Monday, December 12, 2011

Memoriae Lends a Different Angle to Biola’s “Year of the Arts” Theme of Sacred Spaces

"free cable" (2011) created by Elisabeth Mikottos. Photo taken by Heather Tanji.

The human mind is a complex thing, filled with dreams, memories and intuitions. Science tells us why our brains act this way but does little in helping us to visualize the things we see. That is something only the individual can do. Memoriae is photography major Elisabeth Mikottis’ senior thesis depicting interpretations of her own memories.

Her entire exhibit is based on the concept that space—actual locations—are where memories find their roots and serve as a container for those visuals while at the same time acting as a means to bring those memories back to life. Then and now meet in a single photograph and with the help of Photoshop and skillful lighting technique, Mikottis invites viewers into her mind.

A mix of photography and graphic design, Mikottis’ collection is an interesting and colorful display of her personal recollections. She uses the concept of layering—taking two photos and merging them together—to create an illusion of past and present. Although it is difficult to see the purpose of the photos without studying the context first, each visual stands alone as an interesting piece of work. The lines and shadows of one image intersect with the lighting and colors of the second, so that although both images were shot from the exact same angle, they appear to be entirely different.

One piece in particular illustrated the desired effect perfectly. Titled “free cable” (2011), the original shot was taken three years ago in 2007, yet the lighting and colors were tampered in the more recent photo to rein focus on an open door. Although there is no explanation or description of the specific memory, one gets the distinct feeling that they are looking into a room with a story to it; a memory.

What is so jarring about this photo and the rest of the collection is how the first image in the photo is more realistic—clear, defined lines and traditional colors—while the second image is comprised of what looks like a projection of the first image, with serious tampering done to the temperature of it.

The images themselves aren’t particularly interesting. Given that the exhibit is a senior thesis, Mikottis might have thought to showcase more of her creativity regarding angles and originality. Are they good quality shots? Yes. Do they use the rule of thirds and have correct composition? Yes. However, it isn’t the quality of the images but rather what she did with them and the concept she developed that is the point of the gallery.

We Wish You A Merry She & Him Christmas

Album cover of She & Him's new Christmas album.

Imagine a warm crackling fireplace, antique Christmas ornaments and a breathtaking view of the ocean during a California December. That is the essence of She & Him’s newest album: “A Very She & Him Christmas” (2011). Each song presents an easygoing, mellow and altogether enjoyable sound, perfect for a quiet evening at home or a relaxed get-together with friends.

Christmas covers have become quite the trend in the music industry this holiday season. Both pop sensation Justin Bieber and the equally popular crooner Michael Buble released highly anticipated albums featuring a mix of original songs and covers. She & Him, comprised of actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel and musician Matthew Ward, offers a more mellow option to throw into the mix.

Staying true to the indie rock genre, Deschanel and Ward transformed twelve Christmas favorites into raw stripped down simplicity. Deschanel’s lilting tones give songs like “Silver Bells” and “The Christmas Song” a new twist, lending hipster holiday magic to the season. The whole album is easily something you would hear in “avant-garde” stores like Urban Outfitters or the more refined Anthropologie, airy and carefree as every track is. Think Ingrid Michaelson meets Jack Johnson. If listeners hope to find anything different from previous albums, they will be disappointed. Deschanel’s voice rings pure and unique and Ward’s instrumental accompaniment leave no room for anything but pure She & Him.

Refreshing and original as the covers are, one can’t help comparing Deschanel’s lighter and undeniably weaker vocal qualities in “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to Judy Garland’s rich, resonant rendition, featured in the classic film “Meet Me In St. Louis.” The cover is not unpleasant, just a bit anticlimactic in comparison. After all, covering classics from greats like Celine Dion or Barbara Streisand is a risk too. Ward’s acoustic riffs are particularly relaxing and especially prominent in “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” though his vocals are puzzlingly absent in every song. Past albums featured both artists’ vocal talents. No matter though as Deschanel’s unique voice more than makes up for the lack of male vocals.

Deschanel does a wonderful job of interspersing playful with sentimental, energetic with mellow. “A Very She & Him Christmas” makes for a nice complement to seasonal albums with the richer, traditional tones of Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole and creates variety from jazz holiday favorites like Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack and Kenny G’s Christmas album, but whether it can stand by itself is questionable. Still, there is little doubt that future Christmas movies will hasten to add their songs to their soundtracks.

Photo from

Christmas At Biola

Biola welcomes students, faculty and other guests to the concert.

