Friday, December 26, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Oh sure, the obvious answer would be to buy the game, but I think there's more fun to be had in coming up with your own little puzzles. So, here are a few I came up with this morning when I should have been grading. (Oh, so that's why I woke up thinking of something else to do with my brain - anything but grading.)
They're not exact phonetic matches, but if you read them out loud, it should sound like someone with an odd accent saying something familiar. If you're having trouble, you could ask your computer to read the phrase to you. (UPDATE: Here they are, read by your friends at AT&T Labs: sitar..., purr..., thumb..., half....) Click on the phrases to find the answers, but only if you really can't get them.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
So, as you can tell, I'm not 100% thrilled with the technology as it now stands, but I knew that going in. I've been greatly enjoying reading Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia on the reader, and I've also bought an e-copy of the indispensable The Rest is Noise, partly because I've had a class reading the book and I thought it would be handy to have a "copy" at hand all the time. Aside from the absurd pricing (e-Noise costs $11.99, while now available in paperback for $12.24), one other odd quirk which professors may have to start facing is that there's no standard page numbers to reference in an e-Book. (The page numbers change according to font size.) This will become a citation issue that needs to be solved in the years ahead.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The whole situation does support the Republican talking point that Obama followers tend towards worship of the man, but that's hardly news. It's certainly not true of all his supporters, but clearly, many, many Democrats think Christmas came early this year. Given that Christmas is pretty much a secular holiday at this point, it's not too surprising that even the more sacred carols would be interpreted in a more humanistic way; I suspect many people want to feel something spiritual at Christmas, even if the original story doesn't work for them. I will say this - bleak midwinter probably describes Chicago better than just about any day in Bethlehem. Still, for the record, I'm much more moved by Christina Rossetti's beautiful words. (I don't know who wrote the words for Fleming (Keillor, perhaps?), but rhyming 'Washington, D.C.' with 'festivity'? Or "People rise at dawn and do what must be done"?
One other note about Renee Fleming on PHC. Earlier in the evening, she sang Strauss's Zueignung. [86:21 into the show.] I was thrilled to learn when it ended that the pianist was Bradley Moore, a fellow Arkansan and fellow classmate of mine - but, why did Fleming burst in on the wonderful big piano solo that occurs just before the end? That's our moment, Ms. Fleming! When I heard it live, I first thought she'd made a mistake, but a rehearing makes it clear that she knew what she was doing. Does anyone know the story of this alternate version? (And, let me repeat, it's THE big moment in the song for the pianist. Please let us have that, songsters. We don't ask much.)
[Note: the Zueignung score linked above has some friendly coaching advice for singers.]
Sunday, December 14, 2008
It's been a while since I blogged about the bizarre price structures at eMusic.com, mainly since I cancelled my subscription long ago- but they reeled me back in with 75 free downloads, and I'm giving them an extra month or so, just to be nice. So it is that I've just discovered the greatest bargain there yet: all 62:38 of Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated on one track! Given that the basic subscription rate (30 downloads at $11.99/month) comes out to 40 cents per track, this is quite a deal (unless you hate the piece; but really, there's something for everyone in there).
Curiously, in what must be a mistake, I see that Amazon offers the same album (which includes one other 10-minute piece) for a $7.99 download, but will let you download The People on one track for 89 cents, while the other, much shorter piece is only downloadable as part of the entire album. So, if you choose to buy the "album" from Amazon, you're basically paying $7.10 for the 10-minutes of Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Oh, you brave new digital world.
But here's the really ridiculous thing about the eMusic pricing. They have another album with the Rzewski in which each of the 36 variations gets its own track. The final tally when you download the piece this way: $15.20. Hmmm. In that version, you can't even get the whole piece with one month's worth of downloads. I guess in the most ridiculous scenario, you could download the first 30 tracks and then wait until the next month to get the rest, kind of like one of those serialized novels.
I've already spilled too many words about eMusic elsewhere (here and here), but here's my updated list of particularly long tracks for the budget-minded downloader. At this point, I've downloaded more than 50 hours of music for something like $50 to $60. Of course, it's all just bunches of bytes on my hard drive which isn't nearly as satisfying as that boxed set of Beethoven symphonies on 7 LPs that was my first big music purchase some time back in the dark ages.
So, do I listen to all that downloaded music? Well, I've been trying my darnedest to give the recent 100th birthday boys, Messiaen and Carter, their due, but that's a process-in-progress. (I do love some of the more obvious Messiaen pieces; as for Carter, I'm not there yet, but one of my few rules in life is that, if a composer is still composing at 100, I'll give him a try. 2016 could be quite a test of this rule.)
For this morning's commute, I started out with the Rzewksi (a milestone work I'll admit to not knowing well), but although I was enjoying it, it's a bit intense for busy traffic. During a rather quiet stretch, I had the volume up and it happened that one of those violent piano lid slams happened as I was merging into another lane. For a second there, I thought I'd merged into a Chilean freedom-fighter, but I managed to stay on the road...and switched the Rzewski off shortly thereafter. I'm not quite ready to die for that cause.
