Posted on 26-10-2014
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

It’s started raining on digital technology. Arriving for an early morning flight, I started rubbing my eyes at the airport. Am I sleeping or dreaming? No, it’s real! The famous Walkman inventor is cooling his newly launched mobile phone in water inside a display box to prove its unique rainproof character.

Yester-generation’s Japanese Sultan of electro-mechanical Walkman device, who was upstaged by American burger digi-tech Emperor, is trying to avoid showing commoditised digital images. Instead, with rain falling on mobile phones, Sultan is bringing back Gene Kelly’s 1950s tap dance idea, “I’m singin’ in the rain.” Apart from shapely Bollywood heroines getting rain-drenched being obvious, I don’t know whether people require phones in the water. Although Sylvio Berlusconi would love it for his bunga-bunga underwater sex parties. However throwing cold water on digi-tech reinforces my digital skeleton idea. Sultan has understood that make believe with digital image advertising is not working anymore because digi-tech is just a skeleton. So rainfall on mobile phones gives customers distinct benefit.

Another airport wait, 3 hours in Heathrow for connection to Paris, was enough to compare oversize digital screen advertisements of perfume cosmetics brands like Dior, YSL, Estee Lauder, among others. Through a dreamy route they’re taking women to planet hedonism. What was disturbing me was identifying the excessive digital effects in every advertising image: same lighting style, same post production digital retouching of a picture or footage in the computer. From the technical embellishment perspective, all the different ads resembled one another. Lots of global enterprises have still not understood that digi-tech is just a skeleton. Their digital interface is commoditising the inner value of entertainment that the masses experience, making it all look similar.

Advertising that creates make believe by manipulating or stretching a subject earlier needed some artistic sense and multiple craftsmanship. The physical shooting floor stage involving set designers, light-men, sound creators is getting obsolete now. The other day I met an old Parisian friend who makes background sound effects for films, a profession he inherited from his father. I loved his surprising magical sessions with different illogical instruments on the floor of a huge room. In front of a projection screen he’d watch the soundless movie and integrate sound into it as per the film’s action. The numerous instruments created by him looked really spectacular, like today’s installation art. Watching him skilfully chafe ultra-violet coated satin to produce a recordable swish or strangely pull wire-string on some hollow instrument to emit an obtuse howl was itself an entertaining movie. This was his livelihood and passion, which, he sorrowfully narrated, is fading. His 2 children are not interested, so his collection of sound effects instruments has rusted and become antique. He said with digital technology everything’s readymade in the digital disk so anybody can make sound effects. Just imagine, films now have no background sound differentiation.

So many artistic domains are getting massacred due to over-usage of digital technology, the killer of human passion, craftsmanship, knowhow and creative distinction.

At the same time we cannot ignore the advantage of digital content vs. celluloid film which was cumbersome, extremely costly and you had to wait a couple of days to develop the film. With digi-tech advancement, film output is instantaneous, there’s time saving, cost effectiveness and physical effort reduction. The main point is to use digi-tech as the skeleton that it is. It provides the strong base on which flesh can be added, the flesh of human skill and creativity. The human interface should not look digital.

In my branding and advertising experience in Western society, we have to have calligraphic expertise to design a brand name or effective caption. Hungarian professor Paul Gabor taught me the grammar and architecture of typography. There are 4 basics: Gothic, Roman, Antique, Elzevir. After learning these basics, with freehand drawing skill you can start making fantastic typographic work which becomes distinctive for a brand. Later from my colleague, famous French font designer Albert Boton, I learnt that font face just makes the text, not the brand. Branding requires distinctive typographic character for the brand to become iconic in time. From Bauhaus, the radical German design influencer, to Raymond Loewy, father of industrial and brand design, to celebrated designers Gordon Lippincott and Walter Landor, nobody has ever used readymade typography for brand design.

Just to illustrate, my design team and I never allow readymade fonts usage for brands we create, eg. Activia of Danone, Isio4 the famous 4-blend French cooking oil, Greek dairy brand Delta, Remy Martin’s armagnac Cles des Luc, Argentina’s Bagley biscuits, Marico’s Parachute, Britannia, Wipro, Lewis Berger, among others. Our expertise of designing by hand gives brands specific character from typography we develop so that its exact likeness cannot be found anywhere else in the globe. A brand name with its identity has to carry some timeless property which creates its authentic value. More authentic the identity creation, the better is it for commercial protection from plagiarism, for financial results, upto the brand’s deeper timelessness.