Set against a backdrop of snowy white lace (an alternative to the traditional projector), twinkling lights and wreaths of holly, Biola University’s annual Christmas concert showcased the talented school ensembles including the chorale, studio orchestra and the six-man acapella group The King’s Men. Staying true to the university’s Christian roots, the concert did a fantastic job of leading the audience through the festivities of American Christmas traditions to a tribute to the soldiers overseas, (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and finally landing on the true reason for the season: Christ.

The school ensembles end with a lively performance of Glory! Glory! Taken by Heather Tanji

The show took off with a lighthearted and fun opening of “Sleigh Bells,” emphasizing the strong unity between the string section and the percussions although the brass section could have been tighter in their synchronization. The overall dynamics of the piece was excellent, not too loud and not too soft, creating an atmosphere of lively yet muted Christmas cheer. The orchestra continued to give a strong performance throughout the show, particularly during a medley of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and a jazz rendition of “Jingle Bells.” If you were to close your eyes you might feel as if you were in the midst of a Disneyland Christmas parade.

Easily the strongest performers in the group, The King’s Men excelled in their harmonies, mesmerizing the audience with soulful stylings of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Road to Zion.” Senior Arnold Geis stood out in particular with his perfect pitch and stellar tenor range. Soloist Matthew Kellaway was equally impressive as he sang “The Promise.” His vibrato and pitch control created a compelling picture of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s arrival, from his deep bass to a surprisingly beautiful falsetto.

The female soloists didn’t fare so well. Kristin Tucker—another senior singer—put far too many theatrics into her performance of “Grown-Up Christmas List,” creating the wrong tone altogether as she gave more Broadway than subdued sentiment. Her over-the-top vocals contrasted poorly with the lyrics, especially given the war and recent natural disasters of the past year. Lauren Bartels voice was not strong enough to carry her through “O Holy Night.” Her tone was pitchy, lacking the fullness needed to properly accentuate the dynamics the song requires.

The chorale stayed in perfect pitch throughout every song, sounding united as every singing group should be. Unfortunately, their volume was poorly mismatched with the studio orchestra, the brass and strings often overpowering the vocals. Still, the audience seemed to enjoy the program, from the joyful tones of the Christmas carols to the somber harkening of Christ’s birth and the triumphant ending of “Glory, Glory!” ending in satisfied applause and a spurt or two of fake snow.

"Heart Of Manger" taken from Biola University site

Thrice Brings Down The House (of Blues)

Thrice is greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. Taken by Heather Tanji

Days before Thrice announced an official hiatus (duration currently undetermined), fans flocked to the House of Blues in Anaheim to enjoy what could now be a final performance. Orange County locals lead singer Dustin Kensrue, guitarist Teppei Teranishi, bassist Eddie Breckenridge and drummer Riley Breckenridge brought talent, excitement and pure rock into the packed venue.

The best way to describe their performance is undiluted, constant energy. From the strums of the electric guitars to the rumbling bass solos, the clashing of cymbals and thunderous vocals, it never quit. They kicked off the show with “Yellow Belly,” a favorite from “Beggars” (2009), which calmed the audience for a few moments. Breckenridge’s talent on the bass was really showcased, right from the beginning of the song as heads bobbed and fists pumped the air.

The energy really revved up when they started playing “All The World Is Mad,” one of the first tracks from their newest album. Strobe lights flashed into the audience in sync with the rhythm of the song as they raised their voices in unison with Kensrue, screaming out lyrics as they heard the song live for the first time. It’s hard to say what was more infectious, the beat of the drums or the enthusiasm of the audience. Most of the crowd knew the words by heart, sending a fresh wave of chaotic frenzy with each new song.

The band got it's start in the Orange County venue, The Chain Reaction. Taken from

Thrice is known for the consistent development of their sound. Their newest album “Major/Minor” (2011) contrasts extremely from past albums such as “Vheissu” (2008) gradually transitioning from punk rock to hard metal to alternative and even acoustic sounds. The quality of each album is the same: excellent, but having such a variety of genres is difficult, given the wide fan base. However, the band didn’t forget their diehard fans—the ones who fell in love with their hard metal songs, the ones who have been with them since the beginning.

They ended with a satisfyingly deafening performance of “Anthology.” Each chord progression could be felt right down to the vibrations on the floor, the strobe lights blinding the audience as they sank into further euphoria, simply enjoying the precise riffs Teranishi brought and the endless roar of Kensrue’s vocals. During the encore they revved up an encore of “Phoenix Ignition” and “To Awake and Avenge the Dead.” Fans cheered frantically, immediately initiating a mosh pit, crowd surfing and a general rampage in appreciation of the throwback.

