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3. Wheels of Steel: The Rolling Record Store
South by Southwest 2011: Baking in the oppressive swelter of the midday Austin sun, you round a corner to find a massive, gleaming, aureate cube of a vehicle. Emblazoned with the Third Man Records emblem across its side, this former DHL delivery truck — now christened the Rolling Record Store — is making its debut at the annual all-things-indie fest.
Third Man Records — the Nashville-based label founded by Jack White, his nephew Ben Blackwell and White's longtime partner-in-crime Ben Swank — has garnered an especially voracious flock of fans. Some of them are audiophiliac vinyl fetishists, some are White Stripes superfans. But nearly all of them, it seems, want a peek inside the Third Man shop — into White's mystifying chocolate factory, with all its special-edition and limited releases and buzzed-about live performances.
But not all TMR fans can make the trek to Nashville. So, White & Co. thought, why not bring the shop to them?
"We were doing all these pop-up shops, and we were just getting requests from everybody to do them in different towns and things like that," Swank says. "It just kind of evolved from that. This was wholly Jack's idea, to do the truck. ... We just wanted to get it in different places so A) we don't have to invest all the money in doing pop-up shops all the time, and B) just because it's actually a lot cooler and easier to do. [Laughs.]"
The Ford E450 was already yellow, but Third Man sent it to a customization shop in Cincinnati, where it was repainted and fitted with miniaturized versions of all the amenities of the permanent shop: gold-colored tin ceiling tiles, yellow wall paneling and even a "marshmallow couch," as Swank puts it. The Rolling Record Store is also outfitted with a small sound system for DJ sets and live performances — like the one at South by Southwest, in which cult-status blues-folk artist Seasick Steve played a live set in front of the truck. (Afterward, White himself played two songs for the zealous sea of Third Man loyalists who had gathered to peep his new ride.) The truck even carries a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder — Swank characterizes it as being relatively "primitive," but something they can potentially use to archive performances for a later release.
Throughout the remainder of the summer and into the fall, Third Man tentatively plans to send the Rolling Record Store to more music festivals — most notably MI Fest, Orlando Calling and the Voodoo Music Experience, all of which Third Man flagship band The Raconteurs are playing. Swank says they'll continue to stock the truck with merch and Third Man releases, primarily the ones from the past year and in-demand items like White Stripes 7-inch reissues.
In the meantime, Third Man Records is hosting the Nashville Cream — that's the Scene's music blog — Fifth Anniversary Party on Aug. 20 (see story on p. 47). And maybe — just maybe — you'll be able to sneak a peek of the big yellow beast there. D. PATRICK RODGERS
4. Atomic Bug Spray: VUAA1 Insect Repellant
We have Ralph Waldo Emerson to blame for the cliche, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." (In fairness to the Transcendentalist, that's actually a misquote.) While they haven't perfected the mousetrap on West End, a team of entomological researchers at Vanderbilt, led by molecular biologist Laurence Zwiebel, may have developed a new way to repel an even more bothersome pest: the mosquito.
Zwiebel's team claims to have discovered an insect repellant thousands of times more effective than DEET, the long-time industry standard for insect deterrence. The compound — Vanderbilt University Allosteric Agonist Number One (or VUAA1, in the interest of brevity) — uses a technique familiar to anyone who's ever been subjected to a poorly mixed noise band or been packed into a small space with a friend who went a little heavy on the atomizer: It overwhelms the meager sensory system of ye crawling ferlie.
Mosquitoes — and a number of other insects — don't smell the same way we upright, walking, fully frontal-lobed vertebrates do. They have a sort of two-step system: Their antennae are lined with receptors, each "tuned" to a different odor — grass, waste, danger and, most importantly, blood; once those detectors are set off, the second set of receptors then guides the little beastie to paydirt — usually your scrumptious blood vessels.
This new compound sets off all of those first-level receptors simultaneously. The insects, suddenly primed to sense everything, basically detect nothing but olfactory noise. VUAA1 basically blows their little insect minds.
"It could overwhelm the insect's sense of smell, creating a repellant effect akin to stepping onto an elevator with someone wearing too much perfume, except this would be far worse for the mosquito," post-doc fellow Patrick Jones explains.
Here in the States, a new level of effective mosquito repellant is welcome enough news, but that's not what Zweibel's team was looking for.
Their research — ongoing for six years — was funded via a grant from the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, funded by the Foundation for the NIH, ultimately through a grant from the charitable arm of Mr. Microsoft himself: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates Foundation has long been seeking ways to eradicate malaria in the developing world, and while drainage and DEET (which simply masks the scent of humans) have done their part, there's more to do.
