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Guardian's Spring 2015 art events - Films

Fenby Miskin

1) The Theory of Everything
Were this not quite such a strong year for lead actors, Eddie Redmayne would be a sure thing for his miraculous, buckled portrayal of Stephen Hawking in this biopic based on the memoirs of his first wife, Jane. Felicity Jones takes her role, and handles it just as beautifully; James Marsh is as rigorous with the facts as he was on the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. 2 January (all release dates below UK only).

2) Birdman
Michael Keaton gives us a career best with his performance as Riggan, an actor who became rich and famous playing a superhero called Birdman but is now trying for artistic credibility by starring in his own self-produced Broadway play. As his personal and professional life unravels, Riggan is haunted by the derisive voice of Birdman, his alter ego, telling him to forget this art nonsense and return to making commercial movies for the masses. 2 January.

3) Enemy
Jake Gyllenhaal vies with Jake Gyllenhaal for top billing in the Dostoevskian tale of a man (Gyllenhaal) who meets and exploits his exact double (Gyllenhaal). Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve adapts Nobel prize-winner José Saramago’s posthumously published novel into a sickly story of paranoia and fatigue. Gyllenhaal(s) have rarely been better. 2 January.

4) Taken 3
Using his very particular set of skills, Liam Neeson cranks it up once again for another go-round of the French-produced, Hollywood-inspired hostage drama. Originally a flag waver for the geri-action phenomenon, the first Taken’s surprise success in 2008 turned the now 62-year-old Neeson into an improbable thug grappler. Judging by its trailer, Taken 3 has more of the same, with Neeson’s ex-special ops guy Bryan Mills pursued by every law enforcement agency known to man after he’s arrested for the murder of his wife. 8 January.

5) Foxcatcher
An extraordinary but still little-known true story is at the heart of this movie about toxic maleness. Steve Carell gives a superb and deadly serious performance as John DuPont, a spoiled billionaire who, in the 80s, decided to bankroll the training facilities for the US Olympic wrestling team — and tried to befriend the sport’s top stars, the Schultz brothers - Mark and Dave - played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. The atmosphere of warped mentoring and competition is compelling. 9 January.

6) Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim’s musical smash has now been adapted into a Disney movie starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt. The drama explores and reinvents the myths and legends of the Grimm Brothers’ universe, with echoes of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella. A childless couple are forced to venture into the woods to confront the witch who has cursed their attempts to have children. 9 January.

7) Whiplash
A talented young drummer (Miles Teller) shreds sticks and nerves under the monstrous tutelage of Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), his abusive music teacher. Dubbed Full Metal Juilliard on the festival circuit, Whiplash is a beats, not bombs war movie. When the kid fouls up, the general throws a cymbal at his head. Frantic, relentless, punky and fun, Whiplash is at our tempo. 16 January.

8) American Sniper
At 84, Clint Eastwood is in no mood to slow down. His new film is based on the autobiography of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the self-proclaimed “most lethal sniper in US military history”. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle himself, who later achieved celebrity in a civilian life that became as dramatic and extraordinary as anything on the field of battle. 16 January.

9) Testament of Youth
Thirty-five years after the BBC series based on Vera Brittain’s first world war memoirs comes another adaptation by Auntie: this one gorgeous and swooning, much more Euro-movie than Brit flick with Alicia Vikander as the headstrong Oxford hopeful Vera. Dominic West and Emily Watson are ma and pa and Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington is among the young men Vera knows who are dispatched to the trenches. 16 January.

10) Wild
Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about hiking 1,100 miles to deal with the death of her mum is taken off into the wilderness by screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). Wild is a tough road movie, a two-hour hallucinatory montage of sight and song as Cheryl (Oscar-tipped Reese Witherspoon) stamps her way to redemption. 16 January.

11) Beyond Clueless
Film essayist Charlie Lyne goes back to school with a coy examination of the 90s and 00s teen movie scenes. From exposing the frat boy comedy Euro Trip as a homoerotic odyssey, to pilloring Josie and the Pussycats as a rallying cry for consumerism, Lyne revels in analysing silliness with thoughtful sincerity. 23 January.

