Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bollywood Business

Wednesday April 27, 01:28 PM

Bollywood's attempt to escape murky past falters after flops
Photo : AFP
BOMBAY (AFP) - Bollywood -- the world's largest movie-making centre -- has long been burdened by associations with Bombay's underworld, deriving much of its funding from gangsters' so-called "black money".

Just five years ago the Hindi cinema industry's credibility was at an all-time low as the "mob" brought kidnapping, murder and extortion along with its much-needed funding.

But in 2001 a sudden influx of "clean" cash from India's major industrial groups hoping to make quick bucks by dabbling in the glitzy and glamorous world of film heralded a new dawn for the industry.

Top conglomerates run by India's wealthiest families -- such as the Tatas, the Birlas, the Singhanias and liquor baron Vijay Mallya -- plunged into film financing when the Indian government declared Bollywood a bona fide industry.

A series of flops and millions of lost dollars later, however, and the more respectable investors are running scared, leaving Bollywood's hopes of putting its murky past behind in tatters.

Many of the new financiers have been left with burnt fingers after backing flicks with weak scripts, and are rethinking their strategies. Tata, meanwhile, has pulled out of the business altogether.

"They are licking their wounds and reviewing what went wrong," says film analyst Indu Mirani.

"These companies were worse than some of those truck transporters who put their surplus money into films," she says, referring to a trend in the late 1990s when anyone with spare cash would put it into a Bollywood movie in the hope of quick returns and that the industry's glamour would rub off on them.

The main problem says Mirani, is that the big companies had no experience of film and chose weak scripts, which even big stars such as Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan and leading actors Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Bipasha Basu and Rani Mukherjee could not rescue.

"It appears that even these sophisticated businessmen got enamoured by the glamour and forgot that finally it is the script that has to be good and not just the stars for a film to be a hit," Mirani tells AFP.

In the past few years, the Tatas produced suspense drama "Aetbaar" (Trust), the Pantaloon group made romantic flick "Na Tum Jaano Na Hum" (Neither You Know, Neither Do I), the Birlas made "Dev" and "Black" -- a story of a deaf, dumb and blind girl -- while the Singhanias made love story "Woh Tera Naam Tha" (That Was Your Name) and Mallya produced action-cum-suspense drama "Rakht" (Blood).

"All these movies failed to connect with the Indian audiences who are very fickle," says Mirani.

Trade figures reveal that "Aetbaar" earned about two-thirds of its 150 million rupee (3.4 million dollar) production costs while "Woh Tera Naam Tha" earned just 40 million rupees against an investment of 120 million rupees.

While "Dev" lost half of its around 60 million rupees budget, "Black", according to Applause Entertainment -- the filmmaking arm of the Birla group -- managed to come out ahead, making 30 million rupees profit.

None of the top 10 Bollywood films of 2004, according to a list by global research house PricewaterhouseCoopers, was produced by companies. They were made by long-time filmmakers putting their own money in scripts that clicked with the audience.

"The movie business is a quick-sand business and is driven by passion," says Anshuman Swami, chief executive of Birla-owned Applause Entertainment.

"We have made money from 'Black' and intend to fund films in the future. We will continue to make movies, but know that the game is slow and steady."

The Tatas, however, decided enough was enough after "Aetbaar" bombed and sold off its media division, Tata Infomedia -- which included film division Cutting Edge, to ICICI Ventures.

The new owners, who have renamed the company Infomedia India, shut down Cutting Edge as they felt it was not feasible to produce films.

"We didn't see any competitive advantage in the film business," says Prakash Iyer, managing director of Infomedia India Limited. "We felt it made better sense to see other business opportunities."

Officials from the Singhanias and Mallya group were not available for comment.

Bollywood, India's prolific Hindu-language film industry that churns out about 250 features a year, accepts part of the blame, saying a lack of professionalism has left companies disillusioned.

"I think the only reason companies are not coming is the indiscipline in the film industry," actress Urmila Matondkar tells AFP.

"I remember when I was a newcomer I used to land up on sets early, or on time, and everyone used to make fun of it, saying I was punctual because I was new."

