Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sea Wolf, Folk vs. Country & DesignTO: Week 1

Weekly Update 2020-04: Nostalgic alternative folk from Sea Wolf, examining the difference between folk and country and the first of a two-part series on DesignTO: Toronto's Indie Design Festival.

Music: Sea Wolf
California-born Alex Church, otherwise know as Sea Wolf, produces a layered and calm sound full of soft vocals and even softer string instruments. It's like a lullaby for hipster ears. Drawing inspiration from authors like John Steinbeck and Jack London (whose novel The Sea Wolf lent its name), each new album tells a story both of indie folk music and of the musician finding his sound through a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds.

This one is a deep cut for me. I was 15 or 16 and I wanted nothing more than to see Sea Wolf play at Lee's Palace. The show was 19+ but for some reason I thought I'd be able to get in with a $40 fake ID from that place at Yonge and Gould that has since burned down. Suffice to say I did not get in. Shoutout to my friend Erin who drove us both downtown that night and ended up taking me to a martini bar in Kensington that didn't card us. So much for keeping minors away from alcohol when all I wanted was to see this band.

Anywho, a great slice of Americana comes in the form of indie folk, a delightful little genre abound with mandolins, rock ballads and vibrant storytelling of times long past. Sea Wolf is just one of the bands I discovered in my early teenage years with the rich soundscape of indie or alternative folk. More on that below.

DesignTO is in full swing, both in Toronto and in my heart. The city's design week, done right involves this ten-year-old design festival celebrating architecture, interior design, graphic design, window display and more in over one hundred separate features across Toronto. Every year I create my own custom map of self-guided walking tours and basically just go ham for seven days. See my first instalment of adventures in the Inspiration section below.

At work I am feeling a big sense of change for 2020, in a really good way. I have been trying to get a lot of initiatives started and I'm finally seeing clear, enforced buy-in from our executive leadership team in empowering me to make real change. Specifically through a coincidence in scheduling I ended up meeting our new director of facilities Greg on his first day on the job last Monday. We spoke at length about a11y items around the office and I think some real change will get going.

Between winter holidays and vacations, we haven't had much time to benefit from the mentorship of our new design manager Sam, but I am really happy he's on board as well. We're hiring another designer soon, which is great because Jackie is going on leave for a while and I sense a big pile of work landing on me very, very soon.

I met my next BrainStation associate instructor Tamira, and we chatted for a bit over coffee before heading over to campus for the 2020 instructor kickoff.

Speaking of tons of work, I am trying desperately to get GreenTeam efforts off my plate in a leadership role. I can't handle both that and #va11y as well as all my work (and Jackie's work) and trying to get the development department to adopt our new component library. So, I'm building action plan templates and assigning initiatives, and we're getting off the ground.

And my first Brainstation class of the semester is this week!

Random Thought: Folk vs Country
While I do have some small appreciation for country music, I do feel most mainstream country music is lacking in substance. There are tired tropes of country songs about trucks, dogs or losing women (and these tropes seem to ring true) that I can only hear so much of. And while I could arguably listen to a skilled banjo player all day long, even that classically country instrument isn't found much in country music these days. There just doesn't feel like much to appreciate, though I do tend to wonder if it's because I only hear the "pop" style of country music on the radio.

This got me thinking about how a lot of the indie folk that I listen to seems to comprise of a lot of what I like about country music, but just, done better. More instrumentation, intricate storylines woven into the melodies in beautiful ways, unorthodox instruments (I'm talking harmonicas, banjos, harpsichords, glockenspiels, as much accordion as you can handle). With each new song, I'd either hear an instrument I'd never heard before or learn a new word...or both!

And what was best, these songs sound like retellings of the human condition. They ring truer to me on a personal level than mainstream country music ever could. Either directly through songs of love and loss or more subtlely through fictional storytelling, these are songs that evoke. Some examples of indie folk bands I discovered in my earlier music gathering days:
  • Feist - The Reminder
  • Decemberists - The Crane Wife
  • Joel Plaskett Emergency - Ashtray Rock
  • Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
  • Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
  • Fleet Foxes - ST
  • Sufjan Steves - Illinois
  • Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
  • Band of Horses - Cease To Begin
  • The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
  • José González - In Our Nature
  • The National - Boxer
  • Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Wintersleep - Welcome To The Night Sky
  • Sea Wolf - Leaves In The River
Hilariously, these albums are mostly released in 2007 (or are at least 2007 adjacent), the same year I made my discovery of electronica.