12) La Maison de la Radio
France’s gentlest, most compassionate documentarian returns a few years afterNénette (about an orangutan in Paris’s botanical gardens’ zoo) and a dozen after his best-known work, Etre et Avoir, with this peek behind the scenes of France’s national radio. He shot over 24 hours inside the beehive of Radio France, as music was played and fiction was created, news broke and pundits jabbered. Unique and inspired stuff. 23 January.

13) Mortdecai
Johnny Depp channels his inner Englishman once again for a comedy based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Charlie Mortdecai novels, about a top-hole art dealer with a penchant for getting mixed up in unpleasant crimes. Exuding an Austin Powers meets PG Wodehouse vibe, this looks pretty funny, even if no actual English chap appears to have got anywhere near the principal credits. 23 January.

14) The Gambler
Devotees of tough, murky 70s American cinema will fondly recall The Gambler, James Toback’s fictionalised account of his years of addiction. Now the film has been remade with Mark Wahlberg in the old James Caan role as the jittery English professor mired in debt and menaced by hoodlums. Salvation or disaster is just a dice throw away. 23 January.

15) A Most Violent Year
Sidney Lumet may be dead, but his spirit lives on in the form of talented writer-director JC Chandor. A Most Violent Year is a pungent, potent tale of early 80s New York, riddled with crime and crusted with snow. Oscar Isaac shines as the ambitious immigrant entrepreneur, Jessica Chastain rides shotgun as a Brooklyn Lady Macbeth. 23 January.

16) Kingsman: The Secret Service
You wait all year for an ironic take on the bowler-hatted 60s, and two come along at once. Following hard on the heels of Mortdecai comes this deconstruction of the Ian Fleming-style gentleman spy, with Colin Firth as the veteran agentattempting to instruct his wayward nephew (Taron Egerton) in the arts of the great game. This reunites the team behind Kick-Ass - director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman, comic-book writer Mark Millar – and there’s no reason to suggest this won’t be a repeat of the earlier film’s high entertainment value. 29 January.

17) Big Hero 6
How do you follow up a generation-defining event like Frozen? Having stolen the thunder from its sister company Pixar, Disney is now set to horn in on its hipster-superhero territory by exploiting the properties of yet another company it recently bought: Marvel. A kid called Hiro, living in a futureworld amalgam of San Francisco and Tokyo and his balloon-like robot chum Baymax thwart a conspiracy with the help of a gang of friends with superpower suits. This beat Interstellar on its opening day in the US, so the portents are good. 30 January.

18) Son of a Gun
Former Home and Awayer Brendon Thwaites is the petty criminal offered a Faustian pact in jail from Ewan McGregor’s hardened robber: protection for a favour on the outside. The stage is set for a mix of mentor-mentee bust-ups, gold-oriented heist action, and steamy romance with Sweden’s Alicia Vikander. 30 January.

19) Inherent Vice
If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t actually there. And if you can explain Inherent Vice, you’ve surely been watching it wrong. Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film is a ramshackle joy, full of double agents, shifty hippies and renegade cops. Our guide through the revels is Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner PI, but he’s so glazed and befuddled that he’s shooting at shadows. Your best advice: tune in, turn on and enjoy the trip while it lasts. 30 January.

20) Trash
Those on the lookout for the next Slumdog Millionaire should keep their eyes on this boisterous, sentimental tour of the developing world, directed by Stephen Daldry from a Richard Curtis script. Trash spotlights a trio of teenage foragers on the rubbish dumps of an unnamed South American city. A mysterious wallet may just provide their ticket out of the ruins. 30 January.

21) Selma
Selma is about the 1965 US civil-rights marches led by Martin Luther King that set off from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery to protest against the insidious obstruction of voter registration for black Americans. The 600 marchers were attacked with clubs and tear gas by police. David Oyelowo plays King; Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King and Tom Wilkinson plays President Lyndon Johnson. 6 February.

