The following is a concert review of Herbie Hancock's appearance at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, MN, on November 8, 2002. It was written during my college days, for a class called "The Music of Black Americans".

Pianist Herbie Hancock has had a career spanning over 40 years, in which he performed everything from acoustic hardbop to jazz-funk, disco pop, electro, African music, experimental improv, hip-hop and classical music – and apart from that, Hancock is justly considered a keyboard and synthesizer pioneer and has also won an Academy Award for creating the soundtrack to 1986's ROUND MIDNIGHT. With a musician who has explored so many different directions, often enough several of them at once, one is bound to expect surprises.

When Hancock played Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis on November 8, 2002, his band was an acoustic quartet including Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), Scott Colley (bass) and Gary Thomas (saxophone) – an entirely different approach than last year's acid trip hop fusion group FUTURE 2 FUTURE (which also had Carrington on board), or this spring's DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC combo, which celebrated the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But since Hancock has always both been looking forward to new territory while at the same time revisiting and reinventing his past music, the new group complemented his earlier explorations rather than simply leaving them behind.

The success of the annual Ozzfest samplers seemed to inspire souvenir CDs from other tours as well. As with most similar recordings, the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE TOUR: LIVE CONCERT RECORDING album is only recommended if you've seen the actual live performances or if you're a die-hard fan of the featured bands. The lion's share of the album consists of three songs each by System of a Down and Slipknot. All of them are taken from the bands' newest releases, and in the case of System of a Down, the energetic performance actually enhances the assemblage-style compositions. The Slipknot songs are typically heavy, but they are also a showcase for the band's technical skills and singer Corey Taylor's powerful voice. Furthermore, there are two Mudvayne tracks taken from their DVD release, L(IVE) D(OSAGE) 50, but they suffer from tinny sound quality. The final two bands, American Head Charge and No One, are represented by one song each, and they do not offer anything new. Fans of System of a Down and/or Slipknot might want to have this, but it still seems strange that the other bands get one or two songs only. With only 40 minutes of running time, there would have been enough space on the disc to include more tracks by American Head Charge or No One.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on October 5, 2002.

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Brutal, loud, and insanely intense, the Minneapolis-based American Head Charge is so extremely over the top that at first the listener might not notice that the band is also one of the most intelligent, interesting, and compelling metal bands to surface. Singer Martin Cock is just one of the reasons why their major-label debut, THE WAR OF ART, is a brilliant album. He screams, wails, whispers, and shouts his way through the songs in an incredibly intense manner, and he actually portrays an amazing range of different styles, from the ever-present powerful roar to drugged-out chanting and strong, melodic singing. Cock is easily one of the best voices in heavy music. Further credit has to be given to the writing unit of Cock and bassist Chad Hanks, who met in a rehab center (where they began to collaborate and, essentially, started the band). The songs are furious and emotional, incorporating tempo changes, unusual structures, grinding passages contrasting lightning-fast parts, surprising shifts in dynamics, and more. The lyrics employ a great number of interesting metaphors ("Go paint the windows in front of my face/When you know damn well there's no one behind them") and match the insanity of the music ("A violent reaction/Struggling only to keep myself alive"). Together with Cock's passionate delivery, the songs make for some cathartic listening (his exhausting, repetitive shouting of, "I don't like you at all!" on "Fall" is one of the record's many highlights). With strong assistance by the razor sharp production courtesy of Rick Rubin, the band itself manages to create a multi-layered sonic tapestry. The chainsaw-like guitars and the precise rhythms are surrounded by all kinds of keyboard sounds, samples, noises, and effects. A melancholy piano line can be heard on "Song for the Suspect" (which is then turned into an epic melody when the guitars join in); there are radio static sounds, manipulated tape recordings, Buddhist chants, and zombie movie keyboards giving each track a unique character. Of course, to a new listener it feels that all the details of the record get lost in the sonic onslaught -- only repeated listenings will reveal its actual depth. At 67 minutes, the CD can be overly exhausting at first, but even then most listeners will feel compelled to listen to certain songs over and over again. In any case, American Head Charge is essential listening to any fan of heavy music.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 30, 2002.