Always on repeat...

The list could certainly go on. This all got me wondering if there's such thing as alternative country, and by golly there is! Apparently Wilco is a good example of this, certainly a band I could hang my ten gallon hat on. I guess it may be time to explore a new genre of music!

Inspiration: DesignTO: Week 1
I first noticed that DesignTO was launching as an exhibit on Polish design was slowly assembled in the lobby of my work building. Over five days I observed the exhibit being built up as I came into work every day. Hashtag literally blessed to work in this building, I am very surprised to say 16 months into this role.

On Friday I visited The Gladstone's annual Come Up To My Room art showing within their four floors and even more rooms of fun. I especially loved the 3D layered paper mural of a walk down the streets of Toronto's colourful neighbourhoods by Emmie Tsumura.

One of my favourites from Grow Op 2019 was back for more: Noni Kaur brought to life a colourful microscopic view of tiny organisms splattered all over the walls of a bright Queen Street-facing room on the second floor.

Same as 2019, my next and final stop for the day was Artscape Youngplace, usually housing 3-4 different exhibitions of varying size and all indoors, making for a wonderful little zig-zag journey across all four floors of the renovated and reimagined elementary school building - it's an art exhibit in and of itself. Some highlights were an exhibition on the concept of lorem ipsum and a lovely exhibit of paper poems hanging from the ceiling of the bookstore - Toronto's first (and only?) 100% poetry bookstore.

Sunday brought us back to my work in The Historic Bakery in Liberty Village to take an unhurried look at what had been building up the week before. The exhibit on 100 Years of Polish Design was quite a feat - something like 100 different items being hailed, along with custom illustrations by Polish designers reimagining the objects in different ways. I'll definitely take another look if I get a free breath sometime next week during work.

After wandering around all the Polish design, we went walking along Queen Street West. Twelve window displays and exhibits dotted the street between Parkdale and Trinity Bellwoods. This stretch is historic for me, the "main drag" that I've been self-touring since I first heard about DesignTO (then called TODO). But what came after was even cooler - we had signed up for a glassblowing demonstration at a studio in Wychwood Barns. My mother and I both got a chance to blow glass, which we made into terrariums. Super cool - the studio is 100% electric (otherwise it would not be zoned to be held within the building).

Monday night was a newly minted classic - DesignTO's prescribed King East Design District Night. The stretch of King East between Yonge and Parliament was alive with gallery openings and exhibitions, as well as a really inspirational talk inside Relative Space by Mexican design and advertising studio Anagrama.

Milky's Coffee (based in Toronto)

A childrens' library with climbable bookshelves.

The rest of the night I spent crawling the exhibits of King East with my friend Nadia and her friends, who were all very happy to let me drag them to a bunch of different galleries, each with a different kind of complimentary hors d'oeuvre and cocktail or wine. Great way to get a little tipsy to face the winter outside!

Next week will consist of a talk on Tuesday in Liberty Village and a final crawl along Dundas West and Roncesvalles on Sunday. I can't wait to see what kind of things they have going on along Dundas, it seems to get even cooler every time I do this crawl.

Stay tuned for DesignTO: Week 2 next week!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

CTEPEO '57, High Seating & Yusaku Kamekura

Weekly Update 2020-03: Music filled with 1950s space conspiracies from CTEPEO '57, the perils of high top table seating in restaurants and a look back at Osaka's EXPO 1970 branding from Yusaku Kamekura.

Music: CTEPEO '57
From the website for Tartelet Records:
The 1950s was a decade of mystery and hoaxes; the cold war, the space race and the establishment of NASA. CTEPEO ’57 insists the cold war isn’t over and claim that Russian astronauts landed on Mars in the late 90s to discover something truly amazing... It all seems far-fetched but who cares when they make music like this.
A little silly, a little serious. Germany's Max Graef and Muff Deep are CTEPEO '57. This is the deep house music I really love, with beats rhythmically moving along and transforming at a steady pace. The odd bout of a flute solo or otherwise weird sound effect will creep in and settle into a dusty corner of your brain for a minute, but don't worry. It'll soon vanish just as fast.

Best enjoyed with a cup of tea. Sadly, five tracks are all we get on Spotify.