In other commuting news, I've more or less given up sports radio again, so I'm trying to tolerate NPR. Really, I am. Driving home from a Saturday afternoon gig in Maine, I even tried listening to A Prairie Home Companion, though I generally find Garrison Keillor to be about 10% as funny as he finds himself. I figured that by only chortling once every 5-6 minutes, I wouldn't be in too much danger of hurtling into my highway neighbors.
It was a Town Hall celebrity special PHC with Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer on hand, and it was keeping me awake, if not particularly entertained. Then, Ms. Fleming began singing the Holst version of In the Bleak Midwinter, and I thought, "well this should be nice." However, I noticed the lyrics had taken a quick turn from Christina Rossetti's after a line or two. I wasn't paying that much attention, but something about Chicago...a family moving to Washington, D.C...suddenly the PHC crowd is cheering...and I suddenly catch on.
You know, I don't want to get into politics again here on the blog, and I'd like to reaffirm that I hope for nothing but the best for and from Obama, but c'mon. Has it really come to this? The only good news is that Fleming sounded hideous singing it - I think she was really trying to sell the "message," but she's one of those singers who sounds better when she's not trying to be too expressive. The voice was spreading all over the place; in fact, it sounded like about six different voices at various times.
Maybe I just imagined the whole thing, having been swept into dreamland by the News from Lake Wobegon. But then how did I get home?
UPDATE: I wasn't dreaming. The PHC episode is now available online. You can hear about the coming of the savior starting at about 110:30 of the episode below (also archived here.) I've even transcribed the lyrics for you here. You can decide for yourself how fitting it is to compare the journey to the Beltway with the journey to Bethlehem.
UPDATE2: More commentary here.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I've already blogged this year about the "12 Composers of Christmas." I had hoped to upgrade it with actual singing on the soundtrack this year, but maybe it's just as well to encourage viewers to sing themselves. There've been more than 1500 views since I re-posted it last week, so maybe someone's singing.
If you have a little more time on your hands, you can check out my first feature film, 2000's A Christmas Carol. It relies quite unapologetically on the cuteness of assorted nieces and nephews, but it's still shorter than most of the other versions out there. Plus, it has a singing fish. Read all about it here.
Part II is here.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This is one of those projects where the title inspired the whole thing. We generally end up studying the Stravinsky and Copland around the same time in my music appreciation class, so it was perhaps inevitable that they'd run together in my mind at some point. I probably also owe some credit to Alex Ross, who does a good job of pointing out (see p.267 of hardback version) how much Copland's style owes to Stravinsky, even though the end results are quite different. This is also a good time to thank the ever generous Alex for linking to my "Webern in Mayberry" post, thereby sending a wee bit more traffic this way.
A few quick comments. I love this sort of project, as it fuses the acts of composing, arranging, and audio engineering. I've little doubt Peter Schickele would have gotten here first were it not for copyright issues, but I'd don't think he's married these pieces yet; in case you're wondering, this arrangement is performed by Maestro René Köhler leading the National-Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. The musical part of this actually went together quite quickly. Nothing is transposed, in fact. And, yes, it is intended to sort of break apart at the end; that's part of the fun.
I only decided to add visuals to make this more YouTube friendly, so they're not very sophisticated. The Rite of Spring picture is Nikolai Roerich's design for the original 1913 production. You can see the Joffrey Ballet's recreation of that version here. It was completely unintentional that the generic Appalachian Spring image (which I just found on Google) ends up looking a little Thomas Kinkade-y at times. Ahhhh! By the time I realized that, I'd already invested too much time to go back. Please don't call me the "YouTuber of Light."
Christmas decorations go up on the blog tomorrow. (Or maybe Saturday. Tomorrow's really busy.)
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Yes, I know multi-track recordings are made this way all the time, and I'm not saying that can't be a musical process (here's a terrific recent example; thanks, Elaine). I just don't see how Tan Dun's YouTube Symphony has any special qualities that lend it to the global multi-track approach. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what special qualities this piece actually has. Maybe it's cruel, but watching it reminds me of nothing more than the Frasier episode in which Frasier conducts his own overblown jingle - in each case, the composer/conductor looks a little too pleased with himself, while the musicians look like they're punching time clocks.
Sadly, it sometimes seems that people look at the process of learning what to listen for as something they shouldn’t have to do. Yes, I suppose one can be good enough to play the notes on the page, count the rests accurately and watch for a cue and do their job, but is that making music? More to the point- do you really just want to be living in a world where your whole universe is your part and the conductor? Playing an instrument is fun, but playing music is more fun…
[Compare 1:27 of Frasier to just about any moment in the Tan Dun.]
Monday, December 8, 2008
On the advice of my therapist, I'm not prepared to say yet why I ended up imagining my weekend trip to the BSO as a page from the J. Peterman catalog. But I did. [See also: Peterman sells Schubert.]
More Rite Stuff: The Rose of Spring, The Rite of Springfield, The Rite of Springtone, Too good to be true
Monday, December 1, 2008
Read about last year's minor (very minor) Christmas miracle.