Aside from big companies, the turn of the millennium has brought into Bollywood other sources of financing, including loans from the Industrial Development Bank of India, the raising of equity on the stock market and private equity deals in which individuals enter into contracts for financing a movie with returns payable on profits made.

Other "non-traditional sources" of funding, says Sunir Kheterpal of India's Yes Bank, who has just released a detailed report on the financing of Indian film, include funds from music companies and television channels.

"In addition to entry of new money into the Hindi film industry, this trend will enable higher transparency in operations," says Kheterpal.

Before 2000, some 40 to 50 percent of movies made were funded by the underworld, with gangsters in Bombay conducting a reign of terror and extortion against producers, directors and even actors, according to various industry estimates.

But the stranglehold of the "mob" loosened when police launched a massive crackdown, arresting some kingpins in Bombay as well as in Dubai.

"In a situation like this when the industry was losing its credibility, companies came in with funds and everyone thought it was the best thing to happen to Bollywood," says analyst Mirani.

But she adds, they came in overly cautious.

"They gave money only to big banners and projects with big actors. Newcomers who had brilliant scripts were left stranded for want of money as companies were not keen to take the business risk," she says.

"People with brilliant scripts did not get access to money or to stars."

Experts feel the way out for Bollywood is for the industry itself to corporatise rather than depend on big companies to front up with funds.

They say traditional filmmakers should float professional business entities and fund films that will tell a good story.

"Corporatisation of the industry has to happen and in fact it is slowly happening," producer-director Subhash Ghai tells AFP.

"For the healthy growth of Bollywood, the future has to be a blend of corporate culture and film mind," adds analyst Mirani.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Important French Ruling on Copyright

French court rules against copy protection
Unprecedented DVD ruling could have huge consequences
The Associated Press
Updated: 6:47 p.m. ET April 26, 2005

PARIS - A French court has ordered DVD vendors to pull copies of the David Lynch film "Mulholland Drive" off store shelves as part of an unprecedented ruling against copy prevention techniques.

The appeals court ruled Friday that copy prevention software on the DVD violated privacy rights in the case of one consumer who had tried to transfer the film onto a video cassette for personal use.

The ruling could be a major setback for the DVD industry, which places lock software on disks as part of its battle against piracy. The industry blames illegal copying for millions of dollars in lost revenues each year.

"This ruling means that 80 percent of DVDs now on the French market are equipped with illegal mechanisms," said Julien Dourgnon, spokesman for consumer advocacy group UFC-Que Choisir, which brought the case.

"Stores will probably not have to send back products already in stock," Dourgnon said Tuesday. "But in the future, no DVD or CD that has the device can be sold."

France, along with other European Union members including Germany and Spain, has laws guaranteeing the right of consumers to copy recordings they have purchased for private use.

Lionel Thoumyre, a lawyer for the artist rights group Spedidam, said the ruling sets a new precedent in the European Union, where intellectual property laws are nearly identical among member states.

"This is brand new," he said. "I think this is the first judgment in Europe going in this direction."

The consumer group filed the suit on behalf of a man who bought the "Mulholland Drive" DVD and then wanted to copy the movie onto a videocassette so he could show the film at his mother's home.

The ruling overturned a lower court's decision in favor of the defendants, co-producers Alain Sarde Films and Studio Canal and distributor Universal. The suit was filed in 2003.

The defendants also were found guilty of violating French consumer protection laws, which state that a vendor must notify consumers of a product's essential characteristics.

The only notification of the copy prevention software on the DVD in this case were the letters "CP," short for "copying prohibited," in small print on the cover, a warning that the court found insufficient.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2005


Monday, April 25, 2005

A Newly Discovered Recording of 'Trane and Monk

New York Times
April 25, 2005
A Jazz Discovery Adds a New Note to the Historical Record

You might reasonably think that the recorded past of American music has been mapped out - that after all the academic books and scholared-up CD reissues, we know what's between A and Z. Of the important works, anyway. Ephemera will always keep rolling in, intensifying the reds and golds of the historical picture, broadening the context.

But now this: tapes bearing nearly a full hour of the Thelonious Monk quartet with John Coltrane, found at the Library of Congress in January. The library made the announcement this month.

