Sunday, June 25, 2017

Boris, Reddit & Fruit Salad Club

Weekly Update 2017-26: Grunge rock from cult-classic Japanese rock band Boris, navigating the black-hole vortex that is Reddit, and hanging out in Portland with Fruit Salad Club.

Music: Boris
I am becoming a cult-listener of a lot of obscure bands lately - the latest instalment a three-piece called Boris from Japan. With only 30,000 monthly listeners worldwide (via Spotify), this band has a fan following that takes the music very seriously. Labelled as sludge/doom rock and with heavy inspiration from the Melvins, their heavily downtuned guitar and bass tones mixed with very slow tempos will relax you in only a song or two. Especially since their albums have been heavily experimental, with 60+ minute single tracks filled with drone exploration or minimalist/phase-style music.

They are more easily digested (at least at first) with their 2016 album Pink, which is really growing on me. Check out the song Farewell, and continue on with the whole album if you like it. Electric is also a great, short but sweet little diddy.

I have taken in all the sights and sounds of Portland in the last week, and I am just as enamoured as I was the first time I visited this amazing and weird city. On the design side, I visited six different design/creative studios (special shoutout to you guys for hosting me at all your wonderful spaces), ate about six meals and walked more than 20,000 steps each day (it all levels out, right?), saw the World Naked Bike Ride, took in an indie concert, drank spiritual tea, visited the international rose test garden, and so many more things. This goal of moving to the city feels more tangible now, I was even subconsciously picking out neighbourhoods that would be good to move to as I explored the city.

With all of the inspirational design studio tours done, I'll be reflecting and planning this week about some of my mid-to-long-term plans professionally. It'll be good to think about where my career is going next with this new perspective from such inspiring people.

Random Thought: Reddit for Beginners
Known as the front page of the internet, Reddit is the black hole of any and all information about everything (the more obscure, the better) you could ever want to know.

As a person who isn't a heavy user of Reddit, I do find it has its uses. Music festivals are a particularly good topic if you want to get all of the dirty little facts about how best to enjoy your experience - there are always the diehard festival heads who know the ins and outs of the event. But beyond that, while I do have eclectic and somewhat varied interests, I find it hard to navigate the site to get the information that is interesting or relevant to me. I have a theory as to how to find these subreddits:

1) The easy part: think about a passion you may have, like soccer, design, music, video games.
2) The hard part: narrow down your passion to the most specific version of it that still applies. Video games: what console is your favourite? Still not narrow enough; pick a game franchise or game company. Perhaps still not narrow enough; how about a subreddit that only discusses easter eggs hidden within that game franchise or company? There's your subreddit.

Reddit users (redditors, I gather) have varying opinions on how good a subreddit can be based on the amount of subscribed redditors. Too many (think like 25,000) and your posts will be lost in the influx of constant stream of posting. I don't really mind that though, since I'm more of a content consumer than a producer. What with internet trolls, I generally don't post unless I have a specific question that I am sure hasn't yet been addressed by someone else. And it usually has.

On the other hand, if a subreddit has less than 1,000 users, unless there are some devoted users keeping the discussion fresh, you may have gone too niche and might have to bring yourself back into the generality a little.

I am by no means a reddit expert, so if you have any suggestions on how to find the right subreddits, let me know!

Inspiration: Fruit Salad Club
Last Wednesday night in North Portland, I had the joy of acquainting myself with Libby and Jillian from Fruit Salad Club. The two talented lades, Libby an artist and designer and Jillian an illustrator, have taken it upon themselves to create a sort of clubhouse/gallery/workspace/party room out of an old tobacco shop and have opened their doors to all sorts of creatives and creative events.

On this particular evening, Fruit Salad Club opened its doors for its inaugural doodle night. I got to hang out in their beautiful space, doodle, chat with other creatives from Portland, and have some laughs as well.

I'm a member!

Put in a token, get an enamel pin!

Even the plants have googly eyes.