Typographic skill is given scant attention nowadays. A computer geek can quickly design a technical brand, giving you multiple font options. Every fresh marketer in Indian companies asks this from design houses to choose a brand’s typography; variety takes precedence over unique typeface expertise. Rarely would you find hand calligraphy in professional work today. Such skill and expertise are verging into oblivion, commoditizing the brand. Let’s take an analogy. Staple food like rice, wheat, pasta, bread will always be there, you cannot eat digital pasta. Similarly, creative base fundamentals will remain, digi-tech cannot and should not replace human creativity. Creative ingenuity should be allowed to flourish, with digi-tech remaining its skeleton, otherwise all artistic work will become incestuous, looking the same.

Art has always been considered a form of expressive liberation. Digital technology interface should not contaminate this artistic liberty and expression by commoditizing our individual expression and living style. I reckon 2025 will see the digital graveyard even as we embrace the digital skeleton.

Click here  : Digital skeleton To download above article in PDF

Source :  The Indian Express

(0) Comments   
Posted on 19-10-2014
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Acoustic sound in music is incomparable, I love it. It’s uncluttered by electric or electronic technology, or by overproduction that excessively uses audio effects. I’ve always liked the harmonica, the smallest and simplest of free reed instruments because it’s totally acoustic. Of course I’m keen on Western modern music too, including hard rock.

What fascinates me in Western music is their outstanding, scientific method of harmonization. Europeans invented harmonization where multiple instruments play a given music in different scales but the musical output convergence is one. The harmonica or mouth organ’s advantage over all instruments is that it’s extremely expressive; you can dramatically alter each note’s tone and pitch to create musical magic by blowing and drawing.

When the harmonica is the solo musical device in a Western symphony orchestra, it looks quite incongruous to audiences. The conductor’s orchestration of larger instruments like violins, double bass, saxophones all hang on the lead music emanating from the little mouth organ that’s mostly not visible in the closed palm of the player, but its marvelous for harmonization. The harmonica’s beginnings go back to Sheng, a Chinese instrument using bamboo reeds invented a few thousand years ago. Sheng came to Europe late 18th century. Instrument maker Christian Buschmann created Aura, a similar instrument with metal reeds, while the modern harmonica of ten holes, two metal reed plates was invented by an European named Richter around 1825. Germany’s Hohner first started mass producing the harmonica, and continues to be the leader. After Matthias Hohner introduced 19th century America to the harmonica, its popularity rose. Being cheap and easy to carry, it became perfect for black slaves, whose uninhibited spiritual music is the root of American popular music and the blues genre.

I was watching an interview with Charlie McCoy, one of my favourite, and among America’s pioneering blues harmonica players from Nashville ‘Music City’ Tennessee. He’s accompanied Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, among others. Explaining the time around 1960s when mono or stereo recordings were done, he said all musicians had to unfailingly practice for these one-shot recordings. Musicians had to be more meticulous and precise for recordings than stage performances. If one among multiple musicians makes a mistake on stage, others can correct it. But a recording does not tolerate errors because a disc is cut for permanency. Any mistake, the recoding had to restart. McCoy said the big thrill of displaying your expertise and ability to harmonize with other instruments in a musical session is what he misses in today’s digital era.

Everything’s recorded separately nowadays. You hear many instruments in a song, but those musicians may never have known one another. Say a saxophone player is hired; he’ll come alone to play just his part in the playback musical track. It’s also possible that an intelligent music programmer will say to the producer, why do you need the saxophone player? My digital keyboard has everything; I can play whatever musical instrument you need, so you don’t need any musician to make your recording. The danger of course is that we are going to lose out on the knowhow. Suppose there are no saxophone players that the new generation can look up to because it’s all programmed, how are new musicians going to learn? When the big studios and great sound engineers retire, will the knowledge have been passed?

