Thursday, 19 May 2011

Poo Font returns. It is now a book

You thought you had scrubbed it clean from the porcelain rim of your memory banks, but no - Poo Font makes an explosive return!

Yes, Arne Gutmann's masterpiece of typography has now been included in a self-published book.

All 26 letters of the alphabet in their original form are featured in all its excremental glory in Gutmann's debut book. B is for Book is totally disgusting and ready for inclusion in your personal library.

"I had always dreamt that I would (make a book) once I finished the font," he says. "I saw one of the features at the bottom of iPhoto there and thought, this is just for me."

For those out of the loop, Poo Font is a font made from poo. Gutmann discovered one day, 20 years ago, that he had a particular knack for producing fully formed letters of the alphabet thanks to a "really good" digestive system. Over the next two decades, he photographed each digestive offering with the intention of creating a complete font. As of March, that goal was achieved.

"(My wife) was getting kind of bored with it but now she sees that it's almost kind of a movement and we have to keep the train to speak," he says.

He's found through Google and Twitter searches that people are talking about his project but it has yet to go viral.

He has big plans for his little book. The three-by-2.4 inch book is merely for promotion, and Gutmann says plans are already underway for an expanded, coffee-table book-sized format that will include original photographs of the letters, the black and white true font, the punctuation and brief write-ups for each one. He plans to call it The Red Flag Book after a Seinfeld episode where George is forced to buy an expensive art book after taking it into a bookstore bathroom. He hopes to have it completed by the end of the month.

Gutmann's font, while disturbing, is a certain type of genius - not in the work itself but in the human reactions to it. Showing the book to people is an experiment in psychology where most react with utter disgust and frank curiosity. B is for Book proves that humans, as decent as they claim to be, will always be attracted to the weird and repulsive.

While some people have raised skepticism that Gutmann's letters have been doctored or manipulated, he claims that what you see is exactly as he found it.

"The only reason some of them look obscure is because the bowl of the toilet obscures the full amount, so I have to cut that off (with Photoshop) and use what's there," he says.


Eager Gutmann fans can purchase B is for Book for $20 through Gutmann's website, Who knows? It could be a collector's item one day.

And no, sorry folks, the book is not a scratch and sniff.

Who is Cameron Chu?

It's a Friday night and Cameron Chu, the Bearfoot Bistro's resident pianist, is making love to his piano., no. Get your mind out of the gutter. Let's say he's making that piano love. Better? The piano loves the room, with sweet, sweet jazz, rolling through the restaurant like a leaf riding on the wind. The patrons - they sit at their tables, enjoying their wine, yakking at their wives, boyfriends, whatever. Few of them, if any, are paying any direct attention to this amorous piano but once Chu lifts his fingers from the keys, there's a noticeable shift in ambiance. It leaves a void to be filled by recorded jazz numbers playing over the P.A.

It's not the same thing at all. Like all professional musicians, Chu knows how to command a room. A musician needs a certain kind of emotional intelligence, or instinct, to feel if the room is, y'know, "happening." Chu is always looking around.

"Every gig is different," he says. "If you want to stay working, you just have to be flexible. What I do here, I won't necessarily do somewhere else."

Chu's repertoire is massive - it's too big to even put a number on how many pieces he knows by heart. He plays show, swing, jazz, pop, reggae and top 40. He could play heavy metal if it were necessary but would prefer not to. The man is a professional musician win the purest sense - classically trained, astute and skeptical of modern pop.

"Regardless of what the gig is, you have got to be looking around, even if you're on stage," he says. "A lot of performers now, they have a set list and that's it. But a lot of the older performers, they had a set list but they'd watch the crowd. That set list gets changed on the fly."

Born and raised in Vancouver he studied - surprise! - piano music at the Vancouver Academy of Music. After completing that program, he earned a degree in biology at UBC but the ivory keys kept on a-callin'. He's played in dozens of bands over the years and has met some of the great jazz musicians: Ray Brown, for one, would steal his bass amp, preferring Chu's to his own. That was all part of travelling with a band - the circles are small and all the players travel along a circuit. Chu says great connections are made during layovers.