The tapes come from a concert at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 29, 1957, a benefit for a community center. The concert was recorded by the Voice of America, the international broadcasting service, and the tapes also include sets by the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Ray Charles with a backing sextet, the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker, and the Sonny Rollins Trio. (Newspaper accounts of the concert indicate that Billie Holiday appeared as well, though she is not on the Voice of America tapes.)

But it is Monk with Coltrane that constitutes the real find. That band existed for only six months in 1957, mostly through long and celebrated runs at the East Village club the Five Spot. During this period, Coltrane fully collected himself as an improviser, challenged by Monk and the discipline of his unusual harmonic sense. Thus began the 10-year sprint during which he changed jazz completely, before his death in 1967. The Monk quartet with Coltrane did record three numbers in a studio in 1957, but remarkably little material, and only with fairly low audience-tape fidelity, is known to exist from the Five Spot engagement.

The eight and a half Monk performances found at the Library of Congress, by contrast, are professionally recorded, strong and clear; you can hear the full dimensions of Shadow Wilson's drum kit and Ahmed Abdul-Malik's bass. It is certainly good enough for commercial release, though none has yet been negotiated.

On the tapes, Monk is Monk, his pianistic style basically formed at least 10 years before, with its sudden drawls and rhythmic hesitations. He lets Coltrane solo at length with very little accompaniment; the saxophonist plays rows and rows of original licks and runs, built with blizzards of 16th notes. The notable exception is Coltrane's solo on "Blue Monk." Through 10 blues choruses, he builds an even crescendo of logic, letting down his guard and relying less on his stock phrases. (The other songs on the tape, from the evening's two sets, are "Monk's Mood," "Evidence," "Crepuscule With Nellie," "Nutty," "Epistrophy," "Bye-Ya," "Sweet and Lovely" and a truncated second version of "Epistrophy.")

The music was discovered by accident, during the routine practice of transferring tape from the Library of Congress's Voice of America collection to digital sound files for preservation. Larry Appelbaum, a studio engineer, supervisor and jazz specialist at the library, said that he was given a batch of about 100 tapes for digitization one day in January and looked to see what was there; among them he noticed a brown cardboard box for a 7½-inch reel, marked in pencil "sp. Event 11/29/57 carnegie jazz concert (#1)," with no names on it. It piqued his interest, and one of the boxes holding the Carnegie tapes - there were eight in all - said "T. Monk." "It got my heart racing," Mr. Appelbaum said. (None of the tape boxes mentioned Coltrane.)

No bootleg recordings of the concert are known to exist, because even though it was recorded, it was not broadcast. The Coltrane specialist Lewis Porter knew of the tape's possible existence and inquired about it years ago, but after an initial search yielded nothing, Mr. Appelbaum said, he forgot about it completely. He was surprised to finally find it, of course, but his sense of surprise has been worn down over the years.

"There's always more," Mr. Appelbaum said sagely, in a recent interview in his recording laboratory at the Library of Congress's recorded sound division. He repeated the phrase so often during the afternoon that it became a mantra.

The Library of Congress holds the country's largest collection of sound recordings, and jazz of course forms only a tiny part of it. The full extent of several essential collections is thoroughly cataloged; they include everything ever recorded at the library's Coolidge Auditorium, including T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost and Robert Lowell reading their work, chamber music performances by the Budapest String Quartet, and Jelly Roll Morton singing and spieling for eight hours in 1938. All of John and Alan Lomax's famous field recordings are kept there as well.

But among the collections still being cataloged are the 50,000 Voice of America tapes, which for 40 years have been housed in a dark, climate-controlled room. The tapes constitute a valuable history of radio, and of music in New York. (The Voice of America also recorded every Newport Jazz Festival from 1955, its second year, to 1976, four years after the festival relocated from Rhode Island to New York City.) The cataloging has proceeded gradually, with first priority given to the most historically important and most physically fragile material.

Michael Gray, librarian and archivist at the Voice of America, which still operates out of Washington, confirms that in 1957, and for a long time after that, the broadcast service had access to the Carnegie Hall Recording Company's services. The Voice of America was allowed to record performances at Carnegie Hall free of charge, without paying the hall or the musicians, as long as it broadcast only overseas; this was regarded as public diplomacy through music. Of course, some musicians would not consent to be recorded, which is probably why there is no Billie Holiday on the tape.