In today’s clinical way of recording, the live, unplanned, theatrical musical effect that emerges extempore when musicians play together can never happen. We’ve lost that on-the-spot musical drama that inspired or provoked musicians create. Digital technology has barbarously killed the emotion of musicians in a recording studio. In fact digitization is the barbarian responsible for killing many musical careers. Individual players of specialized instruments like the trumpet, drums, different types of percussion, piano, organ, harp, violin, bass guitar among others have had to put aside their competencies to pursue other jobs.

But digi-tech has had the exact opposite effect on sound engineering. The clarity of sound output, its blending and mix have become extremely powerful and without parallel to earlier times.

You may find I’m writing with an archaic attitude, pouring cold water on the invaluable invention of digital technology without which the world will literally come to a standstill today. Actually, that’s not true. I’m the technology world’s biggest admirer, but my discomfort is in digital technology knocking out the value and competence of human expertise. That’s an extremely dangerous trend for tomorrow’s creators and inventors in different domains. In music, singers like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong among others have deeply impacted many generations, but such commanding musicians have not appeared in the digi-tech era these last 20 years.

As a music lover, I love digi-tech for enabling us to enjoy all the world’s music on our mobile handsets. But that’s exactly what’s killing individual musicians and the music world’s emotion that McCoy lamented about. Music producers no longer need to track musicians for recordings. Musical shows even cheat spectators when singers just make mouth movements of pre-recorded songs while dancing on stage with myriad effects.

Musical sound by itself was hallucinating to listen to, but songs can never be successful today without music videos. Here’s the musician’s plight: passionately build expertise but that pays nothing because music producers are not interested. You have to upload your music free of cost in YouTube. You know the number of hits you get, but will never know if people really liked your music.

Hohner in Germany must be using highly advanced digital technology today to manufacture harmonicas. But I still see their new harmonica having the same acoustic style of 45 years ago. This illustrates that technology has not disturbed the individual musician’s interface with the harmonica and the acoustic sound it delivers. That’s how digi-tech should be, not more than a mere skeleton, definitely not the killer of creativity. We have to know how to perfectly exploit technology at the backend to make it a strong skeleton.

Click here  : Digital Barbarian To download above article in PDF

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express

(0) Comments   
Posted on 12-10-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Discomfort from Church domination led Italians to pursue an individualistic approach. Disrespecting religious taboos, they embraced art, science, literature and philosophy to begin the Renaissance period, injecting colour in every design element.

This infusion of colour is so deep rooted in every Italian psyche that when I egged on my dressed-David-statue look-alike Italian friend to enter our Painter CEO Club, he subconsciously painted Mediterranean blue of the sea, green of the hills, orange of the sky at sunset. Yes he’s a CEO in India. That’s why I invited him to display his artistic mindset through colours on a canvas, something that 59 CEOs, Managing Directors and Chairmen have already done. Take a look: http://www.painterceo.com/participants/2014/Giorgio-De-Roni.php

Or did my dressed-David paint his favorite Sardinia, his wife’s Mediterranean home? My experiential learning of Italian design techniques got heightened when his 84-year-old father-in-law, Mr. Meloni took us back from AD to BC. He trudged us up to a primeval granite shelter called Nuraghe Majori. Made of piled boulders without any joining material, its rooms, passages, steps to a turret were still decipherable. Sardinia’s hallmark is its unique Bronze Age Nuragica Civilization dating 1800-1100 BC. There once were 10,000 megalithic stone dolmens scattered across the island depicting creative, innovative use of materials and techniques of prehistoric architecture. Just imagine, this ancient foundation of Italian design is transcending to their day-to-day culture today.

Mr Meloni’s spirit of exposing the old was inexhaustible. On a sunny day we went to “Olivastro di Luras” possibly the world’s oldest olive tree of 11.20 meter girth, aged 3500+ years. Speckled light falling under the tree displayed its exquisite bio-design; it was like an expedition to discover living history. Mr Meloni explained differences in trees of thousands of years ago. India’s banyan has multiple roots emanating from branches that spread to become trees, whereas olive trees have just one trunk and root penetrating underground, its age recorded in the rings of its trunk. Perhaps there’s some relationship between Italian individualism and the olive tree’s single trunk, whereas the banyan seems to accommodate a few generations of an Indian joint family living together.