The House of Blues is an intimate venue, one that doesn’t have space for elaborate light shows or special effects. Thrice didn’t need the help as their talent and energy filled the space all by itself. Fans waited impatiently through the three opening acts (O Brother, Moving Mountains and La Dispute) half-heartedly applauding each band, making it clear that these folks were here to see one band, and one band alone.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blue Man Group Brings Weird to Orange County

Blue Man Group beats on drums as paint explodes from the surface. Photo by Joshua Sudock, OC Register.

The epitome of eccentricity, avant-garde performance group Blue Man Group astounds audiences throughout the world in places as sultry as Las Vegas to as exotic as Berlin. How this weird trio found themselves in the pristine Segerstrom theater in Costa Mesa is anyone’s guess.

The only way to really describe their antics is watching children at play. The trio brings everyday, ordinary objects (drums, paint, marshmallows and even cereal) to the stage and with them creates a playground teeming with imaginative instruments, art displays and other inventions. There isn’t any rhyme or reason nor point or plot to the show and some may find that frustrating and almost bewildering. The only way to enjoy a Blue Man show is to take it in its stride; take it for what it is.

Although the performance is classified as theater, it is more an over-the-top art show above all else. At its heart, a Blue Man Group show is performance art, no more and no less. They come to make a statement, although what that statement is remains unclear but at least they made a big deal out of it, colors, special effects and all. Known more for their whimsical antics than for any talent in particular, the group made use of the audience and the stage, parading around in their brilliantly blue nonsense.

Blue Man Group is all about having fun, drawing fans and newcomers alike into their strange little world, sometimes even onto the stage to participate in their games. Their uniformity and their solemn expressions only enhance the comedic aspects of their performance. At one point, they brought one audience member on stage and lined her up with themselves at a table, placing a Twinkie on each of their plates. What ensued was a hilarious act of the three straight-faced performers grappling with their fluffy Twinkies, attempting to eat them simultaneously and all three glancing over at the audience participant, expecting her to follow suit and shaking their heads when she couldn’t keep up.

A glimpse of the finale. Photograph from

Spoilers withheld, the finale was undeniably spectacular. Loud upbeat music enveloped the audience as the three men splashed paint across the stage, beat drums and pipes to accompany the music and created a happening party right in the theater. Brightly lit lanterns gently descended into the audience, glowing and changing colors as they bounced throughout the crowd. Three large plasma screens bedecked in iPhone attire sparkled and exploded with designs as dancers dressed in neon-lit morph suits moved around them. Confetti floated gaily among the chaos.

What is so entertaining about three blue men spitting paint out of their mouths and banging on empty pipes to make melodies like “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga come to life? It’s hard to pinpoint what makes the show so great. Well-timed physical comedy, special lighting effects or just an innovative way of looking at things? There is no answer, but whatever it is they do, it works. The audience was on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what would happen next.

It is the Blue Man Group after all. What else are you to expect besides the unexpected?

Citizen Kane Deserves Respect

Dubbed by several critics as the greatest American film of all time, the highly acclaimed 1941 film “Citizen Kane” continues to make an impact 60 years from its initial release. Directed by, produced by and starring world famous filmmaker Orson Welles, the film follows the life of fictional Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper tycoon who begins his career with high ideals and ends in an obsessive pursuit of power and control. The similarities between real-life newspaper industrialist William Hearst and Kane are inescapable and bring the inspiration behind the plotline to reality.

The creative way in which the plot line was executed is reason enough for praise. The basic outline of Kane’s history is shown through newspaper headlines and a few well-chosen words. A reporter investigating the life of Kane conducts several interviews attempting to answer why Kane’s final dying words are “Rosebud.” Journeying from Kane’s childhood until his divorce with his second wife, each stage of his life is told from a different perspective (filmed as flashbacks) giving the film and Kane’s character itself multiple dimensions.

Arguably the most notable aspect of the film is the cinematography itself. Considering that the movie was made in the early 1940s, the angles and scene transitions are extremely progressive for its time. From the very first sequence, when Welles leads his audience from the “No Trespassing” sign, up the hill and eventually into Kane’s palace where he lays dying, the technique lent interesting methods for inviting viewers into the film’s world. The rest of the movie is filmed in the same way, making you notice things you wouldn’t notice: a detail in the set perhaps, or the way characters are facing each other.

