Program Review: Hardly Sound

30 Second Season 1 Promo from Hardly Sound on Vimeo.

Hardly Sound
Airs at 10:30 pm Tuesdays on KLRU starting Jan 1, 2013;
Airs first Monday of the month on KLRU Q music block at 11 pm
or watch online anytime at klru.org

Here in Austin, music is everywhere: in our airport, in our restaurants, behind grocery stores, and even on the 6th floor of office buildings. Given the sheer supply of choices, one would imagine it to be a daunting task to really penetrate the local musical territory and make it big. However the thriving bond between creativity and music keeps people going at it here, which in itself is the essence of why Austin continually rules.

When local filmmakers Chris Kim and Randy Reynolds set out to find bands whose passion and creativity distinguish them within the overarching Texas music scene, their task evolved into an all-out adventure revealing some great insights behind this creative community. They’ve condensed their journeys into half-hour long segments for a new documentary series called Hardly Sound.

The show profiles one artist per episode and conveys their respective stories through conversation and performance, detailed in footage spanning the full month they spent with each artist. What I enjoy most about this program is that rather than simply offering a dry profile of the band, the filmmakers establish an emotional connection between the audience and their subject through the intimate dialogue about their creative process. This stands closely to the filmmakers’ mission to create “a creative series about creative people for creative people”.

Topics of past experiences, personal triumphs, emotional hardships and overcoming adversity make you feel what the musicians feel and give a true sense of what shaped their path towards adopting their creative lifestyles. Bands like twang-wave act The Bye and Bye detail important life lessons like “expect the unexpected”, “don’t wear shorts”, and “bask in the unlikelihood of life” while taking the filmmakers on a “birding” trip. Meanwhile, garage rockers The Bad Lovers express their sentiments for the community of outcasts who welcomed their eagerness to play rock n’ roll in sweaty basements and damp clubs. Through their POVs, these musicians come off as hopeful, devoted and relatable, as their rehearsals and reflections become transparent windows into their souls.

For anybody who’d enjoy an intimate look at bands trying to “carve out their own space in the crowded scene” (and we all know, its CROWDED), this is that plus more.

About the Reviewer: Kaitlyn Roche is a fourth-year student at the University of Texas at Austin and currently works in the Marketing department of KLRU. She has contributed to online and print publications such as A.V. Club, San Antonio Express-News and Verbicide Magazine.

Review: Independent Lens "We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân"

Director Anne Makepeace offers a unique perspective on the fight to recover and preserve native languages in her latest documentary, “We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân”. The subject of her film is the indigenous Wampanoag nation of southeastern Massachusetts who helped the first Pilgrims in America survive. While their good deeds ultimately resulted in the aboriginal culture’s demise, the Wampanoag language rapidly declined as their traditions were replaced in the shadows of imperialism. No known native speakers have survived for the past 150 years as the Wampanoag language has becomes completely dormant.

Centuries later, a new generation of speakers is emerging under the direction of linguist Jessie Little Doe. A descent of the Wampanoag culture herself, Doe discovered the native language in researching her ancestors and found that they were attempting to communicate through a dead language. She decided to revive the language by creating the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, a group whose primary focus is to rescue Wampanoag from the verge of extinction. Through her continuous efforts, Doe’s research has developed into weekly vocabulary meetings and reading through Wampanoag copies of The Bible to search for words they have not recognized yet. Though tedious, the group’s passion to preserve their dying culture has renewed Wampanoag as a living language that is now being taught to even younger generations.

“We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân” engages the audience in the story of the Wampanoag Indian language’s return while demonstrating how Americans are the link between preserving their heritage for future generations. It also places a heavy emphasis on the struggle between assimilation and cultural preservation with a focus on the tribe’s demise in the midst of European settlement. As the language disappears around the world, viewers are given insight regarding the traditions and cultural history of the Wampanoag community from the group’s discoveries, which may be the path towards a once again thriving future for the Wampanoag people.

About the Review: Kaitlyn Roche is a third-year student at the University of Texas at Austin and currently works in the Marketing department of KLRU. She has contributed to online and print publications such as A.V. Club, San Antonio Express-News and Verbicide Magazine.