Hilarious was our trip to Mr Meloni’s farm. Driving his small, 4-wheel drive Fiat Panda car, he sped us down winding roads without a single pothole, traversing the beauty of virgin greenery. In 45 minutes we arrived at his undulating farmland where plenty of cows were grazing. A huge metal gate was locked. He gave the key to my dressed-David friend. It’s important to tell you that on our return, he got off the steering wheel to personally lock the gate to be 100% sure. With typical Italian-Mediterranean hand gesture and a wink, dressed-David indicated how his father-in-law had no confidence on anybody when it came to his cows.

We entered the farm, my wife and Italian friendrushed to greet the cows. Watching from my camera lens, I saw the cows were going away. Well, my wife’s a brown foreigner, but how could they refuse to reciprocate an Italian Psychology Doctorate from Cambridge? Mr Meloni behind me was chuckling childishly. When he appeared in my camera, in a beautiful voice he called, “Bey! Bey!” Believe me, all the cows immediately turned to surround him, as though they were conversing, nudging to get closer to him. My wife laughed, but David-look-alike was totally disappointed. He dramatically bemoaned in heavy Italian accent and perfect English that even being a loving son-in-law, the cows didn’t care. I really enjoyed capturing this mutually loving attitude of the animals and Mr Meloni on video.

Unlike French society, I find that Italy’s incredible theatre reputation goes beyond the stage into real life. Their day-to-day practical living is extremely dramatic, from body gesture to spoken language to dressing style, transcending to their toilet, kitchen, bedroom, living room. You can understand grand Italian culture from famous cine directors Fellini or Ettore Scola, actors Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman. Of course let’s not forget their political drama, from former President Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga nude underwater parties with nubile girls, to Cicciolina, the prostitute who became Italian Minister of Parliament in 1987. When Cicciolina went on official visits to different countries, she’d dramatically bare her breasts at the airport. She openly offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in return for world peace. In every aspect of Italian life there’s drama that’s not artificial, but real social life. It’s really spectacular.

Easter Sunday lunch was an incredible 4-hours of true Sardinian-North Italian atmosphere surrounded by dressed-David’s extended family and some friends. When I accompanied my friend to bring the food, I figured we were going to a caterer. But, no. His wife had ordered special food from different friends’ homes. They cooked for us, each dish had unique character. Fraternity like this is a symbol of Italian Mediterranean breeze. I’ve never seen it in France. I’m not sure this can happen in mainland Italy either.

What touched me while returning home was dressed-David’s affectionate conjugal gesture. He suddenly stopped the car at a slope, climbed the mountain’s edge, cut some wild lavender flowers with a knife from his pocket. That he’d planned to embellish his wife’s Easter lunch table with Sardinia’s fragrance is another example of Italian elegance. Such cultural aesthetics is embedded in Italian living style. We dined in full view of the valley, mountains with plenty of “cidre de Liban” and cork trees so bountiful in Sardinia. Then in village Luras we visited his sister-in-law’s ancestral home. Entering a centuries-old house and feeling family continuity in every corner was more hallucinating than visiting Versailles Palace.

My Italian experience can fill a book, but let me conclude my learning of design from 5 countries:  France on making every selling proposition aspirational and disruptive, Germany on precision and process, Americans taught me industrial scale, Japan about miniaturization and embellishment and Italians, elegance and artistic sense. Such learning is relevant to our country’s new mantra of developing our peoples’ skills and capability so the world can come to “Make in India.”

To Download a FREE PDF copy Click here My Sardinian sojourn

Source : The Indian Express


(0) Comments   
Posted on 05-10-2014
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Let me continue my experiential learning of Italian design, so full of artistic sense and elegance, through travels with my Michael Angelo’s David sculpture look-alike Italian friend. The only difference, unfortunately, is that my friend always turns up in chic dressing style, whereas David exhibits his anatomical splendour sans clothes.

We first arrived in Milan and met his graceful wife, an entrepreneur scientist with her own research laboratory. What struck me on entering her workplace is simple arrangements, outstanding decor and subtle touches of orange everywhere, her signature colour. Scientists here were working on American Mac computers, their screens exposing high-tech scientific sense; but all of that was overshadowed by her Italian design touch, even in a scientific lab.  I call this the Italian art of working and living.  Before taking the flight to Olbia, her welcome breakfast at their urbane home was aromatic coffee and special Milanese Easter dome cake. That’s when I realised the importance of different types of bread, all artistically designed, for various occasions and cuisines in Italy.