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In 1966, the bossa nova craze was at a peak, and A CERTAIN SMILE, A CERTAIN SADNESS marked a collaboration between two of its biggest stars -- vocalist Astrud Gilberto, brought to fame by her classic rendition of "The Girl from Ipanema," and organist Walter Wanderley. Even though the album is good, it is not as exciting as one might hope. While the music is remarkably innocent and sweet, with just a little underlying touch of sadness beneath the joyous, even naïve, surface, Gilberto and Wanderley do not always seem to work together on these tracks -- it often appears as if each is performing in a universe of his or her own. That being said, there are many bright sides to the album, too: Wanderley's organ playing is as enthusiastic and fluffy as ever, while Gilberto's singing (in both English and Portuguese) remains smile-inducing. Both manage to create an incredibly warm sound, and when Wanderley plays some piano (as on the beautiful "A Certain Sadness"), you can sense a spark between the two. So, while A CERTAIN SMILE, A CERTAIN SADNESS might not be the most successful album of all time, it is still a nice record that fans of either Gilberto or Wanderley will want to have. And -- even though one tends to use the word "cocktail lounge music" -- their rendition of "Tristeza" is simply irresistible, easy listening or not.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 15, 2002.

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Smooth jazz usually enjoys a bad reputation with critics, who tend to complain that the music is shallow and bereft of any personality. It's thanks to albums like Gerald Albright's BERMUDA NIGHTS that this style is often dismissed. There is virtually nothing on the album which is actually worth hearing. Sure, Albright's saxophone playing is competent, but he shows little excitement and even less personal style. The backing musicians include session cats such as drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., but they do not add anything to the proceedings. Basically, the songs tend to sound alike, and even though most feature different musicians, all of them offer the same pseudo-lush plastic-keyboard approach. There are many smooth jazz albums which show that the genre is not as terrible as critics pretend, but BERMUDA NIGHTS certainly doesn't fall into this category. This album is in its essence an inoffensive piece of fluff, recommended only to fans of Albright -- who would later record better smooth jazz albums himself.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 6, 2002.

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The following text was written on in the night of July 31, 2002, after seeing the world premiere of CUBE 2: HYPERBUCH in Munich. The review was published on Ain't It Cool News; it was probably the very first online review for this movie.

I just came back home from the world premiere of CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE in Munich. I have to say that I didn't have huge expectations - I thought the first film was brilliant, a highly original movie with a nod to Borges' "Library of Babel" story, minimalistic and highly effective. While I was very curious how they would follow up a movie like this, sequels rarely are as creative as the films which preceed them - some even manage to ruin what was before, as did HIGHLANDER 2 with its "explanation" that the immortals were actually aliens from another planet.

But every once in a while, a sequel comes along which is actually worth seeing. HYPERCUBE is one of them. It takes the original idea of the first movie - people stuck in a maze consisting of empty rooms, each one featuring six doors leading to a similar room - but is otherwise completely unrelated. The beginning of the film is familiar territory, but it quickly moves in a completely different direction. Whereas the first movie presented us with a cube that could be real, the second one becomes surreal and - WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD - has a virtual cube where, basically, everything is possible.

Now, I'm not a mathematician, but the whole idea of a four-dimensional cube is a mindbender (although I believe that hypercubes actually exist as theoretical constructs). In CUBE 2, different rooms have different timelines, a different gravity or even a different reality. You can meet yourself, or you can move horizontally into another room and suddenly fall downwards since the gravity in the other room is different. You might see things that will happen, or could happen, or have already happened. Now, I'm trying not to give away too much here - but the film becomes more and more surreal as it goes along, and it finds a certain humor in its bizarre premise - for example, when one character keeps killing another one whom he meets over and over again.

