Monday, April 01, 2002

Steve Reich: WORKS 1965 - 1995, Part I of V

I listened to the entire 10-disc set of CDs over the span of a couple days last week, and felt they were interesting enough to do a disc by disc review of various works. I've had no previous exposure to any of his music, and the thoughts below are my instinctual feelings based on one or two listenings -- definitely not serious criticisms or analyses by any stretch of the imagination.

Disc One includes four early works, Come Out, Piano Phase, It's Gonna Rain, and Four Organs. Come Out (1966) and It's Gonna Rain (1965), were both interesting experiments, but I wouldn't be quick to label them directly as music. Really, they're more of "proof-of-concept" works that explore phasing at its most basic level. Both pieces involve a simple spoken line played on two tape tracks that start in unison. One tape track is faster than the other and the lines slowly get out of sync over time (almost imperceptibly at first). These pieces each run over ten minutes long, and in that time, you can really explore the different acoustical effects that can be found in simple sounds. However, I think that both pieces suffer from too much emphasis on phasing at the expense of the other necessities of music, such as harmony and melody. Ignoring any one aspect of music for a time can build tension, but omitting them altogether can kill a piece. That's why I find even the most harmonically interesting pieces boring if there's no rhythmic interest.

Piano Phase (1967) is a much more successful piece for this reason. Reich did away with the two tape loops, and had two performers accomplish the exact same effect on acoustic pianos with no extra mixing. The introduction of pitch levels suddenly brings this piece to a more interesting and rewarding level. I found that although this piece was twenty minutes long, it held my interest for much longer than the spoken word pieces.

The final piece on this CD was Four Organs (1970) which I just hated. I'm listening to it again as I write this, and I still don't really care for it. Some pieces on the later CDs that I didn't care for in the beginning grew on me over time, like Three Movements on disc eight, so it's not just the single listening that kills this piece for me. The work is written for four organs and one set of maracas and does nothing at all with the phase ideas explored in the first three works. Instead, the four organs explore a single dominant sonority in different clusters of chord tones over a continuous maracas part (for sixteen minutes!). Besides being boring, I think the harsh organ sonority reduces my tolerance for this piece. It might have been more successful (for me) with a mellow electric piano sample rather than the organs used.

To be continued...

Looking ahead on my "Calendar o' Stuff to Talk about on the News Page", this week will be devoted to my thoughts on the Steve Reich 10-disc set. Next week's theme will be some of my favourite young adult authors of yesteryear, including Gordon Korman, Lloyd Alexander, John Bellairs, and C.S. Lewis, among others. The final full week of school will be reserved for tying up loose ends and emptying out my topics queue before I start my summer schedule (whatever it may be). if you have an author or topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to e-mail me.

On the way home from class, I saw a young squirrel fall out of a tree onto the road. More scared than hurt, it bolted out of the road back to the tree, but decided to headbutt the trunk rather than climb it. It finally made it to the safety of some shrubbery after overcoming its double-smack daze. So much for the grace of nature.

By the way, there's a few new pictures on the Photos page.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Steve Reich: WORKS 1965 - 1995, Part II of V

Disc two of the set is the hour-long work, Drumming (1971), which seems to be an extended elaboration on a single rhythmic cell in four continuous movements. This was another piece that I found interesting, but not particularly enjoyable. One of the problems I have with works like this is just the sheer magnitude of length involved in going from beginning to end. This grand extension is really necessary for the intricacies of rhythm and pitch to reveal themselves to the listeners, but they have to be willing maintain their concentration for that long of a period. Most of my own work tends to be extremely concise (and usually too concise). As I write, I try to judge where my own mind begins to wander, despite my best listening efforts, and usually err on the side of brevity to keep my imaginary audience captivated. However, seeing how these longer forms (which are no more "complex" than any normal work) are constructed should help me in developing my own sense of extension.

Disc three has three works, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, Clapping Music, and Six Marimbas. Clapping Music (1972) is another phase-based piece for four clapping hands. For me, it suffers from another lack of differences, since the only thing varying is the rhythm. Luckily the piece ends after five minutes. I don't recall much about Six Marimbas (I had just scratched "uneventful" on a sheet of notebook paper), and unfortunately someone checked out the boxed set before I could get it again to re-hear this piece.