Yes, the double-drumming weeks have begun again. I hearken back to the fall of 2016 when I was learning repique, the last time I attended both weekly Wednesday and Sunday practices. Now, we'll be heading to play Carnaval in only a few short weeks, I cannot believe it's really happening.

I also met up with an old BrainStation student last week to discuss her possible career change into UX design. I'm really excited to see a student make this transition (especially from such a different industry - finance, of all things).

When it rains, it pours. Alongside double-drumming, I'm starting a new BrainStation semester next week. This week I'll meet my new associate instructor Tamira before we head to the 2020 instructor kickoff session.

And, this weekend, I cannot contain my excitement because it's finally my favourite time of winter. No, certainly not Christmas time, my favourite wintertime tradition is Toronto's Design Week, specifically the DesignTO Festival. Window displays, studio tours, artist and designer talks, and various forms of soul-filling galavanting shall take place oner the next couple of weeks.

On Friday I'm heading to Gladstone Hotel to wander the halls and rooms of this year's Come Up To My Room, and then over to Artscape Youngplace for a smattering of DesignTO displays. Sunday is the big Queen West crawl, and then a really cool glassblowing seminar at Artscape Wychwood Barns. Monday will be the King East Design District Crawl, and Tuesday I get to choose between TWO talks happening in Liberty Village - truly one of the few cool things about working in Liberty.

Whysoever does DesignTO get me so excited to walk around in the cold and peek into windows of (often) closed storefronts in the dead of winter, you may ask? Nothing gives me a sense of joy like something that has been crafted with thought and care. To have made deliberate decisions to affect the outcome and experience that people will have when they interact with something one has made, that is the skill and art of design. Not only is that my vocation of course, but it also simply makes me happy to witness good design. It fills my soul in a way no other thing can. And now I get to celebrate it for two whole weeks with like-minded people! My dream.

Random Thought: High Seating
Imagine you're coming into a restaurant from the wintery Toronto streets, only to realize you didn't have the foresight to make a reservation. The place seems quite busy, and you ask the host sheepishly if they have room for two walk-ins. Your answer comes in the form of a question, "Is a high-top okay?" This question is usually accompanied with an apologetic look on the host's face, as if to say, "I'm sorry to even offer you this Sophie's choice of a high-top table or forcing you back out into the night."

Well, let's not get dramatic here. A high-top table is certainly not the end of the world (especially when there is no other option) but this host's not-so-hypothetical face only confirms that restaurant staff agree with me (and most likely you) that high-top tables do not make for a great dining experience. I suppose because I'm on the shorter side I experience this more acutely, but the high chairs are always awkward to get onto and off of, you can't scoot in your chair once you're sitting, the balance can be more challenging (it certainly isn't easier), and I haven't even mentioned their accessibility (or lack thereof) for people who use walkers or wheelchairs. They're a minor nuisance at best, and inaccessible at worst.

Here's the real kicker, though. I'd understand to some small extent that these would be the "last resort" for walk-ins such as in my earlier hypothetical, to make better use of spaces where normal height tables couldn't fit, except that in most restaurants these high top tables and chairs take up the exact same floorspace! Why not just put a normal darn table there and call it a day?

Inspiration: Yusaku Kamekura
Ever since my trip to Osaka in September, my excitement for the World Expo has been reignited. It was a bittersweet moment on a free walking tour through Dotombori when I found out that Toronto would not be hosting the expo in 2025 as we had dreamed back in 2015, but indeed Osaka itself had won the bid. Since around 2016 when John Tory pulled our bid out of the race that my dreams were initially dashed, so I definitely have room to be happy about Osaka. In fact, it was my favourite city of the trip and I am starting to formalize plans to visit again for the huge event.

Okay, so what does this have to do with my inspiration for the week? I was wondering if there had been any development on the branding for the event, especially since 2020's Dubai World Expo is already well underway. Nothing yet, but I did find something from the past...

This poster encapsulates everything I love about the World Expo. Abstract, but with a sense of unity, growth and dynamism. It's also a wonderful nod to the amazing graphic happenings of the 1960s when bold colours and lines dominated poster design. 