22) The Duke of Burgundy
Excitement levels are high and the temperature is boiling ahead of the arrival of The Duke of Burgundy, in which a libidinous lepidopterist makes the housemaid her mistress. Director Peter Strickland burnishes his credentials as one of the UK’s most distinctive film-makers with a playful, teasing slice of erotica that aims to fire the mind as well as the loins. 6 February.

23) Jupiter Ascending
One minute Mila Kunis is playing a down-on-her-luck caretaker with no prospects. The next (apparently) she has met a genetically modified strongman (Channing Tatum) and been told she’s the intergalactic heir to the planet Earth. You can never accuse the Wachowskis of setting their sights low. Jupiter Ascending is their $200m space opera, tipped as a gaudy, ambitious marriage of Star Wars and The Matrix. 6 February.

24) Love is Strange
Ira Sachs’s snuggles-only old-age romance won a restrictive “R” rating from the US censors, presumably because the long-term couple it depicts are men. Still, US audiences have flocked to this very moving story of New York couple John Lithgow and Alfred Molina who get married after decades together, only to find themselves forced to live apart when the Catholic school at which Molina teaches fires him for coming out. 6 February.

25) Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
Shaun the Sheep has come a long way from a throwaway gag in A Close Shave. Having evolved into a highly successful kids TV series, the feisty ovine now gets his own feature film, proving there’s life post-Wallace and Gromit in the Aardman stop-motion stable. There’s a Pig in the City kind of thing going on, with Shaun and his woolly chums heading off to the big smoke to track down the hapless Farmer. 6 February.

26) Fifty Shades of Grey
“Mr Grey will see you now,” runs the tagline. And you, no doubt, will see a fair bit of Mr Grey. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s take on EL James’s bonkbuster has The Fall star Jamie Dornan on kit-off duty. He plays the mysterious business type whose relationship with a young college graduate (Dakota Fanning) heads into sexy, slappy territory. 13 February.

27) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ol Parker’s grey-pound cash cow opens its doors once more. Most of the old faithfuls are still checked in – Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie and Penelope Wilton – leaving two newcomers to squabble over the only spare room. These fresh prospective residents at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful are, rather weirdly, Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig. 27 February.

28) Chappie
District 9 director Neill Blomkamp reunites with actor Sharlto Copley for the third time in this artificial intelligence sci-fi yarn, in which Copley provides the voice for the newly minted robot of the title. With a name like that, it ought to be a comedy, but first glimpses suggest there’s a seriousness of intent here, as Chappie grows and learns in a human-like fashion. Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel are along for the ride. 6 March.

29) Still Alice
Julianne Moore is a dead cert for the best actress Oscar for her role in this drama about a neurology professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s – it’s a devastating, immaculate performance that blows the competition out of the water. There’s strong support from Alec Baldwin as her husband, torn between caring for his wife and furthering his career, and Kristen Stewart as their apparently irresponsible offspring, who winds up saving the day. 6 March.

30) The Face of an Angel
Michael Winterbottom handles hot potato material – the murder of Meredith Kercher and subsequent trial of Amanda Knox – with deft fingers. His approach is to turn the focus inwards, exploring why a young director (played by Daniel Brühl) might find the case so interesting, and how the gathered international press (in particular Kate Beckinsale’s glam hack) feed off the story – and each other. 6 March.

31) Jane Got a Gun
Natalie Portman stars as a woman defending her home against a gang of no-good cowboys in Gavin O’Connor’s western. A rocky production saw the saloon doors hit Lynne Ramsay on the way out. Jude Law left town with her, before Ewan McGregor climbed into the saddle. Let’s see what state the film’s in now the smoke’s cleared. 6 March.