The studio's social media bios describe them as “unapologetically silly”. This is something I can get behind. Check out their site here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ought, Islands & Makelike

Weekly Update 2017-25: Arriving on the West coast with some beachy tunes by Ought, biking around Stanley Park and enjoying its shape, and simply adorable illustration, wallpaper and brand strategies from Makelike in Portland (whose office I am visiting tomorrow!)

Music: Ought
They may sound like strange 70s psychedelic rock, but this band was actually formed in 2011 in Montreal. I've been listening to their entire sophomore album Sun Coming Down since I arrived in Vancouver. It has some weird dissonant sounds as well, which makes me think it'll be an even better fit for Portland during the rest of my vacation.

My top songs are Beautiful Blue Sky (the gateway song) and Men For Miles (has a sort of Franz Ferdinand feel to it).

Well, can I say that I accomplished the Vancouver part of my trip? With even a visit to Surrey to hang out with my roommate's beautiful and kind parents, I packed a lot into only three days. Gastown, Yaletown, Granville Island, Richmond, Stanley Park, East Van, Kerrisdale, Canada Place, The Seawall, and of course Surrey. I'm happy to be able to spread out my activities a little more on the Portland leg of my trip.

I'm currently working through all the things I want to visit in Portland with one half of my brain as I write this with the other half of my brain. I know I want to see some sights in the Southeast “quadrant” of the city, so I'll see what's around that area for tomorrow.

Random Thought:
After biking around Stanley Park today, I started to contemplate about what sorts of geographical landscapes make for the best human use. Not that we should then make excessive artificial versions of that landscape everywhere, but just perhaps what sorts of shapes make good cities. I'd like to write a blog post on such a thing. Take the shape of Stanley Park for example:

Yes, totally looks like Daffy Duck. But beyond that, I actually loved the shape from an experiential standpoint. When you get to the inside of “Daffy's neck”, you can see all the way down the bottom of his beak to the tip of it. And when you get around the perimeter to “Daffy's Beak”, You can see what's happening down the way at his forehead. Same sort of thing when you reach the back of his head; you can see what's going on down his neck. So if mankind were to create these sorts of islands, or more preferably if I were to move somewhere with a natural one such as this, I could enjoy it moreso. I will say that one bike ride around the island was not nearly enough. The terrain changes all sorts of interesting ways, each one beautiful, there are historical statues and points on interest, there's a splashpad, a pool, a lagoon, and so much more. It's really lovely.

Shoutout to my awesome dad who, before my trip, lovingly and skilfully shaved a piece of my phone case off that was blocking part of my phone camera. Non-darkened corners of the screen brought to you by my dad.

Inspiration: Makelike
Makelike is a studio that I am lucky enough to be able to visit tomorrow morning in Portland for a studio tour. Founded in 2000, they also launched a product line in 2009 and work in textiles and patterns for wallpapers in interior design. And all of their work is extremely charming. Check out this awesome label they made for Andy Ricker's Pok Pok chain specializing in the best Thai food I have ever tasted.

They have multiple different ones for the different flavours of drinking vinegar; but I can only get about five different ones at the stockist in Toronto, so I'd love to see the other flavours they have. I also purchased the apple flavour for my mom for Mother's Day because we had shared a pineapple shrub last time we went to Portland. Yum!

The principals are Mary Kysar and Topher Sinkinson, along with Hanna Durighello, and I'm not exactly sure who I'll be meeting since I was only successfully able to contact them via their Facebook page. But nevertheless I am so excited to meet them in person and see their work up close in person. They run a studio and a shop, so I am excited to see what kinds of stuff they have in there as well.

Another lovely project of theirs is the branding for a sort of ecologically-driven think tank event in California. These are some brand options. The top one reminds me slightly of the typography in Wes Anderson movies.

Process doodles! So lovely.

See more of their work here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Palehound, Flowers & Studio Noyes

Weekly Update 2017-24: I know it's summer because my skin is already burnt. Sounds to match from Palehound, along with some lovely flowers in strangers' backyards and the excellent work of Portland's Studio Noyes.

