The McLaughlin Planetarium Is About To Be Destroyed. Here’s Why You Should Care.

mclaughlin-planetarium-mr-v2
Saving the McLaughlin Planetarium seems like a no-brainer for most Torontonians. Still, there remain detractors and skeptics that throw their hands up in the air. It’s sometimes all too easy to become jaded or apathetic in this city. This is a town that doesn’t tend to hold onto it’s past. It’s a fast paced city where the all mighty looney rules all. Buildings get torn down and built up on a continual basis, like a sugared up kid on Ritalin in a room full of Lego blocks. Despite this, maybe there’s a way where everyone can win. Maybe we can figure out a solution where we get to hang on to a piece of our city’s history while still progressing and moving forward. Here are a few questions from people that may not believe that saving the McLaughlin is feasible or relevant.

The building has been closed and dormant for almost 20 years. Why should anyone care about it?
In order to answer this question, we must first address how and why it was closed in the first place. The planetarium’s closure happened in 1995. It was closed due to budget cuts, during the reign of Mike Harris, the former Premier of Ontario, and his Common Sense Agenda, despite it being one of the only profitable planetariums in North America. Should it have been closed in the first place? Probably not, but at this juncture, the point is moot. It is closed and has been for some time. So let’s move forward and look at some of the reasons that people should care about this empty shell of a building.

1. It is an architectural landmark. Despite the insides having been torn out, the building in of itself is a work of art, and is one of the most excellent examples of Mid-Century Modernist architecture in Toronto. This is a near extinct species of buildings within the Toronto area. It doesn’t matter what is inside it, or what is has been used for, or what it hasn’t been used for these past few years; the building itself is a treasure that needs to be preserved. Just because something has been closed or damaged doesn’t necessarily diminish it’s cultural or historical value. Why re-build the Twin Towers in New York? The example is a bit dramatic, I admit, but the point remains the same. Just because something is unused, damaged or destroyed does not mean we should not attempt to restore, re-build and correct a poor decision.

2. It is a tourist attraction. When the planetarium was functioning, it was host to five million visitors. These people came to see the building the same way people go to museums, art galleries and more recently, aquariums. It was an excellent source of revenue for the Royal Ontario Museum in it’s day. It would be a destination point, not just for the 6 million men, women and children that reside in the Greater Toronto Area, but for the millions of tourists that visit our city; North America’s fourth largest, every year. This would mean more income for the city. As a destination point, people spend money at hotels, restaurants, taxis, and so on. There would be a trickle down effect on our city’s economy.

3. It is an educational marvel. The main purpose of the planetarium is to educate people on astronomy and space. This means children having classroom trips, and families having educational and entertaining outings that everyone can enjoy. I know people today that still recall their class being brought to the planetarium and how amazing it was. But the educational aspects don’t end with children. People of all ages can learn about space. If you want to know why learning about astronomy and space is important, read Marissa Rosenberg’s essay over here.

4. The Location is ideal. The location is perfect in terms of being a cultural destination that is easily accessible for both locals and tourists. It is situated next to the Royal Ontario Museum, and across from the Ceramic Museum. It is located at a major intersection in the downtown area, next to shops and a subway station. Currently, the only planetarium open to the public is at the Ontario Science Center, which is far less accessible to both residents and tourists.

5. It has other practical uses. The planetarium could also play host to a plethora of entertainment and corporate uses like concerts, business conferences, academic lectures, public speaking events and many other special events for the corporate world as well as the Arts community. The rentals would all add to a substantial revenue stream. Imagine seeing the upcoming JJ Abram’s Star Wars trilogy (hopefully without Jar Jar), or a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (if it ever gets made) premieres at TIFF, with the planetarium hosting? The applications are endless, and only limited by the imagination.

star_trek Star Trek Exhibit at the Planetarium. Photo by Robert Cook.

