Tech Weekly: Making Magic

The rhetoric of technology is steeped in magic. After all, as Arthur C. Clarke famously mused, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." But the heap of cold hard silicon and circuits that we call technology is often responsible for an entirely different kind of magic. Not illusion or trickery, but a very real power to live out our fantasies.

This week's Technology projects are all about the stuff that dreams are made of.

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Guest Post: The Importance of Updates

Hand-honing knives for the duo's Fave project
Hand-honing knives for the duo's Fave project

Dave Laituri and his son Calvin are responsible for several projects to-date, creating, launching, and fulfilling each from their garage. One thing their projects all have in common, aside from being in the Product Design category, is that they've consistently shared amazing updates with their backers. We asked Dave and Calvin to talk about how and why to use updates in the best way possible.

After running six projects of our own and helping out on about ten others, we’ve learned that project updates are much more than a broadcast tool to deliver your project's status information to backers — they’re an important component of the product you are creating.

We’ve learned from our backer’s feedback that being part of the process and having a behind-the-scenes view are a big part of what they like about backing projects on Kickstarter, so we put extra effort into making sure they learn a lot through our updates. After all, most backers are not necessarily creators themselves and appreciate whatever interesting bits of background information that you share.

Given their value, it’s worth taking some time before launching to plan out the sequence of your update topics in advance — it’s always good to be prepared! For some update topics beyond the obvious (but important) "thank you" or "shipping updates," consider these:

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Happening: Curated by WFMU

Have you ever complained—or talked to someone who complained—about how radio just "isn't what it was" anymore? Chances are you've been that person, or been in proximity to that person because it's totally true. Radio as we know it now is a very different beast from its golden days. WFMU, however, has been a consistent antidote to everything you don't like about radio since 1958. In addition to thoughtful programming—music and otherwise—the station also holds a yearly record fair that has become legendary in record collector circles. Even if you don't want to dig deep, you'll still find some great stuff. We'd be saying all this stuff if you asked us at any time, but it feels particularly relevant right now. It's music month, and part of that means that WFMU will be coming to our office to host a record fair, performances, and a screening of Sex and Broadcasting, the documentary about the station. RSVP right here.

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Tech Weekly: Hands On

If the eyes are the window to the soul, the hands must be the car parked out front. Hands are how we get around, and our sense of touch is one fundamental way we experience, learn, and interact with our environment. From a digital handpan to a glove that lets you feel virtual reality, this week's Technology projects will put the whole wide world in your hands.

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Discover Music Documentaries

A couple months ago, we interviewed documentary filmmaker Brendan Toller about his recent work, Danny Says, a doc about Danny Fields, who was instrumental in the success of artists like The Ramones, Iggy Pop, and Nico. Yet Fields remained a somewhat mysterious figure until Toller decided to spend years interviewing him, combing through his footage, and reconstructing his forgotten narrative. At one point in our talk with Toller, he had this to say about documentary filmmaking: "I just think documentary filmmaking is an emerging form that is really exciting in terms of narrative, in terms of archive, and approach."

He's right. Though the form has been around for awhile, we're experiencing an unprecedented number of documentary subjects across all genres and interests. There are more ways to watch them, more ways to make them, and if you're tenacious enough, more fascinating stories out there to uncover and tell. Since it's music month, we thought we'd round up a few live music docs to give you just a small taste of what's out there.

The Earth Moves: A Documentary About Einstein on the Beach

Philip Glass is a living legend. As a composer, he's brought experimental sounds from New York to concert halls, and has spent a career pushing boundaries and exploring music from every angle. Einstein on the Beach, which was conceived and put together by Glass and director Robert Wilson, is only an opera in the loosest sense of the word. What it actually is, is a 4+ hour piece, in multiple movements, that is frustrating, transcendent, and often consistently beautiful. It's an exhausting piece—in the best way—for both the players and the audience. Now, filmmaker John Walter is bringing the story of the experimental masterpiece to life. 

Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits

Even if you've never heard of the first all-girl punk band The Slits— a band that managed to effortlessly fuse reggae with jittery, minimal post-punk—you've probably heard someone that was influenced by them. Now they're getting their proper due, with a documentary about their long, sometimes rocky career and massive influence on music today. There are also some killer rewards if you're already a superfan, including signed t-shirts and drum sticks, and more.

