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11 mars 2006

Video Advocacy

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an amazing conference called TED (for Technology, Entertainment and Design). You can read the complete description here in my Pogue's Posts entry, but here's a summary:

"It's four days of talks, each no longer than 18 minutes. The speakers are either famous, pioneers in their industries or just fascinating people--and often all three...They addressed climate crisis, the depletion of fossil fuels, African AIDS, third-world poverty, human-rights violations, the spiral of West-Islamic global hatred, lethal viruses, and other cheery subjects...The organizer of TED makes no bones about the fact that he wants this astonishing network of speakers and audience members to throw their expertise, brainpower and connections behind efforts to address the world's problems."

I wanted to share some of what I learned in this e-column, but I'm aware that some of this column's readers get cranky when the topic strays from consumer technology.

But one memorable talk involved BOTH consumer tech AND doing good in the world, which I thought I'd share with you. (I'll be back with gadget reviews next week.)

It was a talk by Peter Gabriel, the pop star. He didn't play or even mention music; instead, he described the progress of an outfit called Witness (, which he co-founded in 1992 for the purposes of what he calls "video advocacy."

What he means is helping native citizens film human-rights violations as they happen, so that the world can see what's really going on. It's much harder for wealthy countries to ignore the violence and oppression, Gabriel said, when they're watching a video of it.

So Witness sprouted up to supply camcorders and training to, so far, 200 human-rights groups ("partners") in 60 countries. It sounded like such a cool and important project that I decided to interview Gillian Caldwell, the group's executive director, for today's e-column.

DP: Strikes me that lots of the human-rights violations are in, well, hot, humid places that would be the enemy of camcorders. How have the cameras and tapes fared?

GC: Our team definitely has to keep climate in mind when they select the equipment packages, since some fare better in humid climates than others. As for the tapes, we try to get them shipped relatively quickly to our archivists, where they're catalogued, duplicated and stored in climate-controlled vaults for the production work.

DP: Isn't this technology new to, say, impoverished Africans? How do they know how to operate the camcorder, ship the tapes back, etc.?

GC: Most of the people we're training have never held a video camera before, so the relationship begins with an intensive, onsite training program that teaches them how to shoot, as well as what to shoot and why.

DP: Does every camcorder "seeding" bear fruit? Do you actually capture violence and stuff on film?

GC: Well, unlike, say, the Rodney King incident, our primary intention is not to capture human rights abuses in action, although that has on occasion happened. Instead, most of our footage highlights the aftermath.

For example, a reluctant Philippine government is now prosecuting the murderers of activists who were legally pursuing ancestral land claims--after footage taken of the attacks was broadcast nationwide in the Philippines and delivered to the Philippine president at the World Economic Forum. While Witness's partner did not actually capture the attack on tape (it took place early in the morning while everyone was sleeping), they were first on the scene of the attack, and captured irrefutable evidence.

DP: How do the people you supply with camcorders keep them from getting stolen, broken, lost, and so on?

GC: With the exception of some problems with theft in Nigeria, we've actually been pretty lucky. Our partners manage to maintain their equipment very well, and when the time comes for an upgrade, we provide it.

Power is a challenge; we generally provide extra battery packs. Some partners even have solar chargers for their equipment.

DP: At TED, Peter Gabriel mentioned a shift from camcorders to cameraphones?

GC: Staying ahead of the technology curve is a major challenge for us. Communications media have changed dramatically in the 14 years since Witness was founded. In the coming months, we will launch an initiative called the Witness Video Hub ( Our hope is to let people around the world use cellphones and computers to upload media to a central Web site built to promote human rights.

We're facing an unprecedented frontier, with digital technology and the "participatory culture" it has inspired poised to explode. Witness needs to be at the forefront of this transition.

DP: Once the hub site goes up, how can you be sure that the filmed events are genuine?

GC: We're still thinking this through. Currently, we're committed to an open and participatory environment, allowing anyone anywhere to contribute footage. There may be a limited amount of material that we will be able to authenticate, but our goal is to not play a big role in this area. We don't want to serve as gatekeepers ourselves, but to allow for peer review to foster a sense of community responsibility and accountability.

08 mars 2006

Tout pour la musique

Dur et intransigeant avec les apprenties stars, Manu Katché est un pur. Beaucoup trop pour accepter de jouer totalement le jeu avec les impératifs de la télévision.