6. The majority of Torontonians want it back. A recent Toronto Star poll stated a majority of Toronto residents want the planetarium saved. This poll, alongside recent media coverage and a fast growing grassroots movement all point to the fact that the majority in this city want to protect and restore this landmark. Let’s face it, this has not been a good year for the city, with most of the world’s attention on our mayor and his substance abuse problems; saving our planetarium is an opportunity to restore our city’s image.

7. Most other world class cities have one. New York has several. Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and Winnipeg all have one. Last year, Montreal just built one. And right here in Ontario? You can find the Doran planetarium in Sudbury and the W.J MacCallion in Hamilton. In fact, it may be more difficult to find a major city without a planetarium. A planetarium isn’t just a building to look at planets. It’s a reflection of a city’s progress in taking on not just a world view, but a universal view. It’s a necessary staple to culture and education, much like a library, a museum or an art gallery. Imagine a city without any of those? How much would we lose as a vibrant, diverse culture?

8. It is a flagship for Science and Technology. A planetarium is a space that converges cutting edge technology, innovation and scientific exploration. It is the area of science that blends what we know and what we don’t know. While it’s important to remember that one of Ontario’s biggest celebrities is one Chris Hadfield, an astronaut that serenaded the world with Bowie’s Space Oddity from the International Space Station, it’s just as important to look at numbers. Toronto is Canada’s center for technology research and development. It’s home to 35% of the nation’s tech industry. Shouldn’t a city with such a distinct tech community have a planetarium?

9. The University of Toronto has a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the planetarium. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the planetarium is a hub for scientific exploration and education, values that a leading post secondary facility has a duty to protect and foster. The second is that the planetarium got it’s namesake from Colonel R. Samuel McLaughlin. When he signed a cheque and handed it to the University of Toronto in 1964, it was intended to be for a planetarium. If we continuously demolished buildings that were donated by generous benefactors when they become inconvenient, and it’s simply easier to get quick cash from somewhere else to build something new, what’s the point in donating money to institutions in the first place? Agreements should be honoured, not discarded. Last week Peter Gilgan, former CEO of Mattamy Homes, gave a 30 million dollar donation to St. Michael’s hospital to build a brand new building in order to house critically ill patients. Should he worry about it being destroyed in 20 years to make way for a casino? It may sound incredulous, but what kind of precedent would be set if this move went forward?

10. A planetarium is the only place to look at stars in this city. Currently, Toronto has the highest number of highrise buildings under construction in North America. It may be great for the economy, and makes our downtown more livable. But what about heading out to the back yard, (or if you’re a condo resident, the roof) and looking up at stars…something that our ancestors have done since the dawn of time? Chances are, you won’t see much these days. And yet, it is the cornerstone of every civilization to look up and ask the fundamental existential questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What else is out there? With our skies crowded with towers, smog and light pollution, it has become almost impossible to star gaze in the GTA. This is another reason why we need a planetarium. As Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons would exclaim; Won’t someone please think of the children?

Helen_Lovejoy

Won’t it cost too much money?
It will cost money to restore and rebuild the planetarium. There would be a lot of work involved. But the alternative wouldn’t come cheap either. The cost of demolishing a building and erecting a new cultural complex would be a significant sum as well. The difference is that the planetarium would be a way to create a viable way to generate revenue not only for itself, but for the entire city. Remember, it was once one of the most profitable in this continent. A planetarium can be a rewarding landmark not just from a financial perspective, but in terms of cultural and educational benefits as well. These are things that this city and the millions of tourists that come to visit each year can all enjoy.

I went to one of the Laser Shows and thought it sucked.
Many attended the laser shows and enjoyed them tremendously. The planetarium was host to hundreds of exhibits, conferences and in later years, laser shows. The concept of destroying a building because someone deemed a show to be unworthy is both unfair and erroneous. That’s like saying, after taking your daughter and her three friends to the last One Direction concert, you wanted to eradicate the Rogers Center. It may be an understandable sentiment, but nevertheless, an unfair one to make, as there are any number of other shows at the same venue that are enjoyable and rewarding in their own way.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada. It is the economic capital of the country. It has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world, growing at an ever increasing rate. It is a city whose core values are unity, tolerance and progress. These are values that a planetarium encompasses and reflects. Toronto needs the McLaughlin Planetarium protected and restored. It’s time for the municipal, provincial and federal governments to step in. It’s time for local and national media to take notice, for philanthropists and regular citizens to weigh in and have their voices heard. It’s time to stand up for a crucial piece of our city’s history and an essential scientific, educational and cultural legacy for generations to come.

