Daft Punk Live: C'est la Lumiere

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 12:22 AM EDT

There's a lot to love about French duo Daft Punk's live show, which landed at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Friday, July 27th. The remixed and mashed-up versions of their well-known classics make the performance endlessly entertaining; the question of whether they're actually "performing" at all (or if, in fact, the two guys in robot masks are even Daft Punk) could give post-modern theorists a field day. But what makes the show utterly riveting, and unlike anything seen before, is the light show.

The Daft Punk stage setup comprises five distinct lighting elements, each of which would, on its own, be worth the price of admission. First, a giant low-res LED curtain screen covers the back wall (1, above); a triangular grid of LED strips with opaque covers hangs in front of that (2); directional spotlights shine out from various points on stage (3); lighting strips outline the top and bottom of the stage (4) and form a large triangular outline for the "mothership:" a pyramid (5) covered in a high-resolution LED screen, in which the duo stands and performs. All the lighting elements are perfectly synchronized to the music: they fade to black when the music winds down, and explode in color when the songs reach peak intensity.

With such a formidable canvas, it would be tempting to run things at full-bore all the time; however, what's most admirable about the lighting design is the way elements are held back for dramatic effect. Some elements stay dark for the first part of the show, and when they light up for the first time, it's typically in flat white, giving the impression that the lights are simpler than they really are. Then, when more complex patterns are introduced, it's all the more surprising. The pyramid itself, the centerpiece of the show, doesn't even switch on until halfway through the show: when it first glows white, the crowd applauds; when it flashes red, blue and green, the crowd cheers; when graphic patterns suddenly race across it in a vertigo-inducing display, the crowd goes insane. That's right; at this show, people cheer for the lights. They should--the setup cost four million dollars.

Lighting director Martin Phillips and UK producers XL Video originally put together the rig as a one-off for Daft Punk's highly-anticipated set at Coachella in 2006, and have adapted it for this tour. According to XL Video's web site, the pyramid is constructed from "over 1600 Barco O-Lite blocks, which have been custom pixel mapped to create a 3-dimensional video screen surface." The video and lighting content is all run from a digital server running five layers of programming (one for each distinct element); a backup system runs concurrently, just in case. Observant viewers will see the two systems' monitors off to the left side of the stage, displaying smaller versions of the pyramid's video content. XL's site says the lighting server actually receives live signals from the band, which apparently trigger the elements, allowing for improvisation. So it turns out something is actually being done live by the robot-masked men.

Musically, Daft Punk treat their songs like digital "memes," dropping recognizable snippets into the mix like DJs, and the lighting system follows along, with each song given its own visual theme. For instance, early in the show, the duo teases the audience with a brief vocal clip from "Around the World," and a glowing rainbow effect flickers on and off. Later, when the full song emerges, the rainbow effect takes over the entire setup. For a finale, all the lights fade to black, except for a glowing red stripe, which crawls from the stage, up and over the triangular grid, down onto the pyramid, and up to the bobbing robot masks, which suddenly themselves switch on in bright red outlines, like characters from "Tron." As the music crashes to an end, the duo turn away from the audience, and glowing electrically on their backs is the Daft Punk logo. The audience, needless to say, loses their minds.

Thus, the success of the Daft Punk tour doesn't necessarily speak to a sudden popularity of "electronica" or an appreciation for things French: it's a one-off spectacular that anyone who's interested in where technology can take live performance should see. Catch the last two dates Tuesday 8/7 in Montreal and Thursday 8/9 in New York.

Videos after the jump.

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Cunningham Co-Conspirator U.S. National Security Asset?

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

Big hints that alleged Duke Cunningham co-conspirator Tommy Kontogiannis is experiencing highly unusual treatment from the U.S. government. You can read my theories here and here. But in sum, it's becoming increasingly hard not to believe that Kontogiannis is some sort of long time U.S. government national security asset.

More here.

— Laura Rozen

Let the Warrantless Wiretapping Resume

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 1:02 PM EDT

It's official: The Protect America Act is on it's way to the president's desk and, once it arrives, you can be sure it will be signed promptly so the administration can resume its warrantless eavesdropping program (legally this time). Last night 41 House Democrats sided with their Republican colleagues to pass the measure, greenlighted by the Senate on Friday, which revises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing the NSA to intercept foreign communications without obtaining a court order. Troubling to civil libertarians and the House Democrats who voted against the legislation is the wording in the bill, which seems just vague enough that U.S. citizens and domestic communications could still be swept up in the surveillance net, which was the whole problem with the first incarnation of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. According to the bill, electronic intercepts involving people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" are fair game. The question is what constitutes "reasonable belief" and can the intel community be counted on to adhere to this standard, particularly after the FBI's well publicized abuses of its FISA authority.