Looking down the aircraft window at Sardinia’s islands over the blue-green Mediterranean Sea was exhilarating. We drove through total greenery to the entrepreneur scientist’s native village in Luras village. Her 84-year-old father, Mr Meloni, explained to us how Northern, Central and Southern Italian cultures are very different; of course Sardinia being an island has even more dissimilarities. On our first day at lunch we were served pane carasau, a thin and crisp, half-meter wide Sardinian bread, and heard of other Sardinian breads like pane con gerda, civraxiu, moddizzosu. My question to Mr Meloni was, how come there are more than 20 bread styles in Italy, in different creative shapes, sizes and ingredients including coppia ferrarese dating back to 1287, fragguno eaten on Easter Sunday, focaccia, pandoro, taralli, penia, piadina, ciabatta, cecina, grissini? Across the south, east, north and west of France we have only 3 types of bread, pain, baguette and pain a la campagne. His incisive reply was that unity had come very early to France as a nation post the 1789 French Revolution, so everybody eats the same breads. But Italy did not have this unity, different regions continue to practice their own culture. Historical phenomenon translated to social eating habits was indeed a great education. My take is that this Mediterranean wave, which starts from the daily basic staple of bread, is another reason for Italian versatility and creativity in design.

In our frequent philosophical conversations I have asked my clothed-David friend to narrate how Italian art has penetrated across Mediterranean society, from religion, art, politics to social life. Here’s what he said: “You have to go back many centuries and understand the role played by religion and the Church. At its origin, religion created its role to protect man from adversities of natural calamities supposedly created by Gods to punish mankind’s misbehavior. There was no way out in this life, so believers were asked to obey the Gods via the priests to have a better life after death. This went on for centuries till for social, political, philosophical reasons man started playing a role for himself due to commerce. Commerce brought an end to the war, fought feudalism and started to instill in people the idea that life on earth has a value in itself. The Roman Church was clever enough to proactively play a political and cultural role in that period: on one side it invested in art and culture with the marvelous pieces of art in Rome and on the other it strengthened its power and avoided any Reform at the core of its world.”

My clothed-David continued, “The Roman Church played a pivotal role in Italian society upto the 19th century, its political role is still extremely powerful. Although the Christian faith drives Italian society, certain ‘illuminated minds’ started to question the silent obedience to faith and the Church for a better afterlife. This started a cultural movement in Italy where an artistic environment developed around the 14th to 17th century. Called the Renaissance, this later spread to the rest of Europe and led to the neoclassic movement called Hellenism. This approach started to trickle down to lower levels but it never became public due to the power of the Church. So it was an individualistic reaction which is still strong and growing. We developed an individualist approach based on Mediterranean culture and lifestyle: individualistic which relates back to the seeds of the Renaissance, disrespectful vis-a-vis the power of the Church, and colorful based on the marvelous landscape and much better solar weather we enjoy in Italy compared to Northern Europe.”

That such artistic pursuit engulfs every area of Italian life till today is evident from my clothed-David’s mother-in-law.  A slim 82-year-old with lots of wrinkle lines on her face, I could not control complimenting her for being a Sardinian beauty. She looked at her Sardinian husband sweetly and said she’s from Bologne, meaning Northern Italians are inherently more refined than rustic Sardinians. Their house with paintings was like an art gallery, her balcony abloom with varieties of orchids. Her art of sensitively nurturing the orchids, scrolling curtains to give them the correct light conjured up a beautiful scene of neo-classic Italian film after the Great War.  I was never so attracted by orchids until her strong bone structure in twilight recounting stories about the character of each flower gave me the imagery of an Italian Eden island.  She’s conscious about her beauty, brushing and re-clipping strands in her hair if they get ruffled, in exactly the way she wants them disciplined on her aesthetics.

I must say if Michael Angelo was there, he would surely have sculpted her fine-looking timeless face, a face that’s very appealing to artists, including me. I have to continue this artistic Italian rhapsody next week because I am totally downed in the Mediterranean sense which pervades every area of living style till today.

To Download a FREE PDF copy Click here Italian rhapsody

Source : The Indian Express


(0) Comments    Read More