It may be our only chance, before another part of our past gets erased forever.

If you’d like to help out in saving and restoring Toronto’s historic McLaughlin Planetarium, you can sign the petition, or join the Facebook group.

Posted in Culture, entertainment, Science, Science Fiction, Technology | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Inside The Complex Science of Music: Emotional Vs. Cerebral Responses.

Here is a recent submission from guest writer Alex Tiuniaev. If you’re interested in contributing a post, music or story idea to DG, feel free to email me.

kandinsky_several_circles-black-lines Kandinsky’s Several Circles With Black Lines – Made popular in the 1993 film, Six Degrees of Separation. The artist famously painted in opposing styles on both sides of the canvas.

I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts on how I listen to music and how I interpret what I hear. What is it that makes some tracks “work” for me while others leave me uninspired? Of course, there’s no short answer. Sometimes it’s a vocal hook, sometimes a driving guitar part, sometimes a floating ambience or a pumping bass line. With every track it is different. However, after giving some thought to this and “analyzing” the way I perceive music, I’ve come to realize that I can clearly distinguish between the two types of music: what I call “thinking music” and “emotional music”.

“Emotional music” is probably the most obvious kind. This is the type of music that makes you feel good or makes you want to cry or just makes you feel like you’re flying through the sky and all your problems just seem to melt away. This music caters to the basic human emotions, and this is what you usually can hear on the mainstream radio. Of course, that does not exclude jazz or classical or any type of indie or alternative music. For instance, Bach’s “Air on the G string” or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or even Philip Glass’ fabulous score to the film “The Hours” are all — to me — examples of this type of music. As are Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” or U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” or Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” or even Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and, strangely, most of Sigur Ros’ catalogue as well. As you can see, very different music genres belong here. This doesn’t have to be pop music in the narrowest sense of the term but tracks belonging to this type usually have a strong sense of melody and/or harmony and quite simple chord progressions (although again, this is not mandatory) especially when compared to what is called “academic music” or some of the more complex forms of jazz.

“Thinking music”, on the other hand, may (especially on the first few listens) seem dull and uninteresting, or too complex to comprehend, and at times even outrageously dissonant and non-musical. However, as it caters more to our “logical” or “rational” mind, and sometimes to our imagination, with the right attitude and the right mindset it can start to blossom and open up a world of previously undiscovered musical treasures. Take Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”, for instance. Each piece is quite simple and “static” yet if you start to listen to the details and let the music carry you on a journey you might find that this album is one of the best works of modern music.

Most of Boards of Canada’s records belong here. Maybe they are not that complex when it comes to melody and harmony — as the basic building blocks in traditional music — yet they are highly “visual” and very unique in terms of “sound shaping” and their unorthodox usage of synthesizers and samples. Most of what is usually referred to as “20th century classical” music also belongs here (Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Erik Satie, and Arnold Schoenberg just to name a few). Seminal jazz records like Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” or John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” are outstanding examples of this kind of music (again, this is my personal opinion – other listeners may disagree). Listening to this type of music is like looking at an abstract painting (as opposed to realist or romantic art) or like drinking black coffee (as opposed to blackberry smoothie or vanilla milkshake).

It does not mean, however, that a piece of music or a song should be “classified” either as “emotional” or “thinking”. This is by no means a black-or-white world. There are thousands of records that have the characteristics of both of these categories in various proportions. The best music, to me, is the one that has both the “emotional” and the “thinking” components; and all of the above examples, of course, do contain both – it is just that one of the parts prevails over another. And it’s up to the listener to decide which one.