Besides satisfying jazz fans, the discovery of the Monk tape has Gino Francesconi, Carnegie Hall's archivist since 1986, excited by the idea that much more of the hall's past may be preserved than he thought. "We knew that Voice of America recorded here," he said. "But we didn't have any formal documentation of it, and it's fantastic to know that they've discovered this." There's always more.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

An Interesting Angle on Artist M.I.A.

Village Voice
Burning Bright
Let's think for just a moment about how much M.I.A. actually supports the Tamil Tigers
by Robert Christgau
March 1st, 2005 11:36 AM

By Robert Christgau
Although M.I.A.'s "Galang" failed to render me instantly ecstatic the way a hot single should, soon enough Arular had my entire household dancing around the dining room. Compared to most grime or whatever, its nursery rhyme tunefulness breathed female principle. So at first I didn't bother to decipher the London-based Sri Lankan's patois.

Did I notice "I got the bombs to make you blow"? Maybe as metaphor—which it is, but not the way I thought. Had I registered Sasha Frere-Jones's trenchant New Yorker comment: "What makes this genuine world music, aside from the references, is the weaving of the political into the fabric of what are still, basically, dance tunes. Any division of life into personal and political halves is absent"? Maybe as rhetoric, without understanding what was at stake. But then I learned that this 28-year-old art school grad with Elastica connections had a radical pedigree—via her father, a Tamil "revolutionary" in Sri Lanka. And then came word of an M.I.A. thread at I Love Music ( that morphed from rumor to exultation to, suddenly, a heartrending roller coaster of a political debate.

Outsiders commented or raved or asked questions or noodged the discussion back toward music or imposed their own left or neocon agendas. But the chief participants were two Sri Lankans exiled by ethnic conflict: a Tamil who critically supported the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, as the only chance of ending Sinhalese oppression, and a half-Sinhalese half-Tamil who thought the Colombo government bad and the Tigers much worse. Coming in late was an anti-LTTE Tamil who'd suffered Sinhalese bombings and interrogations and still feared the Tigers could assassinate him in exile, as they had other dissenters. As bearers of belief and experience, all three were credible even when they contradicted each other, but extracting an overview was impossible. My normally reliable panel of geopolitically informed leftist democrats knew nothing about the Indian Ocean island either. So I did some reading. Because it's true: M.I.A. makes an issue of the Tamil Tigers. If we care about her, she wants us to care about them. My conclusions are brutally compressed and inexpert by definition, but let me try.

Ethnic enmity in the former Ceylon will ring a bell with fans of colonialism in Rwanda or Ireland, where divide-and-conquer also set the stage for civil war. The minority Tamil Hindus had a leg up until independence, whereupon the Sinhalese Buddhists took their revenge, though never at Tutsi-Hutu levels. The 1956 replacement of English by Sinhalese as the official language, onerous educational and other discrimination, and the gradual impoverishment of the Tamil northeast had inspired many resistance groups by the mid '70s. These were soon dominated by the LTTE, a Marxist-inflected ethnic movement committed to establishing an independent homeland called Eelam. Armed struggle, which began in 1983, has cost 65,000 lives in a nation of under 20 million.

The Tigers invented modern suicide bombing, particularly the infamous "jacket," and in 2001 had 75 of the 188 suicide bombings worldwide since 1980 on their dossier. The Sinhalese upped the ante with the civilian bombing (of "suspected terrorists") we know so well from Palestine, plus widespread rape and occasional firing squads. Like the IRA, the Tigers have been generously funded by exiles, from India's larger Tamil population too. The U.S. declared them a terrorist organization in 1997. Feared assassins—Rajiv Gandhi is counted among their victims—they appear less given to random violence than their Palestinian counterparts, and since September 11 have all but abandoned suicide bombing. Both UNESCO and Amnesty International have recently censured them for the heinous practice of conscripting children by force, Sendero-style. But they're legitimate enough that Colombo has been pursuing détente with them for years.