But Chu never warmed up to the travelling thing. He says he never felt settled. He never had the time to practice properly, so he eventually settled in Whistler, where he'd played in the 1980s. Opportunity presented itself in the form of a promising new restaurant - the Bearfoot Bistro. Fifteen years later, he's one of the restaurant's original team members.

And tonight, well, tonight seems like a good night. He's feeling a bit playful.

"I'm playing a bit more aggressive tonight," he says.

Righto, but...wait....what? In what sense? He's not rolling out Metallica tunes here. His fingers flaying those keys, heating the room with his warm, supple jazz can hardly be described as particularly aggressive...can it?

He nods. "It's a little bit quick paced. The last tune was a bit quick for this time. Normally I would save that for later in the night. Sometimes you just have to see what the room's going to do."

It's taken hard work, a lot of years - not to mention a whole lot of practicing - to get where he is. He practices three to four hours, every day.

"You need to master your instrument," he says. "Before you even get into the musicianship, you need to master your instrument. You should be commanding your instrument, not the other way around. You have to own the guitar you should be able to make that guitar talk. That guitar should not make you struggle."

The instrument - like the camera for a photographer, like the brush for the painter - should be an extension of the fingers. The way Chu manipulates those keys - So clean! So smooth! - It's a wonder Chu isn't playing some prominent jazz bar in Manhattan.

He could have gone to New York. The opportunity is always there. He knows plenty of people there but there's something about Whistler that a New York, a London, even a Vancouver can never provide. Call it quality of life. Call it a measure of security that a talented jazz musician, only one of a handful in town, can work on the regular. He's earned his reputation in town.

It's why the Bearfoot, an internationally recognized fine dining restaurant, calls him week after week. It's why his name appears in the music listings of this paper. It's why he's worth doing a story on. The man is worth the price of dinner at least.

A favourable truth

Hand it to Al Gore for inspiring a generation of environmental films that shame humanity into re-thinking our impacts on the planet. While it's (sort of?) working, An Inconvenient Truth and its dreary counterparts can be a depressing viewing experience.

Which makes Puppet State Theatre Company's adaptation of The Man Who Planted Trees all the more appealing in this day of heightened environmental awareness. Add the fact that the story is told through puppetry and you have yourself a different kind of tale.

"It's a positive environmental story, it's not the type of story that makes you feel bad. It's not doom-laden," says Richard Medrington, founder of and performer in Puppet State.

Jean Giono first published his tale of a tree-planting shepherd who brings a deserted valley back to life in 1953, under its original title, The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness. In 1987, it was adapted as an animated short and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Medrington, a seasoned puppeteer, discovered the story in 2005 and adapted it to the stage with his colleague, Rick Conte. They used the shepherd's dog as the narrator, cutting out the anonymous man used in Giono's original, to round out the drama with humour and improvisation.

"We felt that it was a story that needed to be told and we were looking for a new show to do," Medrington says.

For the last five years, Medrington and Conte have taken the show to cities around the world, garnering rave reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote in a review last November, "The language and cadence of the show is pitched at adults; there's no talking down to the audience."

In those five years, environmental awareness has increased in the Western world and as a result, Medrington says he has noticed shifts in audience appreciation for The Man Who Planted Trees, most notably from the adults.

"People are just very moved by it sometimes. People stand with tears at the end of it. (They) say so afterward, that they were crying," Medrington says.

He adds, "I think it's an extraordinary story that (Giono) wrote because it's so simple, but it had layers of meaning to it. I keep having revelations to it while I'm doing the show... and it's not always specifically environmental things that I get out of it, it's just general life lessons."

Medrington says that humour plays a big role in carrying the play, which might otherwise buckle under the weight of its own message. The dog is used to lighten the load.