I did find Music... (1983) to be an enjoyable work. The phasing technique is not used at all here, and while the variety of actual materials is still very constrained, I don't think this one could definitely be pigeonholed as Miminalist. I think the proportions are well-balanced, and the shifts in musical material are just frequent enough to sustain interest. I think part of the reason that this piece succeeds over Four Organs is the greatly reduced prominence of the organ. By dropping the harsh organ edge and mellowing it even more with the marimba timbre, it's far easier to immerse yourself in the wash of sound. Compare the two pieces on your own, and see what you think!

To be continued...

Yesterday, I read John Grisham's A Painted House (465 pages, Dell 2001), which is strikingly different from his typical courtroom drama/hack books. The story is of a farming family in the fifties in the South, and there's no mention of the law or lawyers in the entire book. It was engrossing and read quickly, but didn't end in a very satisfying manner. I tend to like stories and works that end definitively, or end at all, rather than stop. Like Gosford Park, this book just petered out, with no great revelations or changes. Pick it up if you're in the mood for a minor diversion of light reading.

Finale 2002b has been released, but the 7MB download probably isn't worth your time. None of the important bugs from 2002a have been corrected.

The Easter Bunny fights back
Harry Connick Jr. patents a computer sheet music system

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Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Steve Reich: WORKS 1965 - 1995, Part III of V

The fourth and fifth discs of the Reich set contain Music for Eighteen Musicians, Eight Lines, and Tehillim. These works didn't really inspire positive or negative reactions in me. There was nothing innovative or wowing, but at the same time, I didn't dislike them at all. The only minor note I made was that the ensemble's makeup on Music for Eighteen Musicians grew wearisome towards the last quarter of the work (which is seventy minutes long).

Disc six was The Desert Music (1984) for amplified chorus and orchestra. The work is a text setting of poetry by William Carlos Williams, and it's definitely not vanilla Minimalist music. I found it to be a very attractive piece -- the harmonies are a little more unsettling than in earlier works, and the forces are mixed and contrasted well. I especially like the interplay between the voice as an instrument and the voice as an English line throughout. Of all the works on the first six discs, I think this would be my favourite, and I've listened to it in its entirety (fifty minutes) several times since.

To be continued...

I finished off the five-movie "Jersey trilogy" this past weekend by watching Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It has some great moments, but falters a bit because of its constant self-referential humour. It was definitely more rewarding to watch after having seen the first four movies (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma).

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a sorority girl raking leaves by the shrubbery in front of her House. She was using the rake like a shovel, and pushing it rather than pulling it across the ground.

I don't think that anecdote needs a punchline.

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Thursday, April 04, 2002

Steve Reich: WORKS 1965 - 1995, Part IV of V

The next two discs of the Reich set include New York Counterpoint, Sextet, The Four Sections, Different Trains, Electric Counterpoint, and Three Movements. As a large orchestral work, I found Three Movements interesting, just to see how Reich handles such large forces. I found New York Counterpoint to be pleasant enough, with the final movement being an interesting application of jazz idioms. All of the other works besides Different Trains were interesting but didn't evoke any strong feelings.

Different Trains was probably my favourite work in the entire set. The piece is scored for string quartet surrounded by a variety of electroacoustical effects, and the movements highlights the American trains before and after World War II, and German trains during the war. Reich brings back some of his speech materials from earlier works, but instead of developing them through phasing, he treats spoken word as a melodic line. First, a motive or melody will be heard in the strings, and then repeated at the same "pitch-level" as spoken word. This interplay of contours makes up much of the piece. The contrast of the movements and this toying with speech makes for a very attractive piece. I believe this one won a Grammy in 1989.

To be concluded...

This week's Movie Night selection was Training Day, a recent cop thriller with Denzel and Ethan. The actors work well off of each other, and it's worth watching just to see Denzel play a villain. This is the movie he won an Oscar for last month.