King of the Roadies: The Ben Dorcy Documentary

Behind every great musician, there's a great roadie, and Ben Dorcy may quite possibly be the first. Here's director Amy Nelson on Dorcy's unusual life: "He has no living relatives, yet he is the patriarch of a family of artists, and fellow roadies who love him dearly. They call him ‘Lovey’ And he calls them ‘Lovey’. Despite all odds, he shows up to work on tour after tour after tour." The release of the film—which is narrated by Willie Nelson (if that doesn't convince you on the importance of this guy, we're not sure what will)—is timed to coincide with Dorcy's 90th birthday.

Joe's Violin

The bulk of this list is filled up with rock docs in both content and form: you'll often get the story, from beginning to end of a specific project or band. Joe's Violin is a bit different. It's the story of how Joseph Feingold, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, donated his violin to a program that gave instruments to New York school kids who need instruments. That violin ended up in the hands of Brianna, who has recently been working on a song for Feingold, which she'll soon play for him.

The Blockheads: Beyond the Call of Dury

Near the top of the project page for this film, there's a list of a number of musicians The Blockheads have worked with in their long career. We're going to paste that list because it is bonkers: Paul McCartney, The Clash, Kilburn and the High Roads, John Legend, The Eurythmics, Nick Cave, Roger Daltrey, Roy Budd, Madness, Wilko Johnson, The Animals, Feargal Sharkey, Peter Frampton, Lulu, Link Wray, Tim Hardin, Ian Gillan & Roger Glover, Sinéad O'Connor, Talk Talk, Dr John, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Nick Lowe, Paul Young, Elkie Brooks, Bob Geldof, Tom Robinson, World Party, Robbie Williams, Kirsty McColl, Steve Cropper, Alan Hull (Lindisfarne), Wreckless Eric, Cerys Matthews, Viv Albertine, Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield, The Selector, London Beat, Rachel Sweet, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Dave Stewart and the Spiritual Cowboys, Jools Holland, and Shane MacGowan. The most notable thing about the list (besides, you know, the insanely big names that appear on it) is the breadth and variety contained within it. That was part of the appeal of the Blockheads, who got famous backing Ian Dury, and then went on to become versatile, flat-out amazing session musicians—AKA the secret weapons for musicians the world over.

The Glamour and the Squalor

One thing that many of these films have in common is that they shed light on behind-the-scene figures that helped make so much of the music we've come to love and treasure. The Glamour and the Squalor is about radio DJ Marco Collins. Based in Seattle, Collins was responsible for shaping the taste of a generation of listeners, and this is his story.

So, how can I make my project stand out?

At any given time there are thousands of live projects on Kickstarter. If you’ve got a great idea, these tips will help you make sure it gets the attention it deserves. 

1. Pick a really good project image — it’s the first thing people see! Our Design team has some tips on how to choose the best image for your project.

Simple but... fiery.
Simple but... fiery.
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Straight From Shenzhen: HAX Spawns Cool Tech Projects

A bunch of great hardware projects on Kickstarter right now have one thing in common: they all came out of the startup accelerator HAX. The folks at HAX (formerly Haxlr8r) invite promising teams with working prototypes to come to Shenzhen, China, for four months. Once they arrive, creators work with experts in a variety of fields to shape their designs, products and strategies. It’s like a boot camp for the world’s hardware-heads, in the heart of the most frenzied manufacturing hub on the planet. 

We asked Benjamin Joffe, a general partner at HAX, to talk about the latest batch of creators they’ve helped.

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Exciting Guitar Technology

Kaki King is an artist that knows her way around technology. In 2014, she ran a project for a visual performance called The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, an hour-long live piece in which her guitar was used as a projection screen for visual effects. Imagine your music software's visualizer contained to the body of your instrument while you play, and you'll have some idea of what it looked like.

King says, "I'm always employing new techniques, tunings, and approaches in order to coax out sounds that haven't been heard before." Perhaps that's why inventor Paul Vo chose to send her an early prototype of his newest invention, the Vo Wond.

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