I can't wait to see what sort of branding emerges for the 2025 Expo, and whether the designer will tip their hat to the work of Kamekura. What a shame they didn't win the bid only one expo earlier - to return to Osaka exactly fifty years after the first time. Oh well, fifty-five years is just as good.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Lone, January Motivation & Bloodsuckers

Weekly Update 2020-02: Dreamy music for your Sundays at home from Lone, tapping into the special motivation that comes with ringing in the new year and the Royal Ontario Museum's exhibit on bloodsuckers.

Music: Lone
A new favourite of Spotify's Altar Electronic Playlist comes Lone. A producer from Nottingham with big dreams and dreamier sounds, Lone is our guide through outer space and into the deepest oceans. I absolutely adore the xylophone melodies laid over ethereal synths, sprinkled with a bit of sharp rhythm clapping in Jaded. You'd never know this guy started out in hip-hop. It urges me to take a few steps backward in his discography and see what I find, the further back I go. Why don't you do the same?

While New Years can be somewhat stressful due to the last minute scrambling to make plans and such, this one didn't turn out to be such a bust after all. Eric and Laura had me over along with a few friends to drink and cuddle with their dog Theo before we headed off to Etobicoke (yep) to Laura's sister's music recording studio for a party. They have a pretty cool space that they share with a lighting installation company, which made for some cool instagram photos.

But what was really special was that the three of us finally finished watching Butterfly Kisses, a movie we had started on our trip to California back in May 2019. We joked that it took us two decades to finish the movie, as the credits rolled around 5:30am on January 1. If you're able to get American Amazon Prime, I highly suggest the movie. It takes some weird turns but it's great.

I also got to do some jamming with Eric - we rented a room in Rehearsal Factory for a couple hours and played along to some songs. It felt really unnatural and weird at first but it was overall really fun. I can't remember the last time I played kit alongside other instruments live. It's so different from playing solo!

This week I'm meeting up with a student from a previous semester of BrainStation to discuss her possible move from finance into user experience design - super cool! While giving out mentorship, I hope to gain a little back for myself by rescheduling a meeting with Dr. Sarah Saska from late 2019 when we met at an evening meetup on Employee Resource Groups.

We're starting practices two days a week this week until we leave for Brazil, so I'm not going to have much of a life in a couple weeks once teaching starts up again as well. I'm trying to soak up all the relaxation time that I can now!

Random Thought: January Motivation
The new year brings about a lot of different thoughts and feelings in people, giving the month of January a certain special quality that no other month shares. To see what I mean, simply walk into any gym on any given January evening. You'll see lots of people attempting to work out on machines they may never have seen before in their lives, or more fitting, perhaps not seen since January 2019, when they last set their minds that this would be the year they finally lose those extra 20 pounds.

The notion of marking another passing year carries a special motivation for people to try and change their bad habits, whether it's quitting bad habits like smoking or drinking (see Dry January) or starting new good habits (such as buying a gym membership). Hey, that's the way this weekly update got started, my very first post was in the first week of 2015, when I successfully resurrected this blog from my grade 11 media studies class.

This January I have been experimenting (mostly at work) with how I can tap into people's underlying motivation to start something new this year. Especially since it's also the start of a new decade (and since the world is going to heck), I'm appealing to that underlying nag to do something positive in order to enlist people to join our accessibility and/or eco-conscious teams at work. Not only do I have some great things planned for both teams this year, but I like to think I'm doing a public service by saving people money on gym memberships they'll never use. Gotta strike while the iron is hot!

Inspiration: Bloodsuckers
Sasha and I are making good use of our ROM memberships, last week on our third visit together we checked out a really cool temporary exhibit on all things bloodsucking. From mosquitos to leeches to medicinal bloodletting, even a little area on the folklore of vampires around the world, I have to say this was a freaking cool exhibit.

Huge, life-size models of leeches and bloodsuckers. Sasha for scale.

Tiny bloodsucking fleas encased in amber - super vintage!

I liked the way this one was posing so I tried to copy it. The microscope on the left side showcases the flea, which is then projected even larger on the screen beside it.

Did you know vampire snails feed on the blood of fish by putting out these little tubes that attach onto their prey?! Crazy.

Cute little vampire bat.

 I especially loved the tanks filled with lampreys. They're so wild!

Bram Stoker's handwritten notes from Dracula.

Just in case one couldn't finish the job: Double-crucifix!

