking part in the MySpace Road Tour.

These new social networking sites have become such an essential element of the music that, like many other music fans around the world, I turn to them regularly to keep in touch with what's going on. This week through Facebook I discovered that Toby and Kristina Casolani have just written and recorded the theme song for the new Maltese TV series Traceland called Traces. It's good to have these two on the list of nominations for the 2008 Listeners' Picks.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Black Hole Sun

Yesterday I got back from being on the road for almost a whole week. After a couple of days in Bournemouth for the inaugural Media Education Summit I spent three days in Leeds for the 4th Theatre and Performance Research Association annual conference. Such events are excellent opportunities for academic networking. Add to this several high quality presentations and you have yourself a great recipe for professional rejuvenation, just in time before the start of a new academic year.

Now that I'm back in Scarborough I know I'm home because I can easily slip into the production of the 130th edition of my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. I cherish this weekly appointment with my listeners as I discover more new music from Malta.

HeartBeat and Footprints are two Maltese christian rock bands who have just released debut singles. HeartBeat is quite new on the scene but Footprints have already appeared on a previous edition of the MMI podcast. I particularly like the vocal combination on HeartBeat's Someway Someday between Dorienne Cachia, Bernard Bonnici, and Allen Gatt. The southern town of Żejtun has been know for its singers for many decades. Footprints' Red Line is a promising debut release, which has also appeared on the recently released CD compilation Malta Rocks, sponsored by the Malta Tourism Authority.

I haven't acquired a copy of the Malta Rocks CD but I do have a copy of another compilation CD released in Malta this year. Last week I played a track from Stagedive's Alternative Sounds From Malta Vol 1. This week I'm playing another track from it. It's pleasure to bring back to the MMI podcast the music and voice of Adolf Formosa. Does She Dream is the song by Adolf on the Stagedive CD and it is a great track to introduce this singer-songwriter to anyone who hasn't been lucky enough to hear him before.

Although I've never really been a huge fan of dance music I appreciate good music regardless of genre. The Vagabond Project's Time of Your Life shares it's title with Green Day's anthemic Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)...but there's where the similarity ends. Gavin Borg has produced an excellent dance number which is also a strong pop tune. I've always known that Gavin's sister Coryse has a solid singing voice but this recording shows her vocal prowess in full force. Comparisons can be odious but for me this new release by The Vagabond Project feat. Cor is up there with the best of the recent stuff released by Madonna. In another time in another place it would achieve the same kind of acclaim. As far as I'm concerned, it certainly deserves it.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rock 'n Roll

This past week I've been attending the Beached Academy, as a student. This is an annual opportunity for budding talent in Scarborough to work with professional tutors on song-writing skills and music performance. There's also training for people who want to work on the technical side. While some would think that I don't qualify to be a student within such a setting, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. It was good to be among young, raw performers keen to see what the scene has to offer. This is why I teach at the university. And yet, it was quite good to see what the student experience is really like. Our tutors were Toby Jepson (former Little Angels frontman and the new singer for Gun) and celebrity vocal coach Dave Laudat. Their generosity is astounding.

We shall all be performing at the Beached Festival on Sunday 17 August here in Scarborough, so I'm sure I'll talk about all this some more later. I'll (hopefully) also get an opportunity to play you a recording we did together on a song written at this year's Beached Academy on my weekly podcast. Former Goldfrapp drummer Rowan Oliver, who is now a fellow tutor at the university, said that hearing me sing was a revelation. I'd certainly put that on my poster and publicity material if I were to take this further rather than return to my regular life once Beached is over.

For the 126th edition of my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast I've picked Jean Claude Vancell's new song Heartbreaker as the show opener. Once again JCV delivers an excellent track showcasing both his skills as a songwriter and as a singer. I have a lot of time for this young man and so should you.

The Areola Treat will be appearing live with the Retrophytes at the Poxx Bar next Saturday, 16th August. Last month they released their eponymous debut EP on the Belgian independent label Kinky Star. Boulevard Werewolf is lifted from it. Playing this band's music on my podcast for the third time in less than a year (do I like this band?) makes me realize that I've never played anything by Lumiere, the band Areola guitarist Adrian and drummer Chris played in in the first half of this decade. So to right that wrong, I've included Rememberence of Lovers Past from their 2005 album It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time. That was indeed one of the finest bands to grace the Maltese music scene, ever.

Since I'm playing something from 2005 and it's August, I must pause to celebrate Pinkpube's upcoming birthday/anniversary. On the 23rd August 2005, Pinkpube was launched 4 astounding EPs. HA's Approaching the Gnu was one of them. From it I've included Festa in this week's podcast. I'll be returning to the Pinkpube catalogue again over the next two weeks to mark the third birthday/anniversary properly or as we say in Maltese kif imiss.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chant Number 1

To say that students are eager to get their marks at this time of the year is to state the obvious. It is therefore not surprising at all that over 1000 Maltese students have taken to Facebook to pressure the Malta Union of Teachers and the University of Malta Academic Staff Association to end their current trade dispute with the University of Malta. The students rightly claim that this action is unfairly using students’ result to enhance leverage on their cause, justified as that may be.

Aside from the politics of what the lecturers want and/or deserve and how they go about getting it, the most interesting element in all this for me is the use of Facebook to put pressure on the university and the lecturers to take the results out of their negotiations. This use of Facebook goes far beyond the trivial nonsense associated with vampires, zombies, flirting, showing off and a hundred and one other time wasting uses of this popular social networking online utility.