32) Suite Française
Irène Némirovsky’s novel of the same name had a belated publication: the manuscript was discovered by her daughters in 1998, 56 years after she died at Auschwitz. Its path to the screen since publication in 2002 has been fairly swift, then: Michelle Williams stars as the married woman in occupied France who becomes attracted to a German officer (played by Matthias Schoenaerts). Saul Dibb directs, and Kristin Scott Thomas is Williams’s formidable mother-in-law. 13 March.

33) In the Heart of the Sea
The Essex was a US whaling ship that was sunk by its quarry, leaving its starving survivors adrift in the ocean. Now up sails director Ron Howard, adapting the bestseller by Nathaniel Philbrick, to dredge this tragic nugget of history up from the depths. We’re seeing this one as Moby Dick meets Alive. 13 March.

34) Top Five
Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in this romcom about a washed-up comedy action star (Rock) engaged to a ghastly reality-TV star and making a bid for serious artistry with a 12 Years a Slave-style flick about the Haitian revolution. Rosario Dawson’s New York Times reporter tags along with him for the day, with predictable – but uproariously funny and irreverent – results. 20 March.

35) Wild Tales
“I see violence all over the place,” says one character in this extraordinary portmanteau movie from Argentina. This is a collection of wild tales: angry, crazy, untamed. A fashion model on a plane makes a bizarre discovery about her passengers and there is calamity. A waitress recognising a nasty customer leads to bloody mayhem. A road-rage incident culminates in bizarre farce. And lots more. 27 March.

36) Furious 7
Make vrrrrroom for chunky Vin Diesel and beefy Dwayne Johnson as they squeeze into sports cars to put the Fast and Furious franchise’s pedal to the metal once more. They’ve gained a baddie (Jason Statham playing the terrifying-sounding “Ian Shaw”), but must lose a friend. Co-star Paul Walker died in a high-speed car crash while Furious 7 was being filmed. 3 April.



Movie Grade

Fenby Miskin

Here’s an interesting look at the magic that goes into making movies look the way they do. The video above shows how scenes in one particular movie looked straight out of the camera compared to the finished version after colour grading. It’s like the video equivalent of the before-and-after post-processing examples photographers often share on the Web.

The footage was shot using a Sony F55 at 4K in LOG and was then colour graded by Taylre Jones of the Kansas City-based Grade.

Context collapse, performance piety and civil inattention

Fenby Miskin

The web concepts you need to understand in 2015

Spending time on the internet can sometimes feel like navigating a treacherous sea full of shipwrecks and jagged rocks. For many of us, the online world is real life, just as much as our 3D interactions are, but that doesn’t mean navigating web culture is simple. Offline norms have taken millennia to develop, but we’ve had just a few decades to get used to living with the internet. So, if you truly want to “get” online culture in 2015, here are the five concepts you need to know.

Anti-virality and the Kool-Aid Point

You could have set your watch by it: as soon as articles praising the Serial podcast(“the most ambitious narrative non-fiction ever”) began to appear, a vacuum was created. This vacuum was swiftly filled by articles decrying the podcast (“a very popular version of cultural tourism and white privilege”).

Welcome to anti-virality. This is the idea that everything that goes viral will also create a backlash, as the popularity of the original phenomenon also creates a market for those who wish to debunk or demur from the tide of prevailing opinion. (In extreme cases, this can lead to Kneejerk Contrarianism, also known as Brendan O’Neill’s Disease. Please give generously, because more than a dozen Spiked contributors succumb to this tragic illness every year.)

For women on the internet, anti-virality can manifest as The Kool-Aid Point, a phrase popularised by blogger Kathy Sierra, who was driven off the internet by death threats. If a woman reaches the Kool-Aid Point, it means she has become so popular that some people become obsessed with “exposing” her as the charlatan she surely is – they want to stop others “drinking the Kool-Aid”. Alongside Sierra, another classic example is video games commentator Anita Sarkeesian, whose decision to crowdfund a feminist video series still causes burst blood vessels among angry basement-dwellers to this day.