Review: Pearl Jam Twenty

If you’ve been around for the past two decades, there’s a good chance you are familiar with the band Pearl Jam. Likely it is also that you have heard the classic story of a band whose rise to fame accelerates too quickly, resulting in a blindsided superstardom and towards the inevitable result of tragedy (let it be applied towards substances and/or dismemberment of personal relationships). Does the story accompany the subject? Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Into the picture walks Cameron Crowe, established as both a successfully offbeat director (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire) and former journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. A dabble in both spheres (along with being among the band’s inner circle when they formed) certainly qualifies Crowe as a contender for telling the story of Pearl Jam’s complicated yet lasting bond, a task which he grippingly accomplishes in the new documentary Pearl Jam Twenty.

The film traces the band’s early beginnings towards the chaos that ensued after being catapulted into celebrity status, their resulting digression from the spotlight in hopes of preserving the band’s values, and the making of an everlasting bond between the five members. Through grainy footage and raw recordings, we are given the ultimate perspective into Pearl Jam’s past as we are led through backstage antics and footage of a young Eddie Vedder singing timidly onstage as he notices violence ensuing in the crowd of their first performances. While some moments progress towards tragedy and dark problems, the band’s ability to learn from and adjust to fame work to make up the larger narrative: the premature development of a genuine rock band that both defined and survived the Grunge era.
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Review: Young Navajo at the Crossroads: Reflections on Lydia Nibley’s Two Spirits

On Tuesday, June 14, at 9 p.m., KLRU will air award-winning director Lydia Nibley’s moving documentary, Two Spirits. It was recently the last film in this season’s Community Cinema screenings. Using reenactments and interviews, Nibley presents a portrait of a 16-year-old Navajo, Fred Martinez, from his early years immersed in his people’s traditional culture in the rural West to his life as a rambunctious high school student in the small town of Cortez, Colorado. It is the story of his life as a nadleehi, a “feminine man” revered by traditional Navajos as a balance of the masculine and feminine in nature. He (I’m using the pronoun favored in the film) can also be understood as a “two-spirit” person, integrating the male and female genders, or as a transgendered person whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at his birth. However we define Martinez, he fully embraced his identity, standing at the crossroads of male and female, Navajo and mainstream America. Yet, as two-spirit activist Richard (Anguksuar) LaFortune notes, “The place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to be.” Two Spirits sensitively recounts the prejudice and hate the resilient Martinez faced everyday. Ultimately, this hate culminated in his brutal murder at the hands of 18-year-old Shaun Murphy, who later bragged that he had “beat up a fag.” Prosecutors hesitated to charge Murphy with a hate crime. Eventually, he pled guilty to second-degree murder and received a 40-year sentence.

Martinez’s mother, Pauline, asks at one point, “Why are people killed for being who they are?” As Nibley tells Fred’s story, she sets out to answer his mother’s question. The director squarely places the blame on Western culture, particularly Christianity, and its dualist concept of gender. Rooted in a literalist reading of Genesis, it claims that people are only male and female, and nothing in between. Nibley contrasts this with an explication of the Navajo understanding of four genders, ranging from the asdzaan, or “feminine woman,” to the nadleehi. Mainstream Americans and Christianized Navajos, she suggests, lack a nuanced understanding of gender and so respond with hostility to transgendered people. Such sweeping generalizations, however, are a major problem for Two Spirits.
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Review: Life on Mars

The BBC series Life on Mars debuts on KLRU-Q Saturday, January 22nd. Life on Mars will air at 9 p.m. each Saturday. The show will air on KLRU at 11 p.m. Sundays starting January 23rd.

Manchester Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is having a bad day. Forced to release his chief suspect in a murder case, fighting with his co-worker/former lover Maya, who then disappears while tailing the suspect, Tyler finds himself standing outside his Grand Cherokee after being nearly run off the road by a careless driver. As he collects himself to the strains of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?,” he’s suddenly hit by a speeding car, and his reality skews off-kilter in a way he couldn’t imagine.

Sam awakens to find himself on the same stretch of road, but in a very different time: 1973. Demoted a rank and tracking the same killer in the ’70s as he was in the ’00s, Sam fights to accept his bizarre new circumstances as he finds direct connections between the case he’s working on now and the one he unwillingly left behind. Assisting Sam in very different ways are Annie, a friendly WPC to whom he confesses his state of mind, and DCI Gene Hunt, his aggressive boss who prefers physical confrontation and coercion to forensics when it comes to solving crimes.