Another question that's worth asking is why the Democratic leadership—Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in particular—allowed their caucus to be rushed into action on this bill, bowing to pressure from the White House and congressional Republicans, who have been agitating for a FISA fix.

Presidentials at YearlyKos - Are We Done Yet Edition

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

I am so very tired — physically, metaphysically, everything. Barack Obama will have a hard time impressing me here at this small group event.

"Changing political parties is not enough," says Obama. We need to change the way Washington does business. The main thurst of his campaign stated, he opens the floor to questions.

Education comes up first. Obama says he won't vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind unless serious changes are made to give underprivileged students better opportunities.

Next, trade. Obama has a conventional response about how trade agreements can't serve corporations; they have to serve American workers and the environment. He does point out that the speech he gives to environmentalists about fuel efficiency standards is the same speech he gives to auto executives in Detroit. Sometimes they don't like it; tough.

Obama is asked about coal, and his previous support of it. He talks about how much he supports renewables (a lot), but won't abandon coal. He says that there are coal miners in Illinois and throughout the Midwest, and he cares about their jobs. That's an unnecessary thing to say here, but kudos, I guess. He says the biggest objective in defeating global warming is working with the Chinese and Indians.

"I'm skinny but I'm tough." That's funnier without context. Is he a chicken wing?

Canadian Controversy Over Mother Jones' Article of a Doctor's Account of Cpl. Megeney's Death: The Editors Respond

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 3:36 PM EDT

There's a lot of controversy in Canada over the Mother Jones article by Dr. Kevin Patterson, "Talk to Me Like My Father: Frontline Medicine in Afghanistan," published in our July/August issue.

This 7,000 word diary of Dr. Patterson's time serving at the military hospital at Kandahar Air Field culminates with a scene in which Dr. Patterson (a Canadian) is on call when Canadian Cpl. Kevin Megeney, who'd just been accidentally shot by another soldier in his own tent, was brought in to the ER. Cpl. Megeney arrived unconscious, his pupils fixed and dilated. Dr. Patterson and the other doctors at hand tried to do what they could—including opening his chest with a "clamshell incision"—but the bullet had entered his heart.

The controversy started when the The News—a community paper that serves Pictou County, Nova Scotia, where parts of the Megeney family live—reported that George Megeney, Cpl. Megeney's uncle, was upset that Dr. Patterson described the methods used to try to save his nephew, and did not disguise his identity:

"Had he not identified Kevin, it would have been bad enough," he said. The use of the soldier's name – and lack of permission from the family to identify him – has Megeney questioning the author's ethics.
He said the first the family heard of the article was when he and Kevin's parents received a letter from Mother Jones advising them that the magazine was publishing a story with graphic content about the death, and offering to send them copies of the magazine prior to publication.

Which is more or less correct. But what The News failed to report (in part because it didn't talk to us or Dr. Patterson) in its initial article was that I spoke to Cpl. Megeney's mother at length by phone and that even after reading the article, some members of the immediate family wrote us to thank us for publishing the article and Dr. Patterson for doing all he could to try to save Cpl. Megeney. Here's the response that I posted on our website after a few people who'd read The News article wrote in to express their outrage:

