BCeSIS Must Die

BCeSIS is a nightmarish grade-reporting program mandated for use in all BC schools. When droves of teachers began to report problems with the program, the British Columbia government spent over $50 million to fix it, with basically no results. It’s buggy, heavy-handed, and reminiscent of software from the early 1990′s. This is what we use to create your children’s report cards that attempt to guide them through the formative years of their lives.

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Any business would quickly ask why anyone would use something so pathetic across the province. There are twitter accounts and YouTube videos dubbed over old German WW2 movies (see below) dedicated to mocking and berating the existence of this digital problem package. In private industry, an agile, user-friendly, service-oriented competitor would have quickly pitched their platform and earned the contract. Alas, red tape and provincial mandates.

And today, in the middle of report card writing season, BCeSIS won’t even open on any of my internet browsers, since it was built on an old version of Java and the update renders it inaccessible.

It’s bitter, ridiculous irony: a report-writing program designed to “support student achievement” has done so little towards that goal; I would go so far as to say BCeSIS has negatively affected reporting in British Columbia. The space it provides teachers to summarize the total personal, intellectual, social and emotional learning of their students is an inadequate three sentences. The amount of headaches caused to teachers during report writing weeks and weekends have been enough to begin the next week of teaching exasperated and grumpy. This software is supposed to make our jobs easier, not harder.

And with the incredible amount of great tech start-ups even right in Vancouver (like the world-class Hootsuite) almost anyone could have done it better. Imagine a beautiful, local solution we could be proud of. But somehow, in this stupid catastrophe, we have ended up with a worthless and meaningless platform produced by a technology company whose work in general has been less than superior; technology which makes us feel like we’re doing data entry on lab rats or testing out retro software that feels like you should have accessed it using MS-DOS prompt.

Government of British Columbia, I implore you. Quickly axe BCeSIS as suggested in 2011. This living nightmare has lasted long enough.

Kyross – EP

If you haven’t heard of Kyross, it’s for two understandable reasons: First, he’s 16, and second, this is his first EP. Still in high school, he’s been honing his production skills remixing. You can hear all that on Soundcloud.

With the help of Midwest Collective, Maple Ridge-based Kyross released this 3-track EP that combines R&B grooves with gritty electronica and floating ambiences.

I might also mention that he’s a student at the school I teach at, so I’m proud of him pursuing what he’s passionate about. Listen here, pay what you will at Bandcamp.

Hanzane Skimboards: Custom Artistry Meets Recreation

This summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Siemens and Nick Niebuhr, the duo behind Hanzane Skimboards, based out of White Rock, BC. Their boards are handcrafted and handpainted. Each board is unique. And they sell for less than the competition . . . what’s with that?

Kyle Lynch Creative

Kyle Lynch Creative

CK: How did this all start?

Hanzane: We looked up how to create a board online! I took a piece of plywood, cut it into shape, soaked it for a couple days, clamped it and let it dry, painted and varnished it and it was good to go. That’s how Hanzane started. Our first challenge was finding a base material that was strong enough to withstand rubbing against the sand and rocks; that’s where we’ve had the most innovation and change. Now, our skimboards are a wood core with fibreglass on the bottom and sealer on top. We bought some tools and learned from others too. We’ve had this board shape for about two years now.

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CK: Do your boards differ from other companies’ boards?

Hanzane: In size, our boards are a couple inches different but the shape is fairly standard. Some people do asymmetrical shapes with a distinct nose and tail but we think having both ends symmetrical gives you a longer lasting board because you don’t wear down one end so fast. We’ve changed our shapes a little bit and this year we’re working with boards that are a little bigger so they don’t sink as easily in deep water. I’ve tried to use what I know from my own style of riding; hopefully people will like that.

CK: Starting with the art, a lot of things stand out about Hanzane.

Hanzane: Our boards are handcrafted and handpainted. The art is one thing; there’s also the process and the pricing. A pretty standard company in skimboarding will sell their stuff for about $180 plus tax. They will also make cheaper beginner boards. Our boards are $120, so we’re significantly cheaper while putting out a quality product. While established companies use more mechanization, that isn’t necessary for the quality of the board.

CK: Who does the art and how does it get onto the boards?

Hanzane: We prime and paint directly on the wood surface and finish it with a heavy-duty sealer. Each board is unique. We will also create custom designs based on the customer’s idea and preference. Chris (Siemens) does a lot of the art but we have art from Laura Klassen, Tessa Nickel, Catherine Bennington, Nick, and several others.

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

hanzane3CK: If someone wants to have you create a new original design, is that an extra charge?

Hanzane: We charge about ten bucks extra for that.

CK: So, for ten dollars I could get an original custom design, and the board is still cheaper than the competition’s?

Hanzane: Exactly, We pride ourselves in every board being different. There are a lot of companies -skateboard, skimboard, snowboard- who just do lines of standard identical boards. We do create some stencils, which are reusable, but none of them is identical.

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CK: Your stencilled boards remind me of POGs! They’re all a little different. I want to collect them all.

Hanzane: [Laughs] That’s awesome!