While the circumstances of Sam’s arrival in 1973 are deliberately left vague, major hints get dropped. Sometimes Sam hears the sounds of medical workers and machines trying to save his life. He also watches an educational TV show whose host unexpectedly shifts from talking about math to talking about Sam’s coma and responsiveness. Sam also meets Neil, Annie’s hypnotherapist ex-boyfriend, whose first words to Sam are “Sam, can you hear me?” and who may be a direct link to 2006.
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Review: Masterpiece Contemporary Lennon Naked

Masterpiece Contemporary Lennon Naked airs on Sunday, November 22, at 8 pm

“What do I want?” That’s the primal question at the heart of Lennon Naked, Masterpiece Contemporary’s biopic of John Lennon in the 60s. Forced at six years old to make a choice no child should ever be asked to make, Lennon spends the years depicted in the film (roughly 1964-1971) searching for the answer, aware that the consequences of any choice he makes will haunt him, no matter what the outcome.

As a result, Lennon spends most of the film on a quest to leave the past behind – not just breaking with it, but scorching the earth and burning any bridge that leads to it. Whether it’s for his own sanity or because he’s a selfish git, Lennon either abandons the people in his pre-Yoko Ono life – his first wife Cynthia, his son Julian, the Beatles – or forces them to abandon him, as with his childhood friend/right-hand-man Pete. It’s a cycle, of course – his father leaving the family when Lennon was six (a pattern repeated by the son) and the unexpected death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, the father figure Lennon didn’t have as a child, left deep wounds which clearly never fully healed. Only his time with Yoko Ono (who, except for one offhand comment from Paul McCartney, is never portrayed as “the woman who broke up the Beatles”) seems to bring him any peace or happiness, though his own inner anguish still vibrates just below the surface of his man-in-love smile.
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Review: Ken Burns newest documentary

Ken Burns’ The Tenth Inning
Part 1: Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)
Part 2: Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)

What the HELL is Ken Burns thinking! With about a week to go in the Major League baseball season – with division and wild card races at a fever pitch – Mr. Burns has decided to release “The 10th Inning” addition to his ridiculously successful series “Baseball.” After watching the just the first two hours(Top of the 10th) on a weekend when my own beloved Atlanta Braves were in the processes of sweeping the New York Mets to remain in the thick of the NL Wildcard race — I was left with such a baseball adrenaline rush that I felt the need to canvas the neighborhood to see if anyone wanted to play a little catch or maybe find a vacant lot to get a game going.

No I’m not kidding. This series needs a warning label. WARNING: Watching “The 10th Inning” could leave you lightheaded and in need peanuts and crackerjacks.

I think one reason for the strong emotion that washed over me as I watched this 4-hour addendum — came in part from the fact that I was reliving some of the most important baseball memories in my life. While Burns’ “9th Inning” from the 1994 documentary relived my formative baseball years (Steve Carlton, Fernando Mania, the wizard of OZ…etc ) “The 10th Inning” is packed with some of my most loved players, teams and moments. It also feels the least like a history. I need innings 1 through 8 to learn about the greats that came and went before I was born. The 9th and new 10th innings instead provide a key to unlock my own baseball memories. I often found myself watching a key game and saying, “…I remember what I was doing then.”

Now the show isn’t all fun and games as it lays out the game from 1994 to 2009. It also has the arduous task of tackling major league baseball’s steroid era. It shows the abuse and overuse of performance enhancers in a very balanced way…almost to the point of sugar coating how it all began. There is also plenty of blame spread around — from the players union, to the owners, to the players and even the fans – who labeled Barry Bonds a cheater while at the same packing every stadium he played in to see if he’d hit another home run. When talking about steroids — there are thousands of opinions to choose from — and “The 10th Inning” gives each a voice.

Overall “The 10th Inning” does a fabulous job of retelling the stories that are freshest in our baseball minds. With its content coming from the most recent events — in an age of ESPN — the show could have felt like a rehash that didn’t provide any new information. But Burns easily overcomes this obstacle. As each story is laid out — there is at the very least a single nugget of new information that makes hearing the story again worthwhile. But most of the time — the interviews, still pictures and game footage provide enough raw emotion and great storytelling to satisfy the fan in all of us for years.