I've finally finished work on the Ewazen MIDI accompaniments, which took a little longer than expected. Someday, I still want to re-cover the Hindemith and Kennan sonatas, but those will probably stay on the back burner for a long time to come. My next sidetracking task this month will be to remix and update all the MIDIs and scores I have stored on this web site and in my archives. Some of my Finale files haven't been opened since it was called Finale 2.0, and it'd be nice to have clean copies of everything, as well as MIDIs that sound halfway decent.

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Friday, April 05, 2002

Steve Reich: WORKS 1965 - 1995, Part V of V

Disc nine of the set contains excerpts from his theatre piece, The Cave which was for a mix of performers, prerecorded voices, and video clips. I really didn't care for the audio portions that I heard -- perhaps the boring sameness of some of the samples is helped by the visuals in the actual production.

Disc ten contained Proverb, Nagoya Marimbas, and City Life, the last one being his most recently recorded work in the set. Proverb was an interesting vocal work that didn't rely on electronic sampling, but I didn't enjoy it as much as The Desert Music. I found City Life to be an interesting piece in the same vein as Different Trains, although for some reason, this work didn't seem as weighty as the earlier one. When listening to the two back to back, I prefer the earlier work, and this one seems to be just more of the same. It's still got some good material in it though.

Overall, I enjoyed listening through this boxed set, although I would strongly recommend taking it in small doses. Reich's early experimental work is interesting because it shows timbral qualities you might not otherwise discover, and his later works are good because he developed his style, and didn't just rely on gimmicky devices to carry the music. If you are a casual listener interested in sampling his work, I'd bypass the boxed set and look for a CD containing some of the works I mentioned, notably Different Trains and The Desert Music.

The End

I watched the movie, Following, last night. It was the first movie made by the director of Memento and tells the story of a writer who picks people at random out of a crowd to follow. Chronology is mixed up and the whole affair is something of an intimate film noir. It's really well-done and almost like a Memento Lite -- with a tricky premise, but one that's not nearly as mindbending as the later movie. The film's in black and white, and just barely over an hour long, so check it out if you liked Memento.

As DVDs get more and more mainstream, more and more rental discs are getting smudged and scratched, simply because most people don't take the time to care for the discs if they don't own them. I've rented three movies in the last month alone with scratches deep enough to cause scene stuttering. Unless rental stores like Blockbuster come up with a way to mass-remove scratches, this year's DVDs will be pretty worthless in the future.

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Saturday, April 06, 2002

Death of a game addict

Shawn Woolley loved an online computer game so much that he played it just minutes before his suicide. The 21-year-old Hudson man was addicted to EverQuest, says his mother, Elizabeth Woolley of Osceola. He sacrificed everything so he could play for hours, ignoring his family, quitting his job and losing himself in a 3-D virtual world where more than 400,000 people worldwide adventure in a never-ending fantasy.

On Thanksgiving morning last year, Shawn Woolley shot himself to death at his apartment in Hudson. His mother blames the game for her son's suicide. She is angry that Sony Online Entertainment, which owns EverQuest, won't give her the answers she desires. She has hired an attorney who plans to sue the company in an effort to get warning labels put on the games.

This is exactly the type of attitude that enforces peoples' misconceptions of gaming. Doom doesn't make kids open fire on their classmates, and online roleplaying games cannot take all the blame for a person's death. People unfamiliar with gaming find it easy to make games into the scapegoat for all problems. The truth of the matter is, mentally healthy people understand the difference between reality and fantasy. A person who lets a fantasy game govern their real life probably should have gotten help long ago.

That's not to say that deaths are incidental or trivial; just that blaming the games is a fallacy which is constantly reinforced by sensational media and stupid Congressmen. The proof is in the numbers: for every social unadjusted fellow who makes it onto the news, there are thousands of other people throughout the country who have been playing video games for over twenty years with no misanthropic tendencies. Gaming is a lot more mainstream than many people believe as well, with sales of the popular computer game, The Sims reaching over 6.3 million copies worldwide in two years. That's enough to give one copy to every person in the state of Massachusetts.

It will be interesting to see if people can be convinced that online roleplaying games are addictive in the same manner as drugs and cigarettes, and how many types of games would get warnings. Would they all be issued by the Surgeon General?