My favourite band is Sigur Ros. Why? Simply because they have mastered what I call the “avant-garde pop” genre. Their sound is pop enough for my taste but without being clichéd and sterile. You can listen to their songs purely for their “emotional” component yet an attentive listener will find many subtle details in their music that can satisfy a “logically oriented” person. The same is true of Radiohead. Or any other band that makes “musician’s music”. Because bringing out human emotions is a worthwhile undertaking but doing so tastefully and artfully is an even greater one.

P.S. All of the above is just my own thinking. It has no pretensions to be anything else. Music is subjective. Just like our tastes in liquid refreshments.

Alex Tiuniaev is a composer, producer and songwriter from Moscow, Russia. He composes music for various media (mainly, video games and online media) and releases original recordings in the ambient, electronic, rock and experimental genres.

Posted in art, Culture, electronica, entertainment, Ideas, Jazz, Music, Music Videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bright Lights, Big City: The Bid To Rescue a City’s Window to the Universe.

toronto_planetariumPhoto by Sean Decory

Some things are set in stone at an early age for some people. My grade three teacher must have recognized something significant in me for better, or more likely; for worse. On my annual report card she wrote in perfect blue ballpoint script, the way only grade three teachers can, the following summary of my tiny 8 year old brain. “Colm est un bon étudiant, mais il est toujours dans la lune.” Meaning; Colm is a good student, but is always on the moon. The die had been cast. The point of no return had unceremoniously been passed.

1984 The author, top row, second from left, pictured in 1984. Bold fashion choices and decidedly lunar ambitions.

There were two subsequent childhood experiences that began my lifelong love affair with science and space. The first was going to see James Cameron’s 1986 summer blockbuster film, Aliens. My mother took my friends and I one rainy summer afternoon, after being bamboozled by three unrelenting, hyperactive children. Against my mother’s better judgement, and despite it’s 18 plus restricted rating, my life was irrevocably changed that day inside our local cinema on Avenue Dorval in Montreal. The premise of the sci-fi/horror film incorporated marines in the future fighting off these incredible, seemingly indestructible, horrific H.R. Giger designed aliens. The film both terrified and repulsed me. It was fantastic.

aliens_movie

The second thing that made me fall in love with space was the McLaughlin Planetarium. It was a kind of junior astronomy course for tykes I took the first year after my family and I moved to Toronto. The scene of the crime was the Royal Ontario Museum on University Avenue. For my parents, it was a way to keep my twelve year old self busy, I knew. Still, as there seemed to be not much else to do, having left my life behind in a city six hours by car away, I gave in.

Although there was a classroom element to the after school program, I have a vivid memory of the first day I was ushered into the planetarium’s main room and casting my eyes on the monstrous projector placed in the center of it. Huge, dark and menacing with big black eye balls in every direction, it looked to me like a giant robotic insect. It was straight out of the movie Aliens. I expected it to shoot acid or laser beams at me, incinerating me at any second. Petrified, I was sweating profusely in that darkened theatre, glad that it was so dark, so no-one could see how scared I was. And when I saw that night sky appear above me for the fist time, I was mesmerized. I didn’t understand how they did it. I still don’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZeiss Planetarium Projector in Montreal, courtesy of Wikipedia. Similar to Toronto’s. Acid not included.

I revisited the planetarium in my teens, this time with far less educational ambitions in mind. This time it was to check out the Laser Floyd and Laser Bowie shows. The concept of these laser concerts, designed by a Florida based firm called Audio Visual Imagineering, was to showcase iconic music with an incredible, state of the art light show courtesy of the projector. Both shows literally blew the collective brains of my friends and myself.

I was thinking about both those two early memories when I first heard that they were going to demolish the building. It’s always in the presence of losing something forever, that you remember why it held so much value to you in the first place.

The planetarium first opened it’s doors October 26, 1968 thanks to a grant by Colonel R. Samuel McLaughlin, who founded one of the first car manufacturers in the country. It featured a thirteen foot, Zeiss Jena Projector designed in East Germany. It remained open for 27 years, allowing all of five million people a chance to gaze at stars and learn about the universe.