Women – beware of the Kool-Aid Point. Photograph: Robert Caplin/Bloomberg News

Women – beware of the Kool-Aid Point. Photograph: Robert Caplin/Bloomberg News

In the 1950s, sociologist Erving Goffman described what happened to humans who live in cities. “When in a public place, one is supposed to keep one’s nose out of other people’s activity and go about one’s own business,” he wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. “It is only when a woman drops a package, or when a fellow motorist gets stalled in the middle of the road, or when a baby left alone in a carriage begins to scream, that middle-class people feel it is all right to break down momentarily the walls which effectively insulate them.” Dara Ó Briain picked up this idea in a standup routine in which he dared people to get into a lift last, and then, instead of facing the door, turn and face the other occupants. It would be truly chilling.

Civil inattention happens all the time in everyday life, unless you’re the kind of a weirdo who joins in other people’s conversations on the train. But we haven’t got the grip of it in the “public squares” of the internet, like social media platforms and comment sections. No one knows who is really talking to whom, and – surprise! – a conversation between anything from two to 2,000 people can feel disorienting and cacophonous. There have been various attempts to combat it – Twitter’s “at sign”, Facebook’s name-tagging, threaded comments – but nothing has yet replicated the streamlined simplicity of real life, where we all just know there is NO TALKING AT THE URINAL.


  Is it any business of yours? Photograph: Alamy

Is it any business of yours? Photograph: Alamy

Conservative neutrality

We live in a world ruled by algorithms: that’s how Netflix knows what you want to watch, how Amazon knows what you want to read and how the Waitrose website knows what biscuits to put in the “before you go” Gauntlet of Treats before you’re allowed to check out. The suggestion is that these algorithms are apolitical and objective, unlike humans, with their petty biases and ingrained prejudices. Unfortunately, as the early computer proverb had it, “garbage in, garbage out”. Any algorithm created in a society where many people are sexist, racist or homophobic won’t magically be free of those things.

Google’s autocomplete is a classic example: try typing “Women are ...” or “Asians are ...” and recoil from the glimpse into our collective subconscious. Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm discusses how autocomplete might reaffirm prejudices, not merely reflect them: “It’s the site acting not as Big Brother, but as Older Brother, giving you mental cigarettes.” Remember this the next time a tech company plaintively insists that it doesn’t want to take a political stance: on the net, “neutral” often means “reinforces the status quo”.

Context collapse

The problem of communicating online is that, no matter what your intended audience is, your actual audience is everyone. The researchers Danah Boyd andAlice Marwick put it like this: “We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded.”

So, that tasteless joke your best Facebook friend will definitely get? Not so funny when it ends up on a BuzzFeed round-up of The Year’s Biggest Bigots and you get fired. That dating profile where you described yourself as “like Casanova, only with a degree in computing”? Not so winsome when it lands you on Shit I’ve Seen On Tinder and no one believes that you were being sarcastic. On a more serious level, context collapse is behind some “trolling” prosecutions: is it really the role of the state to prosecute people for saying offensive, unpleasant things about news stories in front of other people who have freely chosen to be their friends on Facebook? I don’t think so.

What is happening here is that we are turning everyone into politicians (the horror). We are demanding that everyone should speak the same way, present the same face, in all situations, on pain of being called a hypocrite. But real life doesn’t work like this: you don’t talk the same way to your boss as you do to your boyfriend. (Unless your boss is your boyfriend, in which case I probably don’t need to give you any stern talks on the difficulties of negotiating tricky social situations.) To boil this down, 2015 needs to be the year we reclaim “being two-faced” and “talking behind people’s backs”. These are good things.

Performative piety

What’s Kony up to these days? Did anyone bring back our girls? Yes, surprisingly enough, the crimes of guerrilla groups in Uganda and Nigeria have not been avenged by hashtag activism. The internet is great for what feminists once called “consciousness raising” – after all, it’s a medium in which attention is a currency – but it is largely useless when it comes to the hard, unglamorous work of Actually Sorting Shit Out.