This is the best use of Facebook by a pressure group of this sort that I've seen so far from Malta. If there are other examples you know about, please bring them to my attention; you can also contact me directly on Facebook if you prefer. I recently wrote the first draft of a chapter about youth culture and the media for a forthcoming book about media in Malta, and I may include examples like this in it to show how the Internet provides new means of communication for young Maltese people.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Yesterday I started teaching a new module called Psychology of Internet Behaviour to 3rd year students in the various Digital Media programmes at the School of Arts and New Media on the University of Hull's Scarborough Campus. One of the topics I'm exploring with the students is Internet addiction. I don't believe there's such a thing as Internet addiction in as much as there's no such thing as addiction to social interaction or entertainment or knowledge sharing. We'll see what the students make of this in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, through Sabine Cassar Alpert's blog I came across this:

78%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Go figure!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Life's What You Make It

I'm currently in London for a couple of days. Most people who visit London for such a brief period usually take some time to catch a theatre show or take advantage of the many shopping opportunities that exceed what's on offer where they live. I used to be like this but apparently not any more. This particular visit to London is taken up mostly with a whole day event on Second Life organized jointly by Eduserv and JISC's Center for Educational Technology and Interoperability at the London Knowledge Lab, which is part of the University of London's Institute of Education.

To tell the truth, I'm also visiting some friends who live in London while I'm here. I am sure that most of my readers would rather not read about any of that and read more about the Second Life conference. This is quite alright with me, since one of the things any serious Second Lifer needs to do is find a balance between their offline life and their online life. Oddly enough, I've had a strange experience with this. I say oddly enough because it seems that the more time I spend in Second Life the less time I find to write about it. A quick look at my blog entries since I first started exploring Second Life last spring shows that I've been wanting to write a decent entry about it but never really have. So, finally, this must be it.

The conference brought together many of the most important points of interest I've found in my own Second Life experiences. To give some context to any of my readers who are not at all familiar with Second Life I'll intertwine some comments about the presentations at the conference with my own interests and activities in SL.

Eduserv's Andy Powell gave a very interesting introduction on SL. Aside from discussing the rational for Eduserv funding, he gave a very comprehensive overview of what people expect and think about SL. He did this through specially designed t-shirts I believe that professional t-shirt enthusiasts Howard Besser would find this approach highly innovative and engaging. Andy Powell sees a relationship between second life t-shirts and the status line in Facebook. I find this connection quite intriguing since I'm familiar with both. Admittedly, the Facebook status is much simpler to update than text on a SL t-shirt, but for anyone who has used both the connection between the two is fairly evident.

The highlight of the day's proceedings for me was Hugh Denard's presentation entitled: Theatre, Performance, History and Creative Pedagogy: Theatron's Second Life. Based at King's College London, the Theatron project has drawn praise from all theatre and performance historians who have come across it. Originally started in 2001, this EU-funded project has created 3D models of 10 historically significant theatre buildings in Europe. These include the amphitheatre of Dionysus in ancient Greece, the Teatro Olymipico of Vicenza, Shakespeare's Globe, and Appia's revolutionary Helleraus Festspielhaus. In conjunction with Palatine, the Higher Education Academy's performing arts network, Theatron has now moved to SL giving five educational institutions the opportunity to explore some of these 3D models and all the auxiliary data gathered around them.

Theatron is a very impressive undertaking, both in and away from Second Life. Even people who are not scholars of theatre and performance can appreciate the pedagogical possibilities, to say nothing of the entertainment value, of this project. I'm sure I'll be writing more about it in the coming months (though not necessarily on my blog) since, to my knowledge, no one else is so heavily invested in SL through theatre and performance as the Theatron group. I am most interested in this aspect of SL as my own research and activity in SL involves an understanding of the history of online performance dating back to the text-based environments Dungeons and Dragons inspired environments that flourished in the early 1990s.

Over lunch I had a conversation with Brett Lucas, from the English Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy. Among other things we spoke about how anyone who wants to do anything significant in SL needs immerse themselves in this online world for more than one or two brief sessions. It is not possible to introduce SL or any other multiuser online world to non-users, say in a classroom, without dedicating several sessions to first have them familiarize themselves with the basic techniques of being in world. This is undoubtedly a hurdle for many who could be interested in exploring SL without wanting to invest the not-so-brief amount of time needed to get used to being in SL.

The other three presentations for the day dealt with other aspects of teaching and learning in Second Life. Diane Carr and Martin Oliver spoke about issue that anyone who attempts to do anything that's engaging, and not just education-related work, comes across. Issues of context, conventional behaviour and methods of conducting various activities are things that will come up time and time again in any attempt to understand the various uses of SL. Many of these issues will crop up again in the coming weeks with students taking my Psychology of Internet Behaviour module in Scarborough.

What attracts me to SL is not the thing itself. I'm interested in SL from a historical perspective. History is a term that usually evokes a not-so-recent past, but the history I speak about here is one of online performance, which only really goes back to the early 1990s activities I mentioned earlier. I see a natural continuum between text-based networked environments like IRC, MUDs an MOOs, and much of the activity that goes on in SL, but there are striking differences too.. In this lineage, SL is merely one of several 3D multiuser online role playing game, even if it only shares some formal qualities with World of Warcraft or The Sims.

Anyway, I don't want this blog entry to be much longer than the ones I usually write. Through it I hope to have opened a window into my fascination with SL for anyone who wonders why I'd want to dedicate any of my precious time to something like this. More to come soon...and next time I'll also produce my weekly podcast to see if I'm able to cope with both at the same time without bringing the podcast into SL.

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