Ultimately, despite it being one of the only profitable North American planetariums in operation, it fell victim to one Mike Harris. The former grade seven math teacher and ski instructor turned Premier of Ontario had developed a so-called Common Sense Revolution; a platform styled after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. This resulted in many cuts, among them the historic planetarium. It was swiftly dismantled. The historic projector was reportedly sold to York University for the sum of one dollar.

The planetarium for me was the first time I was presented with a world outside of my own. It provided an escape and a sense of wonder that are such an important experience not just for children, but for people of all ages. In a city whose skies are obscured daily with fresh, rectangular towers of concrete and glass, and a world divided by politics, religion, and greed, shouldn’t we save a small spot where we have a chance to dream of something larger than ourselves?

The University of Toronto, which bought the building in 2004, are planning on razing the planetarium and erecting a cultural center. If you’re interested in helping out and signing a petition to prevent the McLaughlin from being destroyed and restoring it to it’s former glory, go here. There is also a Facebook page you can join and share with your friends, family and co-workers.

Posted in Culture, longform, Science, Science Fiction, Technology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Troubled Ghosts of Motown’s Past & The Lonely Death of a French Street Artist.

Fredrick_Douglass_Housing_Project_Towers_2010Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

It was cool and cloudy in Detroit that day. There was a light rain that dusted the city’s cracked sidewalks with a wet sheen an hour before another body had been found. There were a total of four murders that day, all by gunshot. Even though the city had been enjoying a slow decline in crime; a strong 17% reduction in homicides since the year previous. The numbers certainly appear promising, but a close look at the details behind cold, anonymous crime stats, and that same glimmer of hope almost vanishes. On Monday, July 29, 2013, a 65 year old man was robbed at gunpoint while mowing his lawn. He got shot but luckily, survived. Later that night, a 46 year old male asked his neighbour to turn down his stereo. The resulting retort was a barrel of a gun, and a bullet that snuffed out another life.

brewster1Photo courtesy of Steve Neavling of Motor City Mudracker.

A few hours before, an unidentified young man was found lying on the ground unresponsive at 2:50PM at the corner of St. Antoine and Alfred, an area bordered by overgrown vacant lots, once housing a baseball field, and empty, windowless, graffiti sprayed towers and 2 story homes, boarded up by a combination of faded plywood and lost dreams. The Major Crimes report cited his body having sustained “major trauma”. The truth was that he had been shot in the face. This was the second John Doe found murdered on the mean streets of Detroit that day. Without any identification on his person, he would remain unclaimed and unidentified for several long months, before a determined investigator noticed his european footwear and ran his fingerprints through an international database.

The intersection of St. Antoine and Alfred would have been a lonely one in July of that year, but it wasn’t always so. Known as the Brewster-Douglass Projects, the area was once the largest residential housing project owned by the city, with a long cultural history, beginning with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on hand to signify the first federally funded housing development for African Americans.

supremes The Supremes re-visit the Brewster Projects. Photo courtesy of the Maysles Institute.

Less than 2 decades later, in 1951, the development expanded with the creation of 4 identical, 15 floor towers. It was home to several huge Motown legends including Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson and screen actress Lily Tomlin. But as time passed, poverty, drugs and crime spread throughout the complex, forcing many of it’s residents to flee. By 1990, the Brewster projects were 64% empty. The towers, looming high over the I-375 highway, had become a symbol of failure for a city desperate to bury the past and build a future for itself. In 2012, they were slated for demolition. But in 2013, the same year that Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history, some were still standing…attracting scrappers, graffiti artists, urban explorers, and of course, the gangs and criminals that still roam the area.

bilal_berrani Photo courtesy of Berreni Family.