As the daughter of a known rebel in a war zone, M.I.A. spent most of her young girlhood intimate with violence. She escaped Sri Lanka with her mother and two siblings at 10 or 11. British racism was no fun, but it beat war, and she excelled in school. Her father, Arul Pragasam a/k/a Arular, joined the Tigers from the more conciliatory EROS group. He has never lived with her and hasn't seen her since 1995. Extensive online and library research revealed only scant reference to Arular, but he's definitely an LTTE big shot. Circa 1976 he trained with the PLO in Lebanon, where he took advantage of his engineering degree to become an explosives expert. Wonder whether he designed any jackets.

Sinhalese depredations have been atrocious. But my reading suggests that more Sri Lankan Tamils want equality than want Eelam, and from this distance I'm not pro-LTTE. Hence I strongly advise fellow journalists to refrain from applying "freedom fighter" and other cheap honorifics to M.I.A.'s dad. But I also advise them to avoid the cheaper tack taken in last week's Voice by Simon Reynolds: "Don't let M.I.A.'s brown skin throw you off: She's got no more real connection with the favela funksters than Prince Harry." Not just because brown skin is always real, but because M.I.A.'s documentable experience connects her to world poverty in a way few Western whites can grasp. Moreover, beyond a link now apparently deleted from her website to a dubious Tamil tsunami relief organization, I see no sign that she supports the Tigers. She obsesses on them; she thinks they get a raw deal. But without question she knows they do bad things and struggles with that. The decoratively arrayed, pastel-washed tigers, soldiers, guns, armored vehicles, and fleeing civilians that bedeck her album are images, not propaganda—the same stuff that got her nominated for an Alternative Turner Prize in 2001. They're now assumed to be incendiary because, unlike art buyers, rock and roll fans are assumed to be stupid.

M.I.A. has no consistent political program and it's foolish to expect one of her. Instead she feels the honorable compulsion to make art out of her contradictions. The obscure particulars of those contradictions compel anyone moved by her music to give them some thought, if only for an ignorant moment—to recognize and somehow account for them. In these perilous, escapist days, that alone is quite a lot.

Mariachi Music In Public Schools

April 24, 2005
Sousa? Many Students March Instead to Mariachi

CHULA VISTA, Calif., April 17 - At home with his family - four brothers and a foster mother - Jorge Geraldo struggles with pimples and shyness, a handsome 18-year-old with deep brown eyes who sleeps on Goofy and Donald Duck sheets that tend to lie in an unmade heap on his bunk bed.

But come the weekend, he dons his traje de charro - the suit of the horseman, a glimmering costume with gold buttons slithering up the sides and custom-fitted by a tailor in nearby Tijuana - to become the lead singer in Mariachi Chula Vista, a group of high school mariachi musicians who have forsaken John Philip Sousa marches at halftime of football games in favor of spending the weekends playing at parties, baptism receptions and the like.

The 15 young musicians - cellphones attached to elaborately stitched leather belts to communicate with carpooling mariachi moms and dads - are stars in a spirited and growing movement to bring the centuries-old Mexican musical tradition of mariachi to public schools.

Across the country, more than 500 public schools now offer mariachi as part of the curriculum, said Daniel Sheehy, a mariachi expert and director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington.

Mariachi music is aggressive and festive, dominated by a celebratory explosion of trumpets - usually played in short, fast bursts - lilting native vihuela and guitarrón guitars, and occasionally punctuated by a grito, which is jubilant, soulful yell.

The music is flourishing in San Antonio, where a high school mariachi class has been offered since 1970, and at Chula Vista High School here, six miles north of the border with Mexico and where the student body is 78 percent Hispanic. But mariachi has also taken root in Milwaukee, Chicago, Tucson and Albuquerque, and in small towns with large migrant populations like Wenatchee, in eastern Washington.

Two years ago, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas recruited Javier Trujillo, a 28-year-old musician from Tucson, to develop a mariachi curriculum at 10 schools. He has hired eight teachers, with five more en route - so many that the teachers recently formed their own mariachi ensemble.

