Saturday brings the autumnal equinox, which means it's time for music, poetry and communal singing at the 9th annual Revels RiverSing at the Charles River. Revels music director George Emlen hosts the free outdoor celebration featuring over 100 chorus members, the Revels Children’s Chorus, musician David Coffin, the Second Line Pleasure Aid and Social Society Brass Band, sax man Stan Strickland on the river (right) and more. Did we mention it's free? There will be groups sings of about 20 folk songs (lyrics available onsite and at www.revels.org). Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Steve Barkhimer and Jennie Israel and Cambridgepoet Toni Bee will recite. The main event is at 6 p.m., but festivities begin at 5 with family fun in Harvard Square's Winthrop Park, followed by a procession to the river. This is fun for anyone who likes music and ritual, and those with an anthropological interest in Cambridge's unique culture.
Actually it's W.E.L.D.E.R., if you want to get technical about it, which stands for Word Examination Laboratory for Dynamic Extraction and Reassessment. It's an iPhone and iPad game debuted this month by Ayopa Games and Highline Games, a startup from some of the Rockstar NYC people. And it has been the largest single time-suck in my life for about three weeks now. Gameplay combines elements of Scrabble, Tetris and an old-school Jumble. And the touch-screen interface is so well-designed that it's just about impossible to put down. All the uncool kids are doing it.
When you start playing, you face a 64-tile board, much like Scrabble, only it's filled with random letters and a few blank tiles. Tap one letter, then another, and they swap places. The idea is to move them around to make a four-letter or longer word, generally using as few swaps as possible. Double-tap a blank tile and a virtual keyboard appears so you can chose a letter to fill it.
In the first round, it's only adjacent tiles that you can swap, but in subsequent rounds more complicated parlays are available. Each word you make disappears from the board, and random letters slide down to fill in, sometimes forming words on their own, like a Webster's pachinko machine.
Each round you get only so many swaps to make so many words, and the more creative you are in your choices, using rarer letters, the higher you score. More scoring buys you more swaps...
Non-word people are glazing over about now. But what's really addicting about this game - what's making it spread like wildfire, at least among my Bay State tribe - is the interface. The skin is a subtle mid-century Cold War modern, with peeling paint and big red and green buttons, like a word game in a missile silo. Here and there are touches of steampunk, like the brass-framed ticker scoring your words across the bottom of the game board. (Tap a word there, and you get a definition.)
And the sound design features two tracks. While you're thinking, there's an ominous ambient hiss and flutter, like the sound of slow decay in that missile silo or on early first-person shooter games. Feedback arrives as a clanging, dinging clamor when you make a word, reminiscent of the doors and gates sliding down on the opening credits of "Get Smart" or "MST3K." Over all the sense is of being a cog in a machine, combined with a meaningless Pavlovian payout each time you score. Why this is so appealing, I can't say. The sounds also annoy the crap out of anyone in the room with you, which may or may not be desirable.
The game's only real flaw is the dictionary, which misses some obvious words and includes others, while mostly skipping swears that would really come in handy sometimes. But they're taking dictionary suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last I looked, WELDER was $1.99 on the App Store, but it's sometimes discounted to 99 cents. My phone is an Android so I can't say how it would play on that smaller screen, but on iPad it's an addictive joy. I'm stuck on Level 8 at the moment, and my wife greeted the news that I'd scored 670 for PURRS thanks to bonus tiles with the same kind of cheerful but not actually excited "awesome" that she gives when I call her in to see a sports highlight on the news. But by then I was already on to the next word...
I like many Bostonians spent happy hours of my youth at Paragon Park on Nantasket Beach in Hull, involved in such educational activities as miniature golf, pinball and Skee ball. It was hell trying to time a windmill shot while the roller coaster circled overhead, full of screaming teenagers. But like many of its brethren, Paragon faded away, closing in 1984 to be replaced by condo development, although the famous carousel has been saved and moved to a nearby location. This weekend and next bring the premiere of "Where the Fun Begins," an original full-length musical by Cinzi Lavin set in Paragon Park.
Actually, "Where The Fun Begins"is the conclusion of the Nantasket Trilogy - yep, that's a thing - by musician and writer Lavin. She brought her talents to Hull in 2007 and, well, let's let her tell it, via email: I approached the Hull Performing Arts, the town's community theatre, and broached the subject with them. They said that the Weir River Estuary (a state-designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern here in Hull) needed to raise funds and awareness. It was then that it occurred to me that I could do a lot of good for the town (whose primary income is tourism) by fostering its three major tourist attractions: The Weir River Estuary, the Hull Lifesaving Museum, and the Paragon Carousel, all of which needed money and publicity.
