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  • Big Sweater

    We recently caught up with the guys from the band Big Sweater to discuss their music, inspiration and their exciting new album they’re currently recording.

    In one way or another, members of the band have all been part of AFP’s music education programs over the years. So, we’re very proud and excited to see how they’ve progressed and evolved as artists.  Check out “Platform Stare,” a single from the new album.

    1) What inspired you guys to become musicians, writers?

    Collectively what inspired us to be musicians is that of which was instilled in us by our parents and their taste for the most part. Being shown things that would be considered “old school”. Those things later becoming memories and what is now sense of nostalgia of car rides and long trips throughout the years subconsciously planting a seedling in a driving force that is creating sound as well as putting words together that sum up how we feel.

    2) How would you describe your sound?

    Our sound is derivative of multiple things that boil down for the most part to blues. Our upcoming album has a combination of really somber and light tunes and also some really upbeat ones but overall our sound is very mellow.

    3) Have you been playing the songs off the new album live, and if so how has the crowd responded to the new songs?

    We’ve played most of the upcoming album in a rotation for about a year now, the crowd now sings along and its one of the most gratifying feelings in the world. What everyone is in for is an album that is unlike the live show. The album is a step back from an energetic performance, puts us under a microscope and gives you a rawer and intimate version of what people are familiar with as well giving you a sound that is unique sonically.

    4) What do you enjoy most about performing live?

    The feeling of being able to express yourself in front of a group of people who resonate with what you wrote in your own haven is beautiful, the fact that what you truly feel is relatable is good and you can make a definite and lifelong connection this way…..also having people sing your songs is pretty amazing. Playing music with your best friends is a treat and being in sync and vibing off one another is another solid piece of the pie.

    5) Tell me about your creative process. Do you work remotely or do you work together as a group?

    The songs on this upcoming album were written between Franklin & Elijah remotely. Most songs on it were ideas before the formation of Big Sweater, and they were given new life throughout this current lineup and everyone added their parts individually as introduced. This is something that we are straying away from as we are working towards being more collective with our ideas now that we have set aside a space for us to have writing and rehearsal sessions without any restriction.

    6) Where do you find your inspirations as artists?

    Being broad, we find our inspiration in pure feeling, we dwell on an emotion, it marinates, it becomes something.

    7) What band’s or musicians have been major influences?

    The Beatles, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, & Radiohead are some of our favorites as well as Pink Floyd, Foo Fighters. Again a lot of radio from long trips or Sunday afternoons have had a ton of influence.

    8) What does art for progress mean to you?

    Art for Progress means so much to us because its given us not only a platform to create a record but develop skills with Barry Komitor who is also producing our album and is our musical father figure. Art for Progress has given us a chance to see the development of high school student’s musical skills and maintain a relationship with them to where they come to our shows and we consider them friends. AFP has provided for us and for these students the necessary tools it takes to evoke a certain emotion through creativity, this is the focal point of our music as well, evoking an emotion that we could very well all share, for this we are grateful and hope to continue doing work. Art for Progress is exactly that, keeping creativity in the hearts and minds of not just the youth but everyone so that we can maybe use our words, our pictures, and sounds to push one another….to strive, to lift and to incite emotions in people.

    with love, Big Sweater

  • woodpeckers-julian-yanelly

    The first Dominican film to screen at Sundance (and recently announced as the Dominican Republic’s Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film), Woodpeckers (Carpinteros) is not your typical prison drama. Sure, writer/director José Maria Cabral includes some familiar elements: the new guy initiated into the brutal, dehumanizing ways of the institution; an uneasy alliance formed with the cell block’s bully/fixer. But Woodpeckers, which was filmed on location in the notorious Najayo prison outside of Santo Domingo, is also a love story with a spectacular ending that is Shakespearean in its resolution. With its raw, authentic setting, which includes throngs of actual Najayo inmates, the film has a gritty, documentary feel that really gets under the skin. It’s easy to get caught up in its slowly intensifying narrative.

    When petty thief Julián (Haitian actor/director Jean Jean, quietly riveting) is incarcerated, he notices his fellow inmates crowded around the prison windows, executing elaborate hand signals. Turns out they’re communicating with inhabitants of the neighboring women’s penitentiary, who signal back from their yard. Through this detailed language, known as “woodpecking,” romantic relationships are formed, as are jealousies and resentments as rivals fight over love interests. (The practice is completely true to life; Cabral spent ninth months visiting Najayo and other prisons, where he got to know the inmates.)

    woodpeckers-julian-manauro

    When the volatile Manaury (Ramón Emilio Candelario), who operates a drug ring out of the prison kitchen, gets into a knife fight over his inmate girlfriend Yanelly (the wonderfully expressive Judith Rodriguez Perez), he’s relocated to solitary in a neighboring complex. Enlisting Julián to be his intermediary, he teaches the newcomer woodpecking so that the latter can deliver Manaury’s impassioned missives to Yanelly.  She, however, suspects Manaury of infidelity and wants nothing more to do with him, instead becoming intrigued by his soulful messenger, whose feelings are mutual. This, of course, is a recipe for disaster.

    Julián and Yanelly’s bond grows stronger when he visits the women’s prison on the pretense of repairing the warden’s air conditioner and the smitten couple share a kiss through the bars. Encouraged by Yanelly, he signs up for a music class, leading to a prison performance in which he plays percussion as she sings. When their onstage flirting spurs the enraged Manaury into action, the movie spirals into an inevitable final showdown. The film’s unforced pacing and escalating tension suck the viewer in, until we’re completely involved in the struggling couple’s plight.