The internet encourages us all into performative piety. People spend time online not just chatting or arguing, but also playing the part of the person they want others to see them as. Anyone who has run a news organisation will tell you that some stories are shared like crazy on social media, but barely read. Leader columns in newspapers used to show the same pattern: research showed that people liked to read a paper with a leader column in it – they just didn’t actually want to read the column.

So, next time you’re online and everyone else seems to be acting like a cross between Mother Theresa and Angelina Jolie, relax. They might leave comments saying “WHAT ABOUT SYRIA?” but they have, in fact, clicked on a piece about a milk carton that looks like a penis. As ever, actions speak louder than words.


Record Return

Fenby Miskin

Nearly eight million old-fashioned vinyl records have been sold this year, up 49% from the same period last year, industry data show. Younger people, especially indie-rock fans, are buying records in greater numbers, attracted to the perceived superior sound quality of vinyl and the ritual of putting needle to groove.

But while new LPs hit stores each week, the creaky machines that make them haven’t been manufactured for decades, and just one company supplies an estimated 90% of the raw vinyl that the industry needs. As such, the nation’s 15 or so still-running factories that press records face daily challenges with breakdowns and supply shortages.

Their efforts point to a problem now bedeviling a curious corner of the music industry. The record-making business is stirring to life—but it’s still on its last legs.

Read more of Neil Shah's article for Wall Street Journal here

Lumino City

Fenby Miskin

For nearly three years, a six-member team of developers called State of Play has been toiling away in a London studio making a new video game. While there are probably thousands of such teams around the world coding away into the night, the members of this team are a bit different. Among them are an architect, a photographer, and a model maker, all needed to help physically construct the game’s environment. Titled Lumino City, the entire video game was first handmade entirely out of paper, card, miniature lights and motors.

While many games appropriate paper textures or have some kind of paper aesthetic, State of Play took things one step further and built the sets for each puzzle, photographed or filmed them, and then set everything in motion with code. The result is a breathtakingly beautiful puzzle game starring an intrepid girl who tries to solve the mystery of her missing grandfather. After an hour or so of extensive research I can confirm the game is amazing. Lumino City is available for the Mac and PC, and is coming very soon to iOS. You can read a bit more over on The Verge.

via This is Colossal


Fenby Miskin

Japanese artist Yoshitoshi Kanemaki chisels these impressive life-sized figures from a single piece of wood. They are portrayed in a realistic manner, but Kanemaki gives his sculptures unique traits. Every impeccable artwork features two or more characters or expressions that are merged into one form. Sometimes, this means that an individual has multiple faces attached to their head, while other times parts of their body is joined with another person.

To craft this work, Kanemaki carves and chips away at a large log. The bark is stripped from it, and he sketches the form onto the wood. From there, he transforms the material into a smooth surface that captures the subtle details of the human body.

There are numerous ways to look at Kanemaki’s surreal sculptures. The different facial expressions circulate 360 degrees around the figures, and it’s as though we’re seeing these people in a film, frame by frame. Unlike their faces, their bodies remain in the same static pose, and it clues us in that there's something strange about these pieces.

More work by Yoshitoshi Kanemaki

via My Modern Met

Open Source Housing

Fenby Miskin

A disruptive business model might just enable more homes to be community built.

The advent of 3D printing and open source house plans has enabled the first WikiHouse to be built. The photograph shows a structure built in 10 days outside the London Building Centre. 

All WikiHouse design files are shared under open source licence, which means the system is continuously being improved by an R&D community of designers, engineers and self-builders.

More about WikiHouse

See some time-lapse photographs here

Touchable Memories

Fenby Miskin

Touchable Memories is a meaningful social experiment conducted by Pirate3D which converts photographs into 3D replicates with the use of a home printer called Buccaneer. In this way, the blind are able to recall via touch their old memories from photographs taken when they could still see. Even if they have lost their sight since birth, the tactile experience with the 3D re-interpretation of the photo taken allows them to visualize more vividly the memories that were shot.