It's been a great year with my ROM membership, especially with the fact that the museum sits squarely in the middle of town between where I live and where Sasha lives. On top of that, we both enjoyed that we didn't feel the pressure to see so much on each visit, since we could come and go as we wish. I do plan to visit at least once more, and do hope as well that they release a similar deal for 2020. I'd definitely buy another membership for the low, low price of $37.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Always Chili, 2007 Electronica & The Sound Shirt

Weekly Update 2020-01: Hello, new year! A chill winter playlist by my friend Kaylin, looking back at my favourite year of electronic music and a shirt that converts sound waves into haptic rumblings onto your skin.

The Sound Shirt by Cute Circuit.

Music: Always Chili
My first music recommendation for 2020 comes from my friend Kaylin who has painstakingly compiled a list of almost seven hours of music that she associates with a chill, low-key winter day. Now that the holidays are over and we have all this excess winter to spend, we may as well make the most of it. Be careful, there are some tearjerking sad songs hidden in there! Don't let them get the best of you.

Larissa came back from Sudbury in one piece, so we got to have our last Hannukah family hangout on the last day of the holiday. Yay, full menorah!

Kaylin and Will came over to help light the candles too.

New Years wasn't a total disaster, as it sometimes can be. My friend Laura dragged us all to Etobicoke to a party her sister was throwing at a recording studio, and I have to admit it was pretty fun. Some highlights below:

A post shared by Chloe Silver (@chloesil) on

Not much going on this week due to holiday burnout, I hope to make time for a jam session on Saturday at my office with Eric, if he's cool to bring his guitar down to Liberty Village.

Random Thought: 2007 Electronica
With the new decade upon us, I am seeing lots of top ten lists in music and other media. In true nonsensical fashion, I decided to look back a little further, thirteen years to be exact, to a time period that changed my music listening forever.

Whenever electronic music comes up in conversation with anyone I know, it usually goes the same way. We agree that electronic music is one of our favourite genres, and then as soon as any band names are mentioned we realize that we're not remotely talking about the same subset of music. Electronic music is perhaps one of the most genre-straddling, constantly reinventing genres, with so many sub-sub-sub genres coming out of virtually every country in the world.

My first real launch into my subset of electronic music definitely happened around 2007. There was just something about that year being huge for major breakout releases from so many of my favourite electronic musicians.

Thirteen years after their release, I still play these albums constantly.

Just some of the amazing electronic albums to break out of 2007:
  • Mstrkrft - The Looks (Yay Canada!)
  • Justice - Self-Titled
  • Simian Mobile Disco - Attack Decay Sustain Release
  • Boys Noize - Oi Oi Oi
  • Digitalism - Idealism
  • Chromeo - Fancy Footwork (also yay Canada!)
  • Muscles - Guns Babes Lemonade
  • New Young Pony Club - Fantastic Playroom
  • Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
  • Yelle - Pop Up
  • Caribou - Andorra (again yay Canada!)
  • Matthew Dear - Asa Breed
  • Battles - Mirrored
  • LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
  • Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This
  • Groove Armada - Soundboy Rock
  • MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
  • Daft Punk - Alive 2007 (arguably one of my favourite live albums of all time)
Taking even a short listen to a smattering of these bands will show you the true vastness of their sounds. From the rough Brit-rock electro stylings of Klaxons to the calm, thoughtful and meditative sounds of Caribou to the party-rock anthems of MGMT, this was truly a magical year of self expression through synths and wires.

Inspiration: Sound Shirt
It has always been a fear of mine that I might lose my hearing. Much as I rely on sight to complete most of my tasks (including biking and designing), I definitely require hearing to make life enjoyable. The main reason is that of music, how can one experience the joys of music without hearing? It feels like a terrible joke without a punchline.

But when I think of some of my favourite music with pulsing beats and dramatic drums, I realize it may be as much of a tactile experience as an auditory one. It would seem that one company has had a similar idea, introducing wearable tech that heightens the experience of someone with hearing loss to be able to enjoy the music as well.

The Sound Shirt by CuteCircuit absorbs sound waves and transmits them into tactile rumblings emitted by the shirt onto the wearer's skin.

Instead of hearing sounds that transfer into feelings in your brain, you can feel them on your skin instead. I imagine this experience might even be more impactful than listening, and perhaps even quite fun to try in addition to listening to music.

This is just another example of how inventions designed to help those with disabilities can also be useful for anyone. Learn more about the Sound Shirt here.