Welles proves himself to be not only a pristine filmmaker but an excellent actor as well. His portrayal of Kane is wonderfully, almost scarily believable. As we come to know Kane—an ambitious, talented man lost in the chaos of the business world—we see a character played above and beyond the mere surface of facial expressions and well-delivered lines. Welles captures the heart of Charles Kane. His eyes exude the very soul of this intelligent character, a power-ridden man desperate for peace and resolution in his life. Other actors did a fine job with their parts but it is Welles who stands out above the rest. Perhaps it is because he created the film partially based off his own life experiences, and spent so much time creating the character that he was able to pull it off.

Though not particularly noticeable at first, the music and lighting project a “Twilight Zone” creepiness in the film, creating an unsettling feeling as the audience watches a life gone horribly wrong (death, divorce, scandal) played out on the screen. Set design too was excellently done. Designed after Hearst’s castle, Xanadu—Kane’s abode—accurately represents the struggles of Kane’s life: a continuous building of ornate and exquisite design yet with very little human warmth to fill the space. Welles manages to make even these small details add to the loneliness of Kane’s life.

As the movie comes to a close the reporter is no closer to finding the meaning of “Rosebud” than he was at the beginning. Instead he has bits and pieces of Kane’s life to grapple with: a broken marriage, a newspaper company run amuck, an empty palace… a misunderstood man. I am not one to spoil movies, but it suffices to say that the final scene in the movie reveals more about Kane’s world than the rest of the film ever did. It leaves a haunting image of a childhood lost, a life gone astray, a tragic end to what could have been a better life.

I wouldn’t particularly call this film one of the greatest films of all time, but it certainly has all the elements of a masterpiece film. Believable actors, unique cinematography, a creative plot line, music, lighting and sets that create an atmosphere fitting for the character and most importantly, a means of facilitating discussion after the film. “Citizen Kane” leaves the audience asking questions—about the movie and perhaps about the state of their own lives. It’s not exactly an enjoyable movie, but there is no denying it is a thought-provoking one. If one were to watch the movie several times over, there is still a little more insight to gain every time. In the art of filmmaking, that is a good thing.

Photograph taken from Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sample Review: Muse Returns to the U.S. in Style

The Anaheim Honda Center arena was packed with flashing iPhones and fans screaming and shouting, ready for a riotous, talent-packed performance. As the lights dimmed and the first chords of “Resistance” began to play, the noise level exploded as Southern California fans welcomed in the U.K. band Muse. It’s hard to believe the world-famous trio first started playing in small venues like the Viper Room and The Roxy. They have come a long way since then. Standing in front of thousands of fans, it seems that lead singer Matt Bellamy and his band mates have been music royalty for a lifetime.

There is nothing quite like an expectant audience, one who has listened to a band’s albums countless times and is eager to now hear it all live. You could practically taste the anticipation in the air. You could certainly hear it.

Performing on an elaborately built stage of three tall, platforms thoroughly covered in plasma-screen visuals and an equally bright and colorful lighting program to boot, it was hard to focus on the music at first. Muse has the money to make a show a spectacle and that’s what they did.

They played a well-planned set list, mixing singles from their most recent albums “Resistance” and “Black Holes and Revelations” with their older albums, especially “Absolution.” Bellamy altered between playing his electric guitar and releasing beautiful improvisations on a grand piano, singing in his distinct, high-tenor tone. The band’s cover of “Feeling Good” and “United States of Eurasia” highlighted his talents to their peak, especially on the piano.

Guitarist Christopher Wolstenhome, not to be outdone, busted out solos that would satisfy any rocker’s soul. “Hysteria” is a song known for its’ power chords and electric guitar riffs. Wolstenhome capitalized on this as he slid across the stage on his knees and the audience screamed with wild applause and euphoric delight.

Each band member did a good job of interacting with the crowd, letting them take the reigns in hit songs like “Starlight” and “Time Is Running Out,” with Bellamy holding the mic out toward the crowd as they shouted the band’s lyrics back at them.
It’s easy to immerse yourself into a concert with so many die-hard and adoring fans. Even were the talent lacking, the mood is infectious. With every chord progression, with every extended solo whether it be from the guitar, the drums or the piano, Muse gave a show to truly remember.

Although the strobe lights and flashing platforms enhanced the concert, it was obvious that it was the band’s pure talent, unique songs and high performance stamina is what made the show a success. After two hours of pure rock, the audience was still clamoring for more.

Photograph by Heather Tanji