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Sunday, April 07, 2002

I took a trip out to Marshes Sand Beach this morning to catch the sunrise and poke around the beach at low tide. Although the sky at the beach was clear, it seemed incerdibly hazy on the horizon, so I figured that the sunrise wouldn't be particularly spectacular. As the pictures show, it wasn't very colourful at all, but it's still interesting since the shape of the sun is clearly visible through the haze. Those pictures have been added to the Photos page.

At low tide, the surf drops away at least one hundred yards from the normal beach site. It was a little too chilly and blustery to go shoeless, but there was plenty of wildlife in the areas that I could reach without wading. Apart from the usual breakfast birds, I saw quite a few translucent baby horseshoe crabs (probably the result of last week's Crab Fling), some live clams, and hundreds of gelatinous blobs that might have been baby jellyfish.

It seems like it's become a tradition now to post a new SC-8850 file every weekend, so here's one to prolong the trend. This is the gospel/rock/funk theme that used to play on the Photos page. It was probably one of my favourite Domain themes, followed by the theme from the Art page. You can tell from all the set parts in this era how much I used the hi-hat (MP3, 933KB).

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Monday, April 08, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part I of VI

This isn't quite expansive enough to be a special feature; it's more like a featurette. This week I'll be posting some brief memories of young adult authors I read as a kid. C.S. Lewis will be the first author covered, since everyone is probably familiar with his most famous series, The Narnia Chronicles. This series was made up of five chronological books detailing the magic adventures of plain English children in the fantasy land of Narnia: Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. Between the final two books, Lewis also wrote a prequel and a side-tale, Magician's Nephew, and Horse and His Boy, respectively.

Of all the books, I think Dawn Treader is my favourite, being the first ever "road-trip" story set in a fantasy land. The side tales were interesting in the way Back to the Future Part II was interesting (seeing how events that you're already familiar with came to pass, or could be woven into a new tale) but apart from their nostalgia value, they really weren't good on their own.

It's amazing after the fact just how overtly religious the entire series was. I never noticed it as a kid, but rereading them last summer brought all the good versus evil parables right to the fore. If you have the time, reread the entire series, but replace Aslan the lion with God. Many of the lion's speeches would sound more natural coming from a preacher.

The Narnia series was also turned into a fairly dreadful television adaptation by Wonderworks, each one several hours long and telling the stories in their entirety. I remember watching the first four (a few of which are still on the shelf at home) and wondering why Reepicheep the mouse was obviously a midget in a low-budget mouse suit.

Do you have any anecdotes you'd like to share about Narnia? Feel free to send me an e-mail.

Tomorrow: John Bellairs

This weekend I watched the movie A Simple Plan, which was like Fargo with less downtime. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth your time. This is the first DVD I've rented that had no special features or bonus tracks on it -- rent the VHS if it's any cheaper.

It's been years since I added anything new to the Potpourri page, so to breathe a little new life into it, I've posted the article, Survey Says... from the latest edition of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. It's simply a collection of stupid things said during the Fast Money round of the gameshow, Family Feud.

Q: "Name a bird with a long neck."
A: "Naomi Campbell."

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Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part II of VI

In the seventies and eighties, John Bellairs wrote fifteen books with a mix of supernatural, science-fiction, religious, and treasure-hunting elements. He effectively did the Harry Potter schtick years before it became mass-marketed. Bellair's books were divided into three series by main characters, his protagonists being Lewis Barnavelt, Anthony Monday, and Johnny Dixon. Although his emotions were poorly written, they were good enough for young readers, and the sharp dialogue and genuine suspense more than made up for it.

Bellair's first book, The House with a Clock in its Walls was a receipient of the Newberry Award, and the chapter about being pursued by the twin white discs which were the eyes of a dead witch was the first truly scary writing I'd read as a kid. All of his books were fairly formulaic, but had a very deep attention for details, both on the Catholic faith and the supernatural. Despite his knack for ghouls though, I think my favourite book was Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, a tale of a treasure hunt in the public library building with no hint of the supernatural. On the third point of the writing triangle was Trolley to Yesterday, which was really something of a historical fiction set in the seige of Constantinople (and just happened to include time travel and Egyptian gods!)