Music: Palehound
This is some lovely summer music. Out of the mouth of Ellen Kempner and into your ears, each of her songs encompasses a different and distinct feeling of summer. She drifts between ocean waves and the sun on your skin to restless evenings lying in front of an air conditioner. The guitar licks are a little weird and unexpected, which makes me like her sound even more.

I have sorted out a few studio tours for my visit to Portland next week (including Studio Noyes – see below), which is making me really excited for my trip! I also have a bunch of (loose) plans for weird things to do like visit the Vacuum Museum and the World's Smallest Park.

At my mother's request for accompaniment, I joined her for two full days in the sun of wandering through strangers' backyards. The program is called Through The Garden Gate, where different neighbourhoods are showcased through their dwellers' lovely landscaping treatments. Saturday was Niagara-On-The-Lake (seven lovely and vast gardens) and Sunday was Rosedale Valley (over twenty smaller and equally lovely gardens, spaced closer together).

A stunning iris in a backyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I have to finish packing for my trip, and researching some final things for the places I'm going to visit in Portland. I hope to gain a good pound or two of delicious food, like from Salt & Straw Ice Cream.

I'll also set up my blog redesign code so that I can work on it offline, and also perhaps spend an afternoon in Portland working in a cute coffee shop if the mood strikes.

Random Thought:
My prayers have been answered; Fleet Foxes have released a new album called Crack-Up. But wait, this isn't the music section; I want to talk about a very polarizing review from Stereogum by Tom Breihan. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and, since I haven't heard the full album yet, I can't comment on the article itself beyond the fact that Breihan has certainly divided the readers of Stereogum. Personally, I like articles that get people talking.

People like the lead singer and songwriter of Fleet Foxes, Robin Pecknold. Yep, he wrote out a lengthy response to the article and posted it right in the comments section. I love the idea that artists and their fans (and critics) can have free discussion through the advent of the internet, somewhat devoid of trolls and people posting just to get other people angry.

Inspiration: Studio Noyes
A design studio with a focus on footwear (my secret love) that I have been ogling is Studio Noyes. Based in Portland, they churn out all kinds of delightful shoe-related stuff. 

I guess there's something endearing about design firms that specialize in something very niche, and put all of themselves into that thing. What's better than shoes?

I can't wait to visit Studio Noyes next week on my adventure to Portland. More on that as it unfolds! Until then, check out their website.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Do Make Say Think, Identifying Problems & Studio JFish

Weekly Update 2017-23: Using the rock genre to make experimental music that isn't rock, identifying problems to make creative design solutions, and challah enamel pins by Studio JFish.

Music: Do Make Say Think
Post-rock is a weird sub-genre. It's got all the instruments that rock music has, but uses them in a way that facilitates timbres and textures not traditionally found in rock music. Toronto's very own Do Make Say Think is a great example of this experimentational form of music, which I find extremely calming. Since their music is characteristically devoid of lyrics, Do Make Say Think is especially good to listen to when trying to focus on writing pieces (as I am doing right now).

This new album is their seventh, and they are inexplicably playing a show at the Danforth Music Hall on Saturday for a measly $15. For music this amazing, I would gladly pay much more.


I managed to organize my thoughts on the amazing Toronto Symphony Orchestra experience I had last Friday, and wrote a blog post about the wonderful listening guide that accompanied the show. Twitter picked it up (which almost never happens) and it's gotten quite a few views. If you haven't read it already, you can find it here.

I also realized that Prepros is the missing piece to my development workflow and honestly don't know how I've ever gotten along without it. It compiles and minifies my SCSS code, it refreshes the browser window with every file change (even animating the style changes as it goes), and it will even cast to any device on the same wifi network. This is truly amazing. In other words, I can change code on my computer and watch it automatically refresh and show in a browser window on my phone. This is the future of development, people. Though if you're a developer, you probably already know how to do this so don't judge me too harshly.