About the reviewer: Ben Philpott covers state politics and policy for KUT News and the Texas Tribune and has been an Atlanta Braves fan since 1989. When he’s not at the Capitol, Ben can be found at home teaching his two girls the finer points of baseball and wondering why the younger one has decided to become an Astros fan

Review: Tenth Inning

Ken Burns’ The Tenth Inning
Part 1: Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)
Part 2: Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)

From the opening notes of the pounding soundtrack of Ken Burns’ Baseball: The 10th Inning, we realize that the game of baseball has moved on. We aren’t watching a quaint documentary about the history of America’s game, rather we’re embarking on a new, sometimes dark, chapter in the story of the game.

It has often been written that the game of baseball is a metaphor for life. The 10th Inning proves this metaphor to be true. Burns’ interwoven storytelling mixes together the highs and lows, the dark and light, the championships and the bitter defeats in such a way that we realize we cannot have one without the other.

Much of the documentary tracks the effects of two key events in recent baseball history, the fallout of the 1994 baseball work stoppage, and the rise in the use of steroids to enhance player performance. Burns not only documents the obvious negative aspects of both events, but also carefully shows how baseball owners, players, and fans grew the game, and created some of baseball’s most memorable moments by reacting strongly to the strike and ignoring the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Ken Burns’ Baseball: The 10th Inning is not just a documentary for hardcore baseball fans. Rather, this masterful film does for all of us what baseball has always done. Through its simplicity, it forces us to question what is truly important to us, regardless of how complicated our lives have become.

About the reviewer: Shane Guiter is the Director of Development for KLRU. He’s worked at the station since 2005. When he’s not raising money for KLRU, Shane blogs about technology and new media, while listing to Radiohead.

Review: The Buddha

Program: The Buddha
Air date: Wednesday, April 7, at 7 p.m.

This documentary for PBS by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors who, across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity.

This is a beautiful film, visually, musically and theologically. It blends the Buddhist traditions and practices with the life story of the struggles and learning of Siddhartha. His experiences and insights are as relevant today as in his own time. A wonderful 2-hour respite from the world. A time to hear the story, but also to reflect on the world we live in and what our response to it will be. I encourage you to set aside the time to watch this beautiful film.

— Betsy Gerdeman

About the reviewer: Betsy Gerdeman is Sr. VP of Development at KLRU. She returned to Central Texas and to public broadcasting in 2008. Being a news hound, her favorite PBS shows are Frontline and PBS NewsHour. She formerly worked in interfaith initiatives in Washington DC and Houston, Texas and was the Boniuk Center Fellow to the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life in Birmingham, UK in 2009.

Show blends history, technology to shed light on paranormal

Program: Haunted Texas
Premier: Thursday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m.
Encores: Tuesday, April 20, at 10:30 p.m. and Monday, April 26, at 9:30 p.m.

Haunted Texas examines unexplained phenomena by blending the past with the present, the contemporary with the historical.  The show uses both modern technology and historical research to shed light on the paranormal.  This combination is on display in the pilot episode, which investigates ghost sightings around Peyton Colony, an old freedman’s settlement near Blanco.  The tech side is highlighted by a digital tape recorder with shielded cable and directional microphone that’s employed to capture EVPs (electronic voice phenomena).  However, prior to attempting to physically document any paranormal activity, the history of the area is reviewed.

It’s this emphasis on the past that makes Haunted Texas unique from other similar shows. The producers have partnered with the General Land Office’s Save Texas History project, allowing access to original documents and rare photos.   The pilot also includes interview segments with Lawrence Coffee, an area-resident for 69 years, who provides a first-hand perspective on life in Peyton Colony.  Haunted Texas offers an authentic historical context to their investigation.

The show was created by Jeanine Plumer, owner of Austin Ghost Tours, and Rebel Rebel, a local production company.  They are currently seeking the funding to expand the Haunted Texas pilot into a series for public television.

— David Lauderman

About the reviewer: David Lauderman is KLRU’s Director of Programming Services. A retired hoopster/gym rat, he and his wife Joie now enjoy competing in dog agility with their two border collies. Two of his personal favorite KLRU series are American Experience and Secrets of the Dead.