Sadly, John Bellairs passed away in 1991, but several more of his sketches were turned into complete stories by Brad Strickland in the nineties. For more information on John Bellairs, or to take a trip down memory lane, visit The Compleat Bellairs .

Tomorrow: Lloyd Alexander

I finished updating all the scores and MIDI files from the pep band collection I did a few years back. The book contained a few legally arranged works that have become standard high school pep band charts, and then a smattering of original works in the same styles of popular charts (to get around arranging fees). It wasn't particularly intellectual, but it was fun and challenging to write in so many different styles. Here's an MP3 of the Latin Rock example, Giblets (MP3, 498KB), and the Gospel Rock example, Easygoer (MP3, 964KB). The main restrictions I worked within were that the piece had to be under a minute, and playable by a reduced marching band set. The titles are all nonsense, fairly evenly spread across the entire alphabet to facilitate memorization and quick indexing. More MIDI files from this collection can be found on the Music page.

Girl attacks flasher with his own zipper
Cat attack now described as 'hate crime'

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Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part III of VI

Lloyd Alexander was best known as the author of the Prydain Chronicles, five books and a collection of short stories set in a fantasy world (which was based on Welsh legends). Although it's all swords and sorcery, the books are fairly well-known, since the first two were turned into a Disney movie and the fifth was a Newberry Award winner. The books tell of the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper and his friends as they grow and mature. Among other characters you might recall: Gurgi, the shaggy creature who spoke in ending couplets, constantly after 'munchings and crunchings', Eilonwy, the analogy-loving princess with the glowing bauble, and Fflewddur Fflam, the itinerant bard-king whose harp strings snapped whenever he told a lie.

Although every book was good in its own way, the collection of short stories was my favourite work (The Foundling and Other Tales). Unlike the Narnia side-tales, this collection of stories really blended well into the mythos -- it was as if the events were integral to the main stories, rather than being woven in to prolong the series. The fourth book, Taran Wanderer was my least favourite as a kid, because it's really an introspective look at maturity and coming to terms with the self. However, looking back now, it's probably some of Alexander's finest work.

The best part of this series was the fact that the author didn't talk down to the readers, just because they were youngsters. Events happen bluntly, and people die, both good and bad. Though Taran is a fairy-tale hero in the broadest sense of the term, the stories never sugar-coat pain and losses, and the heros don't always live to see the results of their triumphs. This gritty realism in fantasy was probably what doomed the unsuccessful animated movie, The Black Cauldron. Although the movie was an amazing piece of work with great imagery in the pre-computer days, the sight of the Horned King resurrecting his Army of the Dead by killing people in his cauldron didn't really go over too well with parents, and the movie became a cult favourite. If I recall correctly, Gurgi also sacrifices his life in the movie, and Disney rule number one is to never kill off the cute, furry sidekick!

In one scene in the first book, The Book of Three, a description of the Horned King's camp includes men in hanging baskets, who are burned alive as part of a ritual ceremony of evil. It's amazing that ever made it into the world in a kid's book, especially in those conservative times. Even now, I'd bet we'd never hear the last of it if Harry Potter engaged in ritual sacrifices to gain his magical powers.

Tomorrow: Gordon Korman

Happy Birthday Mom!

Here's a couple more pep band arrangements for fun: the disco chart, Disco Dan (MP3, 850KB), and my swing arrangement of the traditional Russian tune, Dark Eyes (MP3, 922KB).

From the Billy Bob Thorton file comes this gem of sanity:
"...actor Billy Bob Thornton wants to wipe the endangered komodo dragon off the face of the earth. 'More than anything on this earth, more than any being that exists, they are the creature that represents evil,' he says. The Monster's Ball star once woke up his wife Angelina Jolie in the middle of the night and insisted they go to a hotel because he'd dreamed their house was infested with the reptiles. 'If it were up to me, I'd just go to that island and kill them all,' he tells the London Daily Telegraph. 'I would just . . . shoot those son of bitches.'"