Zweibel's folks are now working with Vandy's Drug Discovery Program to get rid of all the parts of VUAA1 that don't actually contribute to its use, and then there's round after round of toxicity tests. Vanderbilt went ahead and filed the patent, and any future profits from the compound go to the World Health Organization and back into research per the Gates Foundation grant agreement.
Even if VUAA1 doesn't prove viable for widespread use, the research at Vanderbilt has the potential to shape future research on mosquito repellant — and the world will beat a path to West End, indeed. J.R. LIND
5. Deaf Jam: The Porter East Development
Bookended by Montessori East at one end and Cooper's gastropub at the other, the row of shops and other businesses that comprise the Porter East development in East Nashville looks much like any other retail strip in the city. But just to the right of J + HP — the husband-and-wife-owned boutique where two mannequins occupy the front window, one wearing a smart bow tie, the other a stylishly upcycled vintage dress — a frosted-glass door opens onto a wide hallway, which spills into a spacious common area complete with flatscreen TV and kitchenette. It's a fairly typical entertainment room, except, perhaps, for one feature: a video phone, free to Porter East residents, that can connect directly between callers, or to a relay service that provides an American Sign Language translator.
More than a lounge, this is a kind of de facto community center for Nashville's deaf. And much more than a strip mall, Porter East is the only mixed-use development in the country dedicated to affordable housing for the hearing-impaired.
"Having a community hub — that's the need we found," says Brent Elrod, project manager for Urban Housing Solutions, as he describes Porter East's transformation from abandoned nursing home to, as he calls it, "an intentional community" for the deaf.
Working with Hearing Bridges (formerly the League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the EAR Foundation), Elrod and his cohorts have turned what was a boarded-up shell into a hive of activity — both in the street-level shops and in the lounge, where game nights and other community get-togethers have become regular events.
"Because of their shared experiences, the bond is so strong," Elrod says of the deaf community here. "It's like family."
Past the lounge area — which also provides free Wi-Fi, a help to low-income residents, some of whom have trouble finding work due to their lack of hearing — are the apartments themselves. The airy, open-design rooms are outfitted with a kind of visual doorbell — a strobe light mounted near the ceiling flashes when activated — and look out onto a large courtyard that Elrod says they hope to improve in the second phase of construction, which will include building two-bedroom units and an expansion of Montessori East.
And while some developments might have trouble filling an apartment that shares a wall with a clangorous restaurant kitchen, that's not a problem at Porter East — the neighbors here never complain about the noise. STEVE HARUCH
6. Music Licensing
Splother. The word itself is British slang for excessive fuss. But for songwriters and other publishing owners working to land song placements, the local Internet startup splother.com aims to allay that fuss.
When National Music Publisher's Association President and CEO David Israelite declared the publishing industry's antiquated, labyrinthine licensing infrastructure "broken" at an annual meeting in June — citing sites like YouTube, legislative stumbling blocks and, perhaps most importantly, the threat of creative new business models — many in the field were left scratching their heads looking for solutions. Veteran musician and publishing executive Dave Durocher — a former VP of both Bug Music and Brumley Music Group, not to mention a former drummer for artists like Marty Stuart, Marshall Crenshaw and Robert Earl Keen — says he has one.
Durocher founded and developed Splother along with Jason Collins, an executive whose product development and branding résumé includes K-Swiss and Griffin Technology, and Steve Toland, a publisher and A&R vet, also formerly of Bug Music.
The site, which also has offices in Los Angeles, claims to be the music industry's first digital "click to pay" music licensing service — a subscription-based virtual A&R outlet where staff-selected independent artists and record labels, who are in complete control of their own publishing, can post their material for sale to lurking music supervisors and brand managers looking for tunes. Think of it as the music-publishing equivalent of stock photo suppliers like Getty Images Inc. or Corbis.
"The sync world is clogged — the clogged sync," says Durocher. "[It's] become music libraries that look like the phonebook." Splother aims to separate the indie wheat from the vast indie chaff, and present it for scouts on a clean and easy, artist- and user-friendly digital platform. But instead of offering tracks to merely stream and download, shoppers can purchase the music for synchronization use, effectively jettisoning the traditional copyright administrator from the equation.
"A&R has kind of gone out the window at the majors. Gatekeepers are gone," Durocher says, "So I came up with idea of Splother as a service to artists that would provide the opportunity to get that [representation]. ... If we represented these people, and they owned everything, why couldn't we have a model that was much like designing a car online?"
Launched only in April, Splother is, according to Collins and Durocher, already receiving submissions nearly every day, and signing one or two new artists a week. ADAM GOLD
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