A entendre ses coups de gueule à répétition sur la Nouvelle Star,
Manu Katché peut agacer. Le célèbre batteur a affirmé régulièrement, à qui voulait bien l'entendre, lors de la saison précédente, que "le meilleur du pire", bêtisier des pires performances, était insupportable et que la musique est une chose beaucoup trop sérieuse pour supporter des guignols appâtés par le fameux quart d'heure de célébrité prédit par Andy Warohl.

Le titre même de l'émission ne trouve grâce à ses yeux.
"Les stars, c'est la fascination du vide. Je préférerais parler d'artistes." Mais alors Manu, si le concept de cette émission de télé crochet est tellement critiquable, pourquoi faire partie du jury? Besoin de promo pour ses projets de jazz? Joint dernièrement au bout du fil, la position de Manu Katché est bien plus subtile et honorable.

Passionné jusqu'au bout de ses baguettes, cet auteur-compositeur et parfois interprète gère très bien ces contradictions.
"Je participe à Nouvelle Star pour offrir mon expérience de musicien à des gens passionnés qui aimeraient faire de la musique leur métier. Le reste ne m'intéresse pas. Je sais que la télévision et les impératifs d'audience imposent ces à-côtés. Mais je ne les cautionne pas." Liberté de parole totale plutôt rare à la télévision. Un privilège dont Manu Katché est bien conscient: "Je suis totalement libre de dire ce que je pense. Je suis mon propre maître, ce qui n'est peut-être pas le cas de Dove Attia, rattaché à l'industrie du disque, qui peut-être doit mesurer ses propos."

Le système n'est pas la seule cible des critiques du bonhomme. Ses jugements à l'égard des apprenties stars sont souvent implacables.
"Mais je me dois d'être sincère, rétorque le batteur. La moindre des choses est d'être honnête à leur égard. Si je fais partie du jury, c'est grâce à la caution artistique que j'y apporte. Ce serait vraiment injuste de pousser des jeunes à faire ce métier alors qu'ils ne sont pas bons."

Maisons de disques démissionnaires

Batteur d'envergure internationale,
Manu Katché a collaboré avec Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel ou Sting entre autres pointures. Il n'hésite pas à s'engager pour des causes, dont celle de Youssou N'Dour contre la malaria. Il a également sorti fin 2005 un album, Neighbourhood. Certainement le premier album d'une longue série, que rien ne devrait venir contrarier. "Ce sera ma dernière participation à Nouvelle Star. Il faut absolument garder l'envie et la spontanéité, la curiosité et la disponibilité pour être jury. Je pense qu'après trois éditions, ma fraîcheur sera un peu entamée. Or, les candidats méritent une implication totale."

Certes. Mais ce travail de découverte ne serait-il pas celui des maisons de disques, trop frileuses aujourd'hui sur le développement de nouveaux artistes?

"C'est vrai. Il y a dix ans encore, elles employaient des chercheurs de talents qui arpentaient les petites salles de concert pour découvrir de nouveaux groupes. Aujourd'hui, c'est fini. Pour moi, il faudrait plutôt chercher là la crise des Majors et non toujours mettre en cause le téléchargement pirate."

Sarah Pernet

Nouvelle Star


06 mars 2006


After being exposed to David Gilmour's 'On an Island' in its entirety, we can now confirm that it is the work of art we had hoped it would be.

It consists of a series of 10 beautifully understated songs that flow into each other exquisitely, providing the perfect foil for the return of this pioneering "rock" musician. Dave's guitar work is incomparably crystalline throughout the length of 'On an Island' and the actual solos that flow forth from his fingers are easily some of the best of his career. The production elements of this multi-layered recording are equally lush and you can be assured that the CD sounds outstanding on an appropriate hi-fi setup. Being totally worth the wait, 'On an Island' is a stunningly rousing album that "progressive" music enthusiasts will lap up with deep glee. Think Peter Gabriel, the Alan Parsons Project, some of Phil Manzanera's post Roxy Music stuff, Pink Floyd (of course) + Dave's other "solo" albums and you'll get the idea

-- it's an utterly essential release that we wholeheartedly recommend.

05 mars 2006

90 minutes de musique pour le Fifa Gala perdues ?

On ne peut recycler le gala d'ouverture de la coupe du monde

Vos amis Brian Eno et Peter Gabriel étaient aussi impliqués...

André Heller : Exact. Les deux avaient déjà composé et arrangé 90 minutes de musique. Ce n'est toutefois pas encore tout : Pour la scène il y aurait eu une innovation technique, à laquelle encore personne ne s'est osé avant nous - le terrain entier devait se transformer sur toute sa surface et devoiler un gigantesque écran d'ordinateur formé de LED, en interagissant avec jusqu'à 8000 figures avec des costumes de lumière commandés par ordinateur également. de cinq millions de petites images jusqu'à un énorme, tout était possible.