I'm just getting over a cold sadly, so I'll probably be keeping this week on the lighter side. Something easier to do: I'm going to organize all of my drumming videos - the videos I've recorded while learning new breaks and rhythms - on my hard drive so I can use them as a reference. Right now they're a bit all over the place and none of them are labeled, so they're basically useless. Especially since I will be quitting the Sunday lessons come summertime, one band practice a week isn't going to cut it to keep my skills sharp.

Random Thought:
This is something I have known for a while but could never really express until it came to me the other day. It's something not incredibly obvious to people outside the design profession, so it bears repeating here.

Many people (new designers included) think that design is about finding or creating solutions to problems. In a way, it is. But really, as I grow and gain more experience, I realize that design is much more centered around correctly identifying the problems. Understanding the problem is much more difficult to do than finding the solution, but if you get it right, then you've really mastered the craft. I really like this quote by Neil Gaiman (amazing storyteller):
When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
This is to say, many people can identify that a problem exists, but so few can correctly identify this problem and/or the proper solution therein. That is where I believe the true designers hone their skill. And this is something I'd like to work on over time. All of it comes down to knowing the right questions to ask.

Inspiration: Studio JFish
I can't believe it took me this long to write about Jason Fischer, a talented comics artist I met at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. That day, my main purchasing goal beyond beautiful comics was, unsurprisingly, enamel pins. And he certainly took the cake with this one.

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you; those are CHALLAH ENAMEL PINS. I can't believe someone could have thought to make my favourite food, that is such a part of my heritage and culture, into my current favourite form of...accessory? I guess that's what enamel pins are. Anyway, of course I bought one. But I am having a hard time choosing the right occasion to wear it. Maybe the next Jewish holiday?

Of course it should go without saying that Fischer is a really talented artist and makes all kinds of awesome stuff, which you should check out on his site. A sampling:

Check out Fischer's website.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Music To My Eyes

My friend Dmitry has wonderful taste in music. When he told me he had an extra ticket to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I wasn't surprised to find out he actually has a yearly subscription. without sounding like an advertisement, tickets are actually really cheap for people under 35.

We had a wonderful time, listening to some more modern pieces before the big number. It was a really lovely thing to sit back and let the music envelop us. Not to mention, the acoustics are amazing in Roy Thomson Hall.

I shouldn't be surprised to find that the program for the evening's entertainment is just as beautiful as their sister venue Massey Hall's Soundboard publication. Perhaps my favourite part of the show was following along to the ingenious listening guide. Check it out below:

Knowing how to read music (albeit not very quickly), I was able to follow along quite easily with this simplified infographic piece. Not only did it perform its job well, it was also a lovely thing to look at. The icons are simple yet charming, the colours work harmoniously and almost reminiscently of the way the instruments make their harmony, and the flecks to mark the main melodies were easy to identify. This is truly a marriage of form and function.

Upon looking into the program, I found that this wonderful thing was created by Hannah Chan-Hartley, the Managing Editor and Musicologist at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra along with designer Gareth Fowler. I am so fixated not only on the lovely visuals and clear iconography, but my experience and how it was immensely heightened by the piece. Really great job, Hannah & Gareth!

I found a resource online to decode it after the show; which is to say that you don't really need it. And that's a good thing because the user experience of having to use the internet in order to decode a paper program provided by the establishment is a bit ludicrous, especially when you imagine the demographic of an audience who might use such a feature.

I feel like this one small piece of design (only a couple of pages in a medium-thick program) really shaped my experience of the performance in a poignant way, and allowed me to connect even more with the music. I do wonder though, if someone who didn't have a strong understanding of musical notation would be able to follow along as easily. 

I love the idea of visualizing music to accompany and truly appreciate the genius of composers. Exactly how they can manage every instrument in the orchestra to create one solidified and beautiful sound is beyond me. My favourite part of Beethoven's Symphony No.7 and perhaps the most recognizable is the second movement, which you can view below. The creator of this video displays another way to represent music through visuals, this time incorporation time into the piece. Very cool.