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Things We Like: “Meanwhile,” “Stingray Sam,” and the Buddha Machine

27 March 2010 Things We Like 3,899 views No CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Every Saturday, we rummage though our bookshelves, toy boxes, DVDs, music collections, web bookmarks and stacks of assorted stuff in search of a few choice items that will make your life better.

Elliott Bay Book Company’s Suggested Reading: “Meanwhile” by Jason Shiga

“In Meanwhile, YOU make the choices that determine how the story unfolds,” reads the introduction to this incredible graphic novel. It may sound familiar, because it is designedly similar to the warnings at the beginnings of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Unlike those books, however, Shiga goes on to inform the reader that “most will end in DOOM and DISASTER.” It is a friendly warning for a story that contains, depending on your particular choices, a doomsday machine, tainted ice cream, and a weird semi-Oedipal time machine loop. That this book is being marketed to children is beyond me.

Beyond the crazy plot twists that come from seemingly innocuous decisions, the genius of this comic is the way in which the reader is made to follow the different paths. Each page has its panels all out of order. You have to follow little tubes that lead from one panel to the next; when there is a choice to be made the tube splits in two different directions. Often it will run off the page and onto a tab leading to a different page. The motion of the book is so totally erratic that you will find yourself reading from right to left and flipping to a page near the (physical) end of the book, only to be instantly redirected five pages back. Best of all, as you follow one string of choices, your eyes can’t help but stray all over the page to the results of others. And Jimmy, the protagonist, rushes on unaware of all of the unlikely things going on beyond the borders of the boxes he is in. I imagine that this is how God or Steven Hawking sees the world.

Jason Shiga holds a degree from UC Berkeley in “pure mathematics,” which means there are probably all kinds of things going on in “Meanwhile” that I’ll never understand. But I believe the cover’s claim that there are “3,856 story possibilities.” And it all begins with the simplest of decisions: chocolate or vanilla. – Christopher Sabatini

Scarecrow Video’s Pick of the Week: “Stingray Sam” (2009), directed by Cory McAbee

Cory McAbee, of “The Billy Nayer Show” and the director/star of “The American Astronaut,” puts together another science-fiction fantasy western adventure in an old-style serial form. This project was created for “screens of all sizes.” Meaning: You could sit down and watch it in a theater or in your home, or watch it on your portable media thingy.

As the story goes, lounge singer Stingray Sam (played by McAbee) and his ex-prison buddy Quasar Kid (Crugie) have a mission to clear their record that involves rescuing a little girl who’s being held captive. In this six-part serial, one learns about new planets and their functions, prison work and life, the science of cloning and male pregnancy, miniaturization, and the media. This is all brought together with some of the most cleverest, most catchy songs one might ever hear. – Marc “Swellzombie” Palm

FM3 Buddha Machine

It really doesn’t look like much: a tiny plastic box, the size of a pack of cigarettes, with a pair of dials, a single button, a headphone jack and a raised speaker that occupies a little more than half the object’s face. And yet, for its unprepossessing appearance, the Buddha Machine — created by Zhang Jian and Christiaan Virant of the experimental music group FM3 — is one captivating piece of interactive art. Simply put, the Buddha Machine is a vessel for nine endless loops of ambient music. The button on the side of the device allows you to switch from one loop to the next, one of the dials turns on the device and regulates volume, and the other dial allows you to adjust the pitch of the loops.

That’s it; that’s all the Buddha Machine does. But there’s a lot of wiggle room in that limited function set. You can acquire groups of Buddha Machines and create a sonic environment worthy of a gallery installation; you can use a set of Buddha Machines to score a performance art piece, as a martial artist in Beijing recently did; or you can simply let one Buddha Machine play nonstop while you write a short blurb for Monkey Goggles. I gotta tell you, this thing mellows me right out. – Geoff Carter

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