Her first musical, "On This River," was about the estuary. It premiered two years ago and, she says, won a state legislative citation for outstanding contribution to Massachusetts arts and culture. Last year brought "Toilers of the Sea: The Life of Joshua James," about famed Hull lifesaver and patron saint of the U.S. Coast Guard, Joshua James.
"Where the Fun Begins" finishes her work with the story of "charming pickpocket" Sully Sullivan, the crime lord Voland, and the Clare family. It's a story of hard times, faith and redemption. There's nothing about bumper cars, as far as I can tell, but with a cast of 40 from Hull Performing Arts and Lavin on piano, it ought to be a time. Directed by Lindsay Clinton, the show features a dozen songs plus choreography by Plymouth's Nicole Hoole.
Performances at the Fort Revere Amphitheater on Farina Road in Hull are this Saturday and Sunday (July 23-24) and next weekend (July 30-31), all at 4 p.m., and the top ticket is $10. For more information, call 781-925-2406 or visit www.hullperformingarts.org.
Surprisingly, or not, when I went to Wikipedia to rustle up that postcard, I learned that there's another Paragon Park music in the works. The Company Theatre in Norwell is planning a summer 2012 premiere for their "Paragon Park: The Musical," with Book By Zoe Bradford & Michael Hammond, Music & Lyrics by Adam Brooks.
If either of these shows are half as much fun as I had riding down to Nantasket on a hot summer weekend ca. 1972 with Aunt Nancy in her VW bug with the sunroof open, it will be a fine thing indeed.
Movin' on up! First Night adds three new spaces to its schedule this year. No performers have been announced yet, but First Night has added Symphony Hall and two new renovated venues downtown, Suffolk University's Modern Theatre and Emerson College's Paramount Mainstage. It won't be the Pops at Symphony Hall; word is something very cool is in the works. In addition, First Night's New Year's Eve festivities will return to the Berklee Performance Center, which will once again host an alumni concert broadcast by WGBH and NPR's national "Talk of the Nation" show. This year's First Night button, by painter Scott Listfield of Somerville, will be unveiled in mid-November. All First Night outdoor events are free, but the $18 button is the ticket for admission to all indoor events. Buttons will be available after Thanksgiving.
Mission of Burma hits the Paradise Friday and Saturday for furtherance of the band's second coming. But whether or not you make one of those sure-to-be-fiery gigs, you might want to check out Burma guitarist Roger Miller hosting Surreal Night in Somerville on Jan. 23. He'll be DJing and hosting an evening of Exquisite Corpse games - "the riotous mind-bending games that were developed by Andre Breton and his co-conspirators during the 1920's and '30's heyday of surrealism." Cool, I think. He's even picked some favorite beers to serve. The event is at the Center for Arts at the Armory, in the Cafe, beginning at 7 p.m., which seems awfully early for surrealism. Tickets, $8 in advance, are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more information please visit artsatthearmory.org or call 617-718-2191.
Miller crop from Burma pic by neonwar under a Creative Commons license.
George Fifield founded the Boston Cyberarts Festival back in 1999, and he's still in charge for the 2009 edition, running April 24-May 10 around Eastern Mass. and online. Virtual reality and visual art, electronic music and the legacy of dance's Merce Cunningham are among many topics explored explored more than 60 exhibitions, performances and workshop. I interviewed Fifield (right) by email over the last week or so, on topics from the economy to Shepard Fairey and the computer virus as art.
HubArts: How has the Cyberarts Festival been affected by the economic downtown, as an event and an organization? And how is the economy reflected in the work you'll be presenting?
Fifield: The structure of the Cyberarts Festival is a large collaboration of arts and educational organizations all producing, within their own mission and budget, exhibitions or performances or events about artists working with new technologies. In fact it's the largest collaboration of arts organization in New England. So we have been very lucky that many organization have agreed again this year to do an exhibition or performance for the Festival and its as big as ever. Of course our own fundraising has been hit as have everyone else's.
But the economy has certainly provided grist for some of the art. One is Children of Arcadia (left), which is a virtual reality work that will be up at the Cambridge Arts Council Gallery. It a living 17th-century Baroque painting you can explore, which combines the physical world of downtown Manhattan with a virtual environment called Arcadia. It is continually reading real world data from the internet on the health of the U.S. through stock market and other indices and translates this data into either a utopia or apocalypse. In other words, when the country is doing well, the virtual skies are clear and the birds are singing, but when the country is doing poorly the skies are overcast or lightning and thundering and the buildings are falling into ruin. So if you want to know how the country's doing, head on over to the Cambridge Arts Council.