As the co-editor of Mother Jones, I would like to make a few things clear in regards to the part of this story that involves Cpl. Kevin Megeney. First, we sent a letter to Cpl. Megeney's parents, uncle, and sisters, ahead of publication, informing them that this 7,000 word diary of a doctor's month of service at Kandahar Air Field did contain a scene involving the tragic death of their son. That it was written by a doctor present when Cpl. Megeney was brought in for emergency surgery, and that it would likely be disturbing to those close to him. We offered to send it to them or any intermediary they would like if they thought it would be too disturbing to read it themselves.
I then spoke with Mrs. Megeney by phone at length. She assured me that the family would like to see the article, and that she was a nurse and would read it before any other members of her family; she said it would help to have closure to know more about what happened. We heard from other members of the family who also wanted to read it, and some whom, after they did, expressed the desire to write to Dr. Patterson "to express my appreciation to him for exhausting every effort to save [him]." They asked that we link to Cpl. Megeney's memorial site, which we were already planning on doing, so our readers would have a chance to express their condolences [they've since asked that it be removed. See below].
As to the question of anonymity: The death of Cpl. Megeney was an extremely well covered story in Canada. There was no way to write about the incident and not have it be instantly clear to any member of his family or any member of the Canadian press, or anyone who'd followed the story who we were talking about simply by omitting his name. So we felt it would be false anonymity at best. Doctors can and do publicly talk about how patients die when the story is already in the news--consider press conferences following tragic accidents. And there was certainly nothing in this account that disparaged Cpl. Megeney, who served his country admirably and died in a tragic accident.
This was an extremely emotional story to work on. The account of Cpl. Megeney's death was particularly poignant, but there were many other stories in there of death and injury to soldiers and civilians that are hard to read. But in our opinion for the greater public to live in denial about what happens in a war does a disservice to those soldiers who serve and the civilians who are affected.

I could go into greater detail about our correspondence with the Megeney family, but I'm not going to. They have the right to disagree amongst themselves or to change their minds, individually or collectively, about their reaction to the article. And they have a right to express those views publicly. Their loss and their grief is their own.

But now, perhaps emboldened by (or having stirred up) this controversy, the Canadian military has announced that it will investigate if Dr. Patterson—who is a veteran of the Canadian army but went over there as a civilian because the Canadian army (like our own) is running out of enlisted doctors—violated any military rules or ethics by writing about the event. (No one, I might add, is questioning the factual basis of the article, which was rigorously fact-checked. Just whether it was okay to recount the facts.)

Now, I can't look into the military's heart and know why it is investigating Dr. Patterson. But I can say that in multiple conversations I've had in the past 24 hours with various members of the Canadian press, they've all told me off the record that they a) thought the article was great, sensitive to all parties, and responsible b) an antidote to the sanitized coverage of the war c) that the Canadian military was mostly upset because this kind of realistic account of the war (or any war) "hurts recruiting," and d) they get upset whenever they can't control the press. Particularly around a friendly-fire incident, as the Pat Tillman incident has taught Americans quite well.

I can however speak to Dr. Patterson's character, which is being maligned by some on various comments boards. I've known Dr. Patterson for nearly a decade. In addition to serving Canada in the military as young man, he took the risk to go to Afghanistan and treat allied personnel and Afghan civilians. He's also worked in Inuit and tropical communities treating TB patients (which he wrote about in "The Patient Predator" for Mother Jones; the reporting inspired his novel Consumption, which has just come out to rave reviews.). In sum, he's not only a great writer, but a truly fine human being. Were I, or anyone I loved, sick or injured, I could only hope to come under the care of someone as compassionate as he.

And on the subject of compassion: At the Megeney family's request, we've removed the link to Kevin Megeney's memorial site as some people on our site—that means you, "Jackie"—were using it to mock the family. Those posts have been deleted and we will continue to monitor. I would ask any visitor to our site that no matter what your feelings about the war in Afghanistan or Iraq that you not conflate your political opinions with other people's loss.

You can read more about the controversy at the Globe and Mail here and subsequent comments, where I've weighed in, but that has mostly deteriorated into a shouting match about the war itself here. A CBC radio interview with Dr. Patterson can be found here. And an account by the (Nova Scotia) Chronicle Herald, is here. More from The News here and here. And of course people have weighed in on our site here.

You can also view a photo essay by Canadian photographer Lana Slezic on the plight of women in Afghanistan. And CNN terror analyst and Taliban expert Peter Bergen lists ten reasons why the war in Afghanistan is starting to look more like Iraq here.

Live-Blogging the Big Forum (Circus?): The Candidates Meet on Stage

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

Next up, a forum of the presidential candidates. I'll try my best to live blog. When the candidates were introduced a moment ago, there was a standing ovation with wild applause. In fact, Barack Obama got a standing ovation from a portion of the crowd when it was announced that today is his birthday – some people even sung.

This is going to get rowdy.

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The Presidentials Land at YearlyKos - Hillary Clinton Edition

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 1:48 PM EDT

The secret service cars are out front and the mainstream media has shown up in force, so you know it's time for the big boys. Hillary Clinton, who is up first, provides the most compelling story lines here at YearlyKos. As Kos himself admitted in a press conference a few moments ago, "Her negatives in this community are fairly high." She isn't seen as a true progressive, nor as someone willing to stand strong for her principles when it is politically inexpedient. But as Kos admitted, Clinton has moved strongly in the last year to engage the netroots and bring down those negatives.