There are certain parellels to the first movie - the mix of characters is similar, with a confused old lady replacing the disturbed young man from the first film. There's a latent psycho, a person trying to reason, a cynic - the characters seem familiar. Again, you have various hints at what the cube might be, and again, the people who are trapped in the maze have some connection to their prison. While the first film had an open ending, the second one is more definitive - although I found the ending quite frustrating.

Director Andrzej Sekula (who worked as a cinematographer on AMERICAN PSYCHO and PULP FICTION) does a great job here - he has a nice way of teasing the audience by withholding visual information: a character sees something, reacts to it, but we can't see it right away. There are some nice visual effects, I particularly liked the camera angles when moving into different rooms which had different a gravitational characteristic: the camera stays the way we used to see the first room, so that in the next room everything seems to be upside-down or turned 90° to the left. It nicely represents the feeling of dislocation the characters must experience. Only after a while, he spins the camera, just as the characters get used to the altered gravity.

The cast consists mainly of unknown actors - at least I have never heard of any of them, even though, as the IMDB tells me, most of them have appeared in various other movies and TV series before. They're all convincing, and the fact that they're not exactly famous actually helps to create the illusion that these are really normal, everyday people who suddenly find themselves trapped in this cube.

What more can I say? As you will have noticed already, I hugely enjoyed HYPERCUBE - while its premise isn't as original and brilliant as the first movie's basic idea (naturally), it goes into a completely different direction and keeps throwing new ideas and bizarre situations at us to keep our heads spinning. It's very well done, repeating the minimalistic feel of CUBE. The only criticism I could aim at it is that once you figured out that, in this cube, anything goes and nothing really matters, you sort of stop caring about the individual characters. Still, the movie quickly makes up for that by increasing its pace; things begin to become so abstract and bizarre that you wonder what they will come up with next.

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Der eine oder andere mag Notiz davon genommen haben: Am Mittwoch, den 24. April 2002, war Ereignistag in Österreich. Um gegen die bevorstehende Universitätsreform, oder genaugenommen gegen das dadurch in Kraft tretende neue Unigesetz, zu protestieren, wurde an diesem Datum ein Streik ausgerufen und die Arbeit niedergelegt. Damit auch jemand den Unterschied zu sonst bemerkt, wurde das kollektive Nichtstun mit einer Demonstration verknüpft, bei der man seinen Unmut kundtun konnte.

Nicht alles, was so publiziert wird, ist auch zwangsläufig gut. Die banale Erkenntnis dieser Einleitung fand ihren Weg in diese Kolumne via der neuesten Aussendung der ÖH, einem Magazin, das Adjektive irgendwo zwischen "traurig" und "bedenklich" anzieht.

STRAVO heißt das Machwerk, das da gleich zweimal in meinem Briefkasten landete – wohl in der irrigen Hoffnung, ich würde die Postille aus grenzenloser Begeisterung heraus auch wiederholte Male lesen wollen. Man kann jene Funken der Inspiration noch förmlich vom Titelblatt sprühen sehen, welche dieses heiter angehauchte Amalgam aus trendig-jugendlichem Schmäh und unbeirrter Studentenpolitik fabrizierten: Die BRAVO der STRVen, sozusagen das Lifestyle-Blättchen für die engagierten Minderheiten. Nicht umsonst läßt sich aus den Titellettern auch das Wort Strafvollzug ableiten.

Bei der Lektüre jenseits des Covers entwickelt sich dann die Art von morbider Faszination, die immer wieder von groß gescheiterter Ambition ausgeht. Schon auf Seite 2 wird ein Leserbrief mit Verbesserungsvorschlägen bezüglich des Layouts abgedruckt – ungekürzt & schonungslos, aber ebenso unbeachtet von der unbarmherzigen Redaktion, die eine patzig-trotzige Antwort daruntersetzt und beteuert, sie werde weitermachen wie bisher. Der kritische Brief diente also entweder dazu, Platz zu schinden, oder aber als Angriffsfläche, an der die Redaktion ihre Erhabenheit über die unerhebliche Meinung Anderer demonstriert. Meine Wenigkeit war leider nicht persönlich anwesend, als anno Schnee von einem findigen Journalisten die Idee des Leserforums gegründet wurde, aber ich bin zuversichtlich, daß Sinn und Zweck eines solchen damals noch anders formuliert wurden.