Bilal Berreni was a quiet, thoughtful artist with boundless energy who also went by Zoo Project as a moniker. He first broke ground on the street art scene in the 15th Arrondissement in Paris, close to where the 23 year old was born. Partially colour blind, he preferred to get his political and social commentaries across with stark black ink. His work took him across Europe all the way to Siberia, but his career really blew up large when he traveled to Tunisia and painted life size portraits of the victims of a revolution, then onto a refugee camp near the Libyan border. The work drew the attention of international news. He later traveled throughout the US, first sleeping in parks and working at a Pizzeria in New York, then hopping trains and finding himself in Detroit. He had spent his final days painting, writing and collecting building materials. According to his father, he was determined to find what could be born out of chaos.

zoo project A work by Zoo Project AKA Bilal Berreni, on the streets of Paris.

Some of that chaos unfortunately found it’s way onto Bilal’s path one day. On Wednesday, September 3rd, four young men were charged with his murder. One of them, a 14 year old boy.

‘One day, I saw him drawing in Paris’, Bilal’s father (Mourad Mourani) remarked. He said, “Look, Daddy,” and he remained silent,’ he also said. ‘He was painting a bunch of guys typing on computers all connected one to another to say that they are all dependent, an absurd society. That was Bilal.’

Sources: Detroit Police Department, Wikipedia, Historic Detroit, Detroit Free Press.

Other DG Longform Reads:
Pinball Wizards & Hardcore Gamers :: A Love Letter to Video Arcade Days Gone By
Punk: Chaos 2 Couture :: Lessons Learned From The Show at the Met

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Fallen Leaves & Fresh New Vibes :: Genius + Mr Lies.

mister lies - flood you

I just headed up north to cottage country for the last weekend of the summer. Yesterday, I got up just after dawn, and eased myself into the cold, clear lake water for the last time, my feet slipping on smooth stones before I dived in completely, swimming quickly out to the small moored wooden dock about a hundred metres out. I climbed up and sat there with my feet in the water and looked out onto the lake. I knew it was going to be the last time this season. But for once, I wasn’t sad about it. As you get older you realize that without change, things get stagnant. They get stale. As humans also, we need to try new things; we need to evolve to stay relevant. So in the spirit of change, here are two recent submissions that signify new directions from artists.

Mister Lies – Flood You/ Medusa
Nick Zanca AKA Mister Lies has been working on a new album for some time now. It should be out October through Orchid Tapes. It’s called Shadow, and you can pre-order it here. Although Flood You/Medusa (mastered by Warren Hildebrand) is a self-release, it’s been cited as a teaser to the new album. Orchid has also dropped Deepend, a track off the new record. The whole thing is more ethereal and dreamy than False Astronomy days, and it’s still very, very good.

Genius – Vowels
Just off the heels of his debut album, Genius is already hard at work, diversifying from his re-edits and remixing and onto creating fresh material. It’s a departure that’s sometimes tricky for other producers, but not this one. Genius went back to school and he’s already aced his A,B,C’s and is onto vowels and conjugation. The results are delightfully offbeat irreverance and left of center bouncy beat goodness. Change can be good.

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Snakehips :: After I Met U :: Dopeness Re-Defined.

snakehips

(UPDATE:: Snakehips have recently revealed an upcoming Fall US/Canada Tour. For dates & venues, go here. In celebration of this occasion, they’ve also dropped a sick new mix via Hypetrack aptly titled Coming To America. Check it Below.)

After I Met U is a track that has been a crowd favourite (and rightly so) at live gigs by producer duo Snakehips. They’ve finally made it available online just over two weeks ago. It’s a song that samples heavily from Cheri Dennis’ I Love You until 2 minutes in when they drop some JLo in there from Get Right. Of course, all of it comes with some added fresh beats and a sprinkle of that trademark Snakehips glitch on top. Does it work? Unbelievably so. This is dopeness re-defined, homie.

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Yousef :: A-Minor Remix :: Float Away.

a_minor4

After hearing the latest A-Minor remix for Float Away, I realized something almost immediately. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew something just wasn’t right about it. So I listened to it again. And again. After about the sixth time, I realized what the issue was. It’s just too perfect. Too smooth. Too slick. But it’s hard to hate on something for being too perfect though, isn’t it? Better to just give in, and let that warm, gentle current take you where it wants to, and surrender. It’s easy to see how Yousef has identified this version as his favourite remix out there.

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