(traduit approximativement de l'allemand, le texte original ci-dessous)

Die WM-Eröffnung kann man nicht recyceln


Ihre Freunde Brian Eno und Peter Gabriel waren auch involviert...

Heller: Richtig. Die beiden haben bereits 90 Minuten Musik komponiert und arrangiert. Das ist aber noch nicht alles: Als Bühne gab es eine technische Innovation, an die sich noch niemand vor uns heran- gewagt hat – das ganze Spielfeld sollte sich in eine vom Computer ansteuerbare LED-Fläche verwandeln, darauf agierend bis zu 8000 Figuren mit ebenfalls computergesteuerten Lichtkostümen. Von fünf Millionen kleinen Bildern bis zu einem riesigen war alles möglich.

Tambourine Man

He used to earn pennies singing in Kolkata’s trains. Today Paris-based Baul singer Paban Das is cutting albums for Peter Gabriel’s label.

Trains running between Kolkata and north Bengal, after sauntering out of the metropolis, pick up speed around what can be broadly outlined as Baul territory: Bolpur, Santiniketan, Sainthia, Burdwan and Rampurhat. It is from around this region that Bauls—Bengal’s own hippies, its wandering minstrels—embark on the trains, sing their songs that philosophize about life and death and earn alms from passengers.

Forty four-year-old
Paban Das Baul was among the luckier and more gifted singers. He could be heard above the rattle of the rails and his voice evoked enough admiration and sympathy from passengers to help him earn anything from a rupee to Rs 200, as a foreign lady once gave him in Santiniketan. ‘‘It was a big sum in those days. But such sums came along only once in a while, otherwise what I got barely helped me subsist,’’ recalls Das, who started singing for alms with his father after their family had to sell off their land and property.

These days, a simple Google search collates the distance the man has travelled with his music. From Morocco, Switzerland, England, Belgium, Mexico and France, to a fusion of jazz, rock, gospel, ambient electronica and club.

Notwithstanding the background soundscape, the only time Das felt he was not allowed to come into his own with his singing is on the collaborative album
Tana Tani, which he released with UK-based State of Bengal member Sam Zaman. ‘‘They kept the vocal levels low and deliberately played up the background score. They wanted to create club music at the cost of Baul,’’ says the Paris-based musician who was in Kolkata recently.

In all this, there is an anomaly that has kept the singer-songwriter worried. The music of Bauls—riding the repute earned by
Purna Das Baul in the West during the ’60s—has had high-profile endorsers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Das, a protégé‚ of Purna Das, has found recommendations from writers like Ruchir Joshi, who included him in his acclaimed documentary 11 Miles, and William Dalrymple.

In an article he wrote for The Guardian in the UK, Dalrymple is clearly besotted by
‘‘the celebrated Baul’’. His voice, Dalrymple wrote, was ‘‘deep and smoky, alternately urgent and sensuous’’.

Even musically, Das has collaborated with the likes of avant-garde musician and musicologist
Sam Mills, which resulted in the critically approved album Real Sugar, and with French jazz prodigy Cheick Tidiane.

His long-running relationship with musician
Peter Gabriel, whose label Real World has resulted in a number of albums; Das also performs at Gabriel’s music festival WOMAD.

None among his 11 albums, Das regrets, has been recorded in India or his home state, West Bengal. The couple of times Kolkata-based record companies have approached him, Das says, the terms set by them were so stiff that he had to walk away from the offer.

‘‘Recently one of the companies wanted to record my singing, but on the day of the recording I had a sore throat. When I told them that, they said that I’d have to pay for the entire recording cost and also for the accompanying musicians. There was no way I could pay that amount,’’
he rues.

There have been exceptions. The pioneer of the Asian Underground sound in the UK, tabla player
Talvin Singh, when he teamed up with Das at the recent Jaipur Festival, mentions being floored by the intensity of the music. ‘‘We had one helluva concert that night,’’ says Singh, hours before a recent concert in Kolkata. ‘‘We also had a few Rajasthani folk musicians joining me and Paban Das and the whole atmosphere was electrifying.’’

It was a 1979 French documentary film on the Bauls of Bengal called
Le Chant Des Fou (Songs of the Madmen), that led to Das getting invited to the country in 1980 by Radio France. His relationship with Paris has evolved since then. ‘‘Sometimes when I don’t have any concerts in France, I can earn my living by performing at public places,’’ he says.

By Shamik Bag