Will she get hit for being the most moderate of all the candidates, or will she get kudos for trending in the right direction? Or, as has the case been throughout this convention, will the crowd be polite, respectful, and almost bland? Stay tuned…

Update: Half an hour into HRC's speech. The senator is continuing the netroots lovefest started yesterday by the mainstream media. "Let me start by saying something unexpected," she said. "Thank you. You have built the modern progressive movement in America. What you have done in a real short amount of time is fight back against the right wing noise machine."

"We have suffered from a real imbalance in the political world," said the senator, and that doesn't just mean the right has more organizations, think tanks, and media outlets than the left. The right actually runs what they have better. "The fact is, they were better organized, more mission-driven, and better prepared," she said. The netroots are remedying the problem and giving the left a chance.

Kos: "We Are in the Mainstream of America"

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 1:04 PM EDT

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, known to webbies and the folks here in Chicago simply as Kos, doesn't have a direct connection to YearlyKos. Though the event bears his name, it was started by followers of his website, DailyKos.

Because of his high-profile spats with Bill O'Reilly and others, Kos is often the center of attention on the blogosphere, but he's remained mostly out of sight here at the McCormick Center. In a press conference today — one of his few ventures into the spotlight; a speech tonight will be another — Kos specifically pointed out that the focus is the 1,500 folks in attendance, the "super-engaged activists" that are rapidly changing politics and campaigns.

"This really is democracy in action. This is regular Americans using technology to get engaged in politics," said Kos. Never one for understatement, he continued, "And anybody who attacks that, I think, hates democracy. I think it's that simple."

While fiery rhetoric like that won't keep Kos out of the spotlight for long, what's far more important is opening up the system, he says. "For those who want to engage, [the blogosphere] is the ideal medium. Before, if you wanted to be engaged in politics, you were limited to writing a check, or watching a 30 second political spot, or voting on election. Maybe you got to lick envelopes. Now people are realizing that they have a say in politics." And it's probably most important for those that live in deep red or deep blue states. "[The political establishment] would only pay attention to you is if you were in a battleground district. You had activists nationwide who wanted to engaged, but were shut out of the process." Now, through Politics 2.0, the people are a part of that process.

Democratic Party Bails on Simply Unable to Attend YearlyKos

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 10:07 AM EDT

Four of the Democratic Party's heavies cancelled their much-anticipated group session this morning at YearlyKos. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel are unable to attend, we're told, because voting has been held open over the weekend on an energy bill in the House. Question: Don't Pelosi and Emanuel schedule things like voting on bills? Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, after all.

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid are unable to attend for unspecified reasons. Such a shame. The establishment and the netroots got along so well at yesterday's Time party.

Update: I just spoke to a House staffer in DC who tells me Pelosi and Emanuel's absense here in Chicago is entirely legitimate. The energy bill, with important renewables amendments included, needs to be passed immediately, because congressmen are slowing drifting out of DC for the August recess. Pelosi could pass the bill today, or perhaps not at all. No explanation on Schumer and Reid.

Second update: Word on the street is that Reid and Schumer were in session until late last night and couldn't make their travel arrangements to get to Chicago. Kos, the man behind DailyKos, just mentioned at a press conference that he doesn't mind the lawmakers being absent to hammer out bills. "That's more important than for them to be here. The Democrats are the party of governing, the Republicans are the party of obstruction, and that's playing out right now." I'll have more from Kos' presser later today.

Bob Loblaw's Blog Blog

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 8:20 PM EDT


Blogs are so hot right now.

  • This Recording takes on the "inane" David Denby New Yorker piece about the recent shift in gender relationships in romantic comedies.

  • Kids Pushing Kids explores the Elastica-M.I.A. connection, and the Elastica-and-bands-they-ripped-off connection.
  • The Guardian's Music Blog wonders what it would have been like if the Beatles had been women; makes up unfortunate alternate-universe name of (shudder) "The Sheatles."
  • WFMU rounds up a whole mess of songs about beer, offers some mp3s of these songs about beer, and a picture of guys drinking beer, but no actual beer.
  • The Smoking Section reminisces about Gang Starr's "comeback" album, Moment of Truth back in 1998, calling it a "weird year for rap," partially because of the "shiny suits."