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    Though its forbidden-love theme is classic, Woodpeckers is as much a unique romance as it is unusual prison drama, thanks to its engaging protagonists and true-life setting. Shot in sweaty, claustrophobic cells and in sun-baked yards teeming with inmates, the film looks and feels like the real deal. Suspenseful, romantic and erotic, Woodpeckers is a remarkable achievement.

    Woodpeckers opens on Friday at AMC Empire 25, UA Kaufman Astoria Stadium 14 and Bronx Concourse Plaza.

    Marina Zogbi

  • The future is certainly terrifying. From climate change to our political climate, there is a lot of uncertainty. But one thing is for certain —  robots will take over the world’s workforce —  especially in the world of footwear.

    Talk about a walk-up call! 

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    And possibly leading the robotic revolution is the company Grabit, Inc., a materials handling solutions company.

    The California-based (Nike-backed) robotics startup employs ‘electroadhesion’ in order to automate the handling of any material. To be exact, the company, applies  ‘electroadhesion’ via ‘flat pads of electrodes that, when charged correctly, create an electric field that adheres to nearly any surface,’ Bloomberg reports.

    Grabit’s shoemaking robot at the company’s headquarters in Sunnyvale

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    Photo Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

    Unlike using human hands or pliable materials, electroadhesion can offer manufacturers the ability to work around such pesky issues like gripping materials by channeling the same sort of static cling that also makes a balloon stick to your head.

    Sounds simply genius? That’s because it is! ‘Electroadhesion has the finesse to handle something as fragile as an egg, as flimsy as soft fabric and as unwieldy as a 50-lb box,’ the company says on their website. They also assert that their line of equipment provides a cheaper, faster solutions that uses less power.

     

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    And the static electricity that Grabit can yield has the ability to ‘make machines work at 20 times the pace of humans.’  How can we compete with that?!

     

  • Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Co-directed by Valérie Müller and renowned dancer/choreographer Angelin Preljocaj (who are married), Polina is the story of a budding Russian ballerina who forsakes a coveted job with the Bolshoi Ballet to pursue the freedom of contemporary dance. Based on the graphic novel by Bastien Vivès, Polina stars soulful young Russian dancer and first-time actress Anastasia Shevtsova as a girl from a humble background who is chosen to train for a career in ballet. Inspired by contemporary dance, she moves first to France, then Belgium—enduring a series of physical, artistic and romantic setbacks, before finding her true passion in creating her own dances. We can almost feel her physical and psychological release when she finally experiences that fulfillment.

    Early in the film we see a serious, young Polina (Veronika Zhovnytska) struggling in ballet class under the glowering eye of the demanding Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov), a classic cinematic ballet master. The stifling mood of these vignettes are juxtaposed with scenes of the girl joyfully losing herself in wild improvised dance while walking home from the academy. Later the teenage Polina endures grueling rehearsals under Bojinsky, who harangues her for her inability to express feeling behind the movement, a theme that runs throughout the film. Somehow, though, she perseveres and manages to ace an audition for the Bolshoi in a terrific scene that’s shot from overhead. (Another enthralling scene follows Polina’s expressive feet as her pointe shoes jab and pound the wooden floor.) Her financially strapped parents are depending on her Bolshoi salary, especially since her father is in debt to some bad guys, but Polina has other ideas. After she is moved to tears by a contemporary dance performance, she breaks her mother’s heart by moving to France with boyfriend and fellow dance student Adrien (Niels Schneider, looking very much like a dancer). Shevtsova’s face is impassive as she packs and her mother weeps; as in other scenes, we wonder what she’s feeling.

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    In Provence, Polina and Adrien work with Liria, an earthy contemporary dancer/choreographer played by Juliette Binoche, who nicely demonstrates her own solid dance background. The filmmakers contrast the energy of this ferociously kinetic new choreography with the stilted (in comparison) precision of previous ballet scenes. Liria too talks about the necessity of emotion in dance, as she seems to be channeling the sensibility of Preljocaj himself. The pulsating electronic soundtrack by 79D provides a bracingly effective counterpart to several dance scenes.

    When tensions arise between Polina and Adrien and his eye begins to wander, she hightails it to Antwerp, which has its own thriving contemporary dance scene. Here she faces tough auditions and financial travails, sleeping in a laundromat at one point and eventually finding work as a bartender at a nightclub. She also discovers Karl, an improvisational dancer (played with great charisma by Paris Opera Ballet star Jérémie Bélingard). When Polina finally lets loose with her own improvisational dance, it’s tremendously cathartic. Here she finally becomes her own artist, someone who is clearly only fulfilled when she’s moving to her own rhythm.

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Anyone with an interest in dance will be moved and mesmerized by Preljocaj’s choreography and the beautifully filmed dance footage, which is not edited down for commercial consumption. The movie is light on dialogue, which is appropriate for a work primarily about movement, though we might wish for more exposition at some points. Scenes involving Polina’s family and their travails seem especially perfunctory, used mainly to flesh out her story. Whatever its flaws, though, Polina is a strong and affecting portrayal of an artist finding herself and her way in the world.

    Polina opens in theaters on Friday.

    Marina Zogbi