The mariachi movement has also crossed cultures. At the Oak Grove Middle School in Concord, a San Francisco suburb, the student population is 67 percent Hispanic, and mariachi is taught by Emile Patton, who is half African-American. One of her lead singers is Connie Kakhigna, a seventh grader whose parents are Laotian and Vietnamese.

"It's a different culture than mine, so to learn it is cool," she said. "Most of my friends are Hispanic. This makes me feel involved with them."

The number of students involved in mariachi is "growing substantially," said John Mahlman, the executive director of MENC, formerly the Music Educators National Conference, in Virginia. Mr. Mahlman said his organization was conducting a nationwide survey to see how far the trend had spread.

"It's a musical bridge between family, school, community and culture," he said.

As a middle school student, Mr. Geraldo, who is now a high school senior, spent a brief stint playing Sousa marches and Bruce Springsteen medleys on the trombone as a member of the marching band. "I tried to relate, but it was really weird," he said. "It's hard being Mexican in America, because society says you have to adjust to succeed."

Then he discovered mariachi, developing calluses to play the guitarrón, a six-string bass, his voice perfectly suited for Romeo-like songs of temptresses and betrayed love. "Something took over me," he recalled. "I felt alive, I guess. It was like, 'Wow.' I didn't know you could do that with music."

Texas and California, a state in which Hispanics are expected to be the majority by 2040, are in the forefront of the mariachi-in-the-schools movement. The music is joining band, orchestra and choir in the school music pantheon.

The members of Mariachi Chula Vista - the sons of construction workers, nurses aides, and truck drivers, and the daughters of welders, mechanics and supermarket clerks - are the most accomplished group in the Sweetwater Union High School District, one of the nation's fastest-growing school districts and a highly evolved mariachi outpost: 12 of 20 junior high and high schools now offer classes.

The Mariachi Scholarship Foundation provides $750 college stipends for graduating seniors and varsity letters are awarded for mariachi performance. The first Chula Vista International Mariachi Conference is to take place this June.

The members of Mariachi Chula Vista, accompanied by Mark Fogelquist, a 57-year-old teacher who plays the violin and has a master's degree in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles, are in demand on weekends. They have played at birthday parties, weddings, housewarming parties, the opening of a department store, a post office retirement party and who knows how many baptisms.

One of the baptisms was for baby Antonio Serrano, held in a park with a view of Tijuana that was transformed by the sheer joy of the music into a mini-Plaza Garibaldi, the fabled mariachi gathering spot in Mexico City. Staccato trumpets and violins in lush three-part harmonies filled the air, mingling with the smell of gorditas on the grill.

The proceeds - as much as $1,800 on a busy weekend - help pay for a tailor, who crosses the border to measure for costumes, and trips to festivals like the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, where students study with maestros like Victor Cardenas of Mariachi Vargas, who autographed a vihuela guitar for 16-year-old Martha Ramirez. For many, "it is their first time staying in a hotel, or flying in an airplane, or meeting people from another social strata," Mr. Fogelquist said.

"You don't see the marching band and the choir playing four gigs a weekend," he added. "Mariachi is part of the musical life of the culture, a part of the daily life of Mexicans in a way that's hard for Americans to understand."

In Chula Vista, where Interstate 805 separates older neighborhoods mired in poverty from new subdivisions with walking trails and three-car garages, mariachi music is helping students to cross an even more profound divide.

Nationally, Hispanic students lag behind both white and African-American students, with 10 percent earning college degrees, compared with 34 percent for whites and 18 percent for blacks. Hispanics also drop out of high school at a higher rate - 25 percent, compared with 13 percent for blacks and 7 percent for whites.

Edward M. Brand, the Sweetwater superintendent, said that the mariachi program, which started as an after-school class in 1996, and literacy and other arts programs have helped keep Hispanic students in school. Ten years ago, he said, the dropout rate among the district's Hispanic students was 20 percent; today, it is just under 6 percent.

Mr. Fogelquist watches over his students - from arranging rides for musicians whose parents do not have cars to making sure that one of his students who is struggling with math remembers to sit in the front row of the math class.

"He wants us to respect ourselves," said Mr. Geraldo, who plans to enter college next year. "That's the whole deal."