"Any kind of performance where you press the same button over and over again, people get weary," Medrington says. "If it's hitting the same area of the human brain, you just get tired. You've got to have variety."

And variety it has. They use that to shape the story's dimensions while using sound effects and smells, such as with lavender floating into the audience. Medrington says he wants to give as much variety in the performance as possible, so nothing goes on for too long.

"We're still striving to get it right. We've probably done it nearly 1,500 times now and it's always different, the audience is always different, new things come and old things leave and come back again. We try to keep it fresh. That's the challenge for us as performers, having done it so often," he says.

Pray for a casino and maybe it'll come

A casino! In Whistler? What a novel idea.

There has been absolutely no talk about it from town planners, at least not that the public has heard, and any time the topic comes up in conversation people are vehemently opposed to the idea.

The main argument is that it doesn't fit the image that Whistler has created for itself - but what about it doesn't fit?

Whistler is a tourist mill and if we want to keep the turnstiles active there needs to be every variety of experience attracting visitors. This needs to extend beyond just family experiences. As Las Vegas knows all too well, families don't bring in the dollars.

That's not to say Whistler should become Sin City North in order to thrive, but it needs to start thinking outside of family-friendly-only programming. Whistler at present does not provide a whole lot for adults to do after dinner, except for nightclubbing, an activity that, on the whole, loses its appeal a) after one or two nights in a row and b) once people turn 30. Whistler is actually kind of boring. If it wants to thrive, it needs to cast its net much wider.

A casino is a good place to start because it's not just a casino - it's a restaurant, it's a bar, it's a theatre. With a new venue will come increased programming and, depending on the success of the casino, that programming could be more world-class on a more regular basis than this town currently provides. A casino is, in short, is a people-attracting, entertainment-compounding moneymaker.

In British Columbia, host local governments earn 10 per cent of a casino's revenue. In the 2009/10 year, the provincial government distributed $81.9 million to these communities. Between July 1999 and March 31, 2011, Penticton earned over $21 million. Nanaimo earned over $32 million in that same period. Prince George - $24 million-plus. Richmond - $93 million. Fort St. John - over $2 million, and that's in a very remote location in B.C.'s north.

Now that Canada has approved destination status in China, Whistler has the opportunity to pull in - and profit from - a new type of tourist coming to Canada, but right now the town has very little to keep Chinese tourists in Whistler for more than a day. They get off the bus, they take some pictures, they get on the bus and go back to the city. And the Chinese - they love to gamble. Macau, located on the southern tip of China, is the biggest and most successful gambling destination in the world, pulling in revenues of $24 billion in 2010 - way above Las Vegas. Whistler, and indeed Canada, needs a very good reason for Chinese tourists to spend their coin across the ocean. Vancouver city council, in its rejection last month of a massive casino along False Creek, aborted a potentially massive cash cow.

Whistler's strongest appeal right now is the regional market, but it's completely missing the people who don't care about the great outdoors. Metro Vancouver residents have their own "great outdoors" to appreciate. They need other reasons to come up.

There would be a definite dark side. Casinos can bring out in a community a certain desperation that might not otherwise exist. The underbelly of Whistler may flop over topside. But try as we might, Whistler cannot stave the ugliness off forever. It's the nature of growing up. The hardships, they breed evils. Where there's a yin, there's a yang. How we confront and deal with those evils will determine what sort of presence it has in the community. Whistler is fortunate in that it's still very young in 2011, with over a century of mistakes in urban planning to learn from.

We can't have it both ways. If we want tourists to come, we need to give them every reason to make the hour and a half trek from Vancouver. The mountains are good enough for the people who live here but as we now know, they're not good enough for everyone else.

It's astonishing that, even in a global recession, Whistler has attracted millions of people based on its outdoor offerings alone. But it's not enough. It never has been enough and that's what the Cultural Tourism Development Strategy is about. Building a casino could be a part of that strategy. It's time to start thinking about what the town needs to maximize its financial successes.