CK: Do you have a website that people can buy from?

Hanzane: The majority of our boards have sold to people in the local area but we’re beginning to get request from other provinces. Our boards sell through a website called skimbc.com

We have a lot of fun doing this. It’s something we enjoy and we try to make a point to not worry too much about making a profit but in taking joy in the riding and making of skimboards and making sure that those two things never become disconnected. We don’t want to turn into a factory that cranks them out and doesn’t care about what happens afterward. We love making things by hand and doing it ourselves rather than outsourcing. We also try to make a point of connecting and communicating with each customer so the whole process is congruent. Our focus is doing skimboarding and woodworking well.

Find Hanzane on Facebook. 

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Art by Jon Janzen (Sunblind)

Brocken Spectre – Grand Kids EP

Followers of the Vancouver music scene will need to give this album its due this summer, because Brocken Spectre just levelled up. The release of Grand Kids EP is exactly what fans would want: right-on-target studio takes of songs they’ve heard live. The band calls its own offerings avant-pop; It’s Neapolitan in flavour: hopefully it’s the sort of freshness that will save us from the deeply adulterated indie-as-a-genre phase. Stripped down, it’s drum kit, guitar and bass, occasional robotic synths, and a stirring voice.

Either they arranged with Mario and Luigi for a shipment of golden mushrooms this year, or it could have something to do with more live performance experience; gains in confidence for the band reveal themselves in brave explorations of their musical territory. Colin Ablitt traverses the upper and lower (rock bottom) limits of his range, while Colin Campbell (drummer) teaches floor toms the greatness they were destined for.

Exploration is a word that could describe this album. The second EP produced by the band, it is mostly the translation of live songs into studio ones, and that’s pretty satisfying. Sonically it contains strong pieces; some parts are catchy as a fishhook.

All parts played by this four-piece from Burnaby/Coquitlam fuse together to produce the slightly dark oft-performed “Marionette King”, with Ablitt’s strong melody lines and Nic Campbell’s crisp guitar work that make the song stand out.

Opening song “Frost”, a fan favourite at shows, translates nicely into studio with the sense of the drums not being lost, the harmonies of the song resolving as usual from minor-keyed trisyllabics into a full-hearted rouser. “Steam Hands” jungle-drum opening glides unexpectedly into blissful alternative rock a la The Decembrists and reveals some strengths of the band.

Repulsed by redundancy, it’s an album of surprises. Sometimes the vocals have a folksy colour to them and sometimes they’re alt-pop. Spectre is good at locking into a groove and equally skilled at recreating it. Andrew Cleasby’s bass keeps the tracks anchored while Colin Campbell drums interesting and cleverly-placed rhythms.

It’s this final, somewhat-Fleet-Foxes-inspired “Corlioghost” that is most striking. Opening with its three-part harmonies and plodding synths, the track develops awestruck lyrics like: “I’ve been fascinating on you for some time now…lion, come and catch me”. It packs a punch in its diversity, changing and fading only after a drum, bass and guitar interlude that is a concert staple for the band.

“Anteros & I” is unexpected. This grungy piece explores the gravel floor of Ablitt’s vocals and drags a little, but the song upshifts gears and becomes incredibly enjoyable after he takes a turn for his more familiar upper reaches. Tight stick work from Campbell drives it forward; indeed, it contains some of the most memorable harmonies and rhythms on the whole album.

With the release of this EP, new material is to be expected from the band, and as mentioned in my last interview with them, a possible entry into Vancouver’s prestigious Peak Performance Project. In the meantime, enjoy the places Brocken Spectre has explored on this EP.

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Holobody – Riverhood

Holobody - Riverhood - cover

 

If only I knew sooner that simply typing “Canada” into Bandcamp’s search bar would bring incredible music like this to my ears, I wouldn’t have waited so excruciatingly long.

Riverhood is one of the most creative albums I have ever heard, and I do not say this lightly. It’s the work of Montreal’s highly talented Luke Loseth (aka Felix Green), Charlotte Loseth (aka Sea Oleena) and others listed on their Bandcamp page.

The production is incredible. At any given moment, the sound is a flawlessly layered cake; an auditory delight: vocals reverberating, bass marching, synths spiralling up and down, and an incredible array of ambient sounds – claps, old European radio broadcasts, pianos, glass bottles, and the like.

Genre? “No” is the band’s apt reply. “Sonic exploration”.

Pick this album up. You’ll love what you discover.

Get Riverhood directly from the artist for $8 here: holobody.bandcamp.com

The Dare – Gina Williams

She’s a singer, a pianist, an actress, and an educator. After shelving her master’s degree in Piano performance for a decade, Gina Williams “dared” herself to perform again at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey, BC, Canada on October 20, 2012. The Dare is a 65-person multi-genre performance. Tickets are available at the door. For all other details, watch!

Gina Williams – The Dare October 20th from Craig Ketchum on Vimeo.

We Make Stuff, Volume 1

Art collective We Make Stuff has released their first volume; it’s a beautiful book.

Volume One showcases artists from the Vancouver area.

You can purchase your copy here.