Mariachi was the music of itinerant rural musicians, an adaptation of Spanish theatrical music incorporating violins, harps and guitars. Its popularity has been somewhat eclipsed in Mexico, where it is considered "something of the past that you experience at weddings or baptisms or in bars when you're drunk," said Hugo Morales, a MacArthur fellow and the founder of Radio Bilingüe, the Latino public radio network, which sponsors a mariachi conference in Fresno.

Victor Quezada, 43, the father of Angel, a 16-year-old violinist, grew up in Tijuana listening to Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Lynrd Skynrd. "When my son first started I said, 'No mariachi! Why not a rock band?' " he recalled.

For recent immigrants and especially for young people, Mr. Morales said, mariachi helps foster cultural identity and self-esteem, helping the young "articulate their feelings through music."

After rehearsals, Jorge Geraldo takes care of his four brothers. At home, said Martha Jimenez, 40, his foster mother, he sings while washing dishes or taking out the garbage, inspiring cousins from near and far. "Kids around here can be influenced in so many directions," she said. "You see him on stage and you know how big a part of him mariachi is."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Soundless Sound System?

Inventor Creates Soundless Sound System

Fri Apr 22,11:30 AM ET

By TYPH TUCKER, Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. - Elwood "Woody" Norris pointed a metal frequency emitter at one of perhaps 30 people who had come to see his invention. The emitter — an aluminum square — was hooked up by a wire to a CD player. Norris switched on the CD player.

"There's no speaker, but when I point this pad at you, you will hear the waterfall," said the 63-year-old Californian.

And one by one, each person in the audience did, and smiled widely.

Norris' HyperSonic Sound system has won him an award coveted by inventors — the $500,000 annual Lemelson-MIT Prize. It works by sending a focused beam of sound above the range of human hearing. When it lands on you, it seems like sound is coming from inside your head.

Norris said the uses for the technology could come in handy — in cars, in the airport or at home.

"Imagine your wife wants to watch television and you want to read a book, like the intellectual you are," he said to the crowd. "Imagine you are a lifeguard or a coach and you want to yell at someone, he'll be the only one to hear you."

Norris holds 47 U.S. patents, including one for a digital handheld recorder and another for a handsfree headset. He said the digital recorder made him an inventor for life.

"That sold for $5 million," Norris laughed. "That really made me want to be an inventor."

He demonstrated the sound system at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, also called OMSI, on Thursday.

Norris began tinkering as an inventor at a young age — taking apart the family radio and putting it back together again. He said ideas come to him when he's driving around or talking with friends.

"I don't know how I got to be an inventor, but I guess some kids can play the piano, and I can invent."

Norris will receive the Lemelson-MIT Prize at a ceremony here on Friday.

One of his most recent patents is for the AirScooter, a personal flying machine designed for commuting. It reaches speeds up to 55 mph and is light enough — under 300 pounds — to not require a license to fly.

The AirScooter was also on display at OMSI, although Norris didn't fly it.

The machine has a single seat, a four-stroke engine and is barely 10 feet tall. Its pontoons allow it to land on water. The machine's fiberglass and aluminum construction keeps its weight down. Bike-style handle bars move two helicopter blades, which spin in opposite directions.

Norris' AirScooter was shown on "60 Minutes" last Sunday. He said since the airing of the show, more than 7 million people have visited the AirScooter's Web site.

Norris said he and his crew have tested the AirScooter for four years, and he couldn't have created the machine without a skilled group of aeronautics engineers around him.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Led Zeppelin

While waiting for some tacos today, a blast of Led Zeppelin came over the shop stereo: "Over the Hills and Far Away," from the Houses of the Holy album (1973). I was struck by how ebullient, fun, strong, exciting, and compelling the band was, particularly on the chorus. I've thought that for a long time, so that wasn't new, but I hadn't heard this tune in awhile. And I haven't heard anything on the radio that comes close to the vitality of that sound; so much rock today sounds so derivative, so unoriginal. Zeppelin rocked pretty damn hard, they had some unique voices, and a unique, acid distorted take on the blues. It's nice to know that some of the stuff you listened to a long time ago still sounds good.