Um die Trotzkind-Haltung zu festigen, orientiert sich das Design der – ich mag es nicht mehr Magazin nennen - Broschüre streng am Prinzip des Verkehrsunfalls. Und weil wir ja mal gelernt haben, daß Form und Inhalt eine Einheit bilden müssen, ist der Stil der Autoren ähnlich schmissig ausgerichtet. Da wird im trendigen Neudeutsch von der "nexten Zeitung" geredet, man reflektiert über das "Gefühl des verarscht werdens" (Gott, die Grammatik), und mein Anglistenherz wird durch die Anpreisung eines "Life Chat" arg mitgenommen. So groß die Zahl der orthographischen Auswüchse auch ist, die Verwendung von Beistrichen verhält sich umgekehrt proportional – vermutlich ist man hier der irrigen Annahme aufgesessen, man müsse nach der Rechtschreibreform überhaupt keine Kommas mehr setzen.

Na gut, niemand ist perfekt, und vielleicht sollte sich auch der eine oder andere Autor unseres eigenen Magazins einmal gerügt fühlen. Sehen wir also davon ab, daß STRAVO mit unaufholbarem Vorsprung den Konrad-Duden-Award 2002 einheimsen würde, und wenden uns dem zu, was die Autoren eigentlich sagen möchten.

Natürlich enttäuscht das Pamphlet auch hier nicht: In naiv-aufrührerischer Geisteshaltung werden zur Abwendung der Unireform "Besetzeungen" (sic) vorgeschlagen, bei der Büros und Hörsäle durch Studentengruppen besetzt werden sollen, die dann die anwesenden Personen festhalten und ihre Forderungen der Polizei übermitteln. Ach ja, und es wird auch vorgeschlagen, sich an einen Schreibtisch ketten zu lassen. Treuherzig (und kommalos) wird noch versichert: "Eine Anzeige wegen Sachbeschädigung kann vermieden werden wenn darauf verzichtet wird Sachen zu beschädigen". Heilige Einfalt.

Nicht der komplette Inhalt ergeht sich in solch peinlichen Terroraufrufen, die zwischen Geiselnahme-Szenario und Greenpeace-Märtyrertum vielleicht nicht die Unireform abwenden werden, aber ein attraktives polizeiliches Führungszeugnis sichern dürften. Dennoch zeigt sich das Niveau der übrigen Beiträge ähnlich niedrig - Haltung ersetzt die Substanz, das lauthalse Schreien die sinnvolle Äußerung. Natürlich hat das auch sein Gutes: Worüber sonst würde ich mich in meiner Kolumne aufregen?

Dieser Text wurde ursprünglich in der Ausgabe Juni 2002 der Studentenzeitschrift Aktion veröffentlicht.

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"Schlecht" – würde man das Ergebnis der Evaluation des SS 2001 an der Anglistik in einem Wort zusammenfassen wollen, wäre es wohl dieses oder ein artverwandtes. Das Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik liegt im Vergleich mit anderen Instituten ganz hinten (an vorletzter Stelle, um genau zu sein) und zeichnet sich offenbar durch überhohe Anforderungen und schlechte Kursbedingungen aus, wenn man die Beurteilungsstatistiken konsequent interpretiert. Ein solches Ergebnis läßt natürlich aufhorchen – nicht nur mich, sondern auch die Lehrenden am Institut, die in der letzten StuKo-Sitzung diese "Niederlage" lange diskutiert haben.