As one of them puts it, ‘If I can touch the photograph, I can make the memory tangible again’.

Article by Kenny Ong

More about this story & the 3D printer at Design Boom

The Source

Fenby Miskin

Four and a half years ago, Brooklyn composer Ted Hearne begun following the rise of Wikileaks four and a half years ago, intending to adapt the story of Julian Assange's vigilante media organisation into a theatrical production called The SourceThen Chelsea Manning happened. After the whistleblower leaked secret war logs that revealed widespread wrongdoing on the part of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hearne knew that he had found his real subject.  

The Source debuts today in New York at the 2014 Next Wave Festival, with the performance described on its website as "four singers housed in a visual and sonic installation". Through computer-processed voices, the performers "inhabit a fever-dream assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, chat transcripts, court testimony, and declassified military video, shining a light on the massive information machine in which Manning, and our nation, has become ensnared". 

Last August, Manning was convicted of 20 offences, including espionage, and sentenced to prison for 35 years. "When Manning's identity became known and she became a public figure, her decisions became more interesting to me than Assange's," Hearne explains. "I started to imagine what she may have been feeling when she first encountered what we now know as the Iraq War Logs, and that helped me examine my own reactions to these documents."

To find out what inspired him to make music from classified cables read the full article on Dazed.

Shared brain activity predicts audience preferences

Fenby Miskin

Brain waves recorded with electroencephalography (EEG). Photograph: Deco/Alamy

Brain waves recorded with electroencephalography (EEG). Photograph: Deco/Alamy

Neuromarketing firms claim that brain scanning technology can be used to evaluate consumers’ responses to products and predict which ones they prefer, but so far most of these claims are hugely exaggerated.

New research published in the journal Nature Communications adding some hope to the neuromarketing hype, by showing that the brain activity shared by small groups of people in response to film clips can accurately predict how popular those clips will be among larger groups.

Ten years ago, Uri Hasson and his colleagues recruited five participants and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan their brains while each one watched the same 30-minute clip of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. They noticed that the film produced remarkably similar patterns of brain activity in all the participants, synchronising the activity across multiple regions, such that their brains “ticked collectively” while they viewed it. 

The researchers went on to show that films differ in their ability to induce this shared brain activity, with the more engaging ones producing a greater degree of synchrony, and more recently others have shown that the stereoscopic effects used in 3D films make viewing more enjoyable by creating a more immersive experience.

The new study, led by Jacek Dmochowski of City College of New York, builds on this earlier work. Dmochowski and his colleagues showed 16 participants scenes from the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, together with 10 commercials that were first aired during the SuperBowl championship, while recording their brain waves with electroencephalography (EEG).

The researchers also used official television viewing figures and publicly available data from Facebook and Twitter to gauge how popular each clip was at the time it was first shown. As in earlier studies of shared brain activity, they found that some of the clips produced a greater degree of synchronised brain activity in the participants that others.

Remarkably, though, the participants’ shared brain activity accurately predicted audience reactions to each at the time they were aired, with the most popular scenes and commercials producing the greatest degree of brain synchronisation in the participants.

Thus, the extent of shared brain activity within the small group of participants was closely linked to the collective behaviour of a much larger group of people, suggesting that brain scanning technology could eventually be used to predict peoples’ reactions to a forthcoming film, their product preferences, or perhaps even how they might vote in an upcoming election.

“I’m generally sceptical of claims about the application of neuroscience to marketing, which are often made by ‘neuro’ startups with little scientific evidence” says Yukiyasu Kamitani of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, “but I think this study ... [with its] well designed experiments and sophisticated statistical methods ... provides solid evidence that neural measurement can be useful for the prediction of mass preference.”

Although the researchers also asked the participants to rate how much they liked each of the clips, they did not determine how each individual’s brain activity is linked to popularity. And it’s still not clear why the more popular clips produced greater synchrony across the participants’ brains, but one possibility is that we favour stimuli that produce a more stereotyped brain response that is shared by others.