The start of the virtual keyboard
Water beds for cows

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Thursday, April 11, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part IV of VI

Without a doubt, Gordon Korman was my favourite young adult author. Since 1978, he has written a large quantity of humourous books, the most well-known being the Bruno and Boots series at MacDonald Hall. Korman's writing was clear and accessible, and his characters got caught up in genuinely funny situations and dialogue.

In fact, I Want to Go Home (1981) still holds the distinction for the only book that's ever made me laugh out loud multiple times. The book tells the story of Rudy Miller, a dry cynic who is forced to go to a summer camp. He spends the first half of the book trying to run away from camp (which is on an island), and when he finally does, he chalks up a point and returns to try again. I must have read that book at least a hundred times, but unfortunately the book ended up in a giant box full of books I donated to the public library right before college. It's not even in print anymore (like most of his best early works) so I guess it'll always just be a fond memory.

The Korman of the 80s wrote an even balance of books for elementary school kids and junior high kids, starting with This Can't Be Happening at McDonald Hall! in 1978. I got hooked on his books in fifth grade after the school's yearly Reading Is Fundamental fair, where we were allowed to take home one donated book for free. Every year before that, I'd get a book with mazes, or optical illusions, or something with the Berenstein Bears. Since fifth graders didn't go until later in the day my usual stash was picked clean, so I picked up a random book, Beware the Fish by Gordon Korman.

I didn't actually read it for another year, but after I did, I resolved to read each and every book by this author. Even at this time though (1987), many of his books were already out of print. I've still never read Bugs Potter LIVE at Nickaninny, and I only read Our Man Weston after permanently borrowing it from the junior high library. (If that raises your moral hackles, consider the fact that it had been checked out once in the ten years it was on the shelf, and that I still read it every year).

I enjoyed Korman's books so much that it's hard to pick out a favourite. Go Jump in the Pool and War with Mr. Wizzle were two good picks from the Bruno and Boots series, and the antics of Artie Geller in No Coins, Please were also a high point. In young adult books, Son of Interflux and Semester in the Life of an Eleventh-Grade Garbage Bag were both good. After 1992, I lost touch with his books and haven't read any new stories since then, although from the looks of his bibliography, he's focused mostly on series-based mainstream kids books like Nose Pickers from Outer Space. However, I still reread my collection of earlier books every summer. For more information on Gordon Korman, visit the official website .

Tomorrow: John D. Fitzgerald & Zilpha Keatley Snyder

A couple new pep band MP3s before the novelty wears off: Gyrations, the beat example (MP3, 721KB), and Redline Shuffle, which is obviously the shuffle chart (MP3, 721KB). If anyone knows of a marching band arranging gig, I'm there...

Congratulations to Mike Sitania for being the 3000th visitor to the URI! Domain on Wednesday. If I weren't so damned cheap he would get a massive cash prize, but instead he'll have to settle for the revenue from my banner ads.

Here's an April Fool's article on the new hit game, Pimps at Sea from the latest issue of PCGamer. If you follow computer games or game development at all, you'll get a kick out of it (JPG, 280KB).

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Friday, April 12, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part V of VI

John D. Fitzgerald wrote a seven book series about the Great Brain in the 1970s. It was about a boy in a small Utah town at the end of the nineteenth century who was smarter than the average joe. Told from the point of his little brother, the Great Brain spends most of his time swindling his friends and family. An eighth book was published from manuscript after the author's death but I haven't read it. The books were light, enjoyable reading and provided an interesting "historical fiction" look at the old West. The only problem in the series was the first chapter of each book, which was usually a literal repetition of all the family background information necessary to the story. If I were a big musical geek, I could say that reading the series straight through was like a 13-part sonata rondo, but of course, I'm not...

Another good author was Zilpha Keatley Synder, who wrote The Headless Cupid series and a few side novels. I didn't care for many of her books, but the Cupid series was always a winner, with its mixed divorced family getting into strange situations. My favourite Snyder book was The Great Stanley Kidnapping Case, not because the story was so great, but because it had some of the best dialogue in the series. Janie and Tesser were two well done characters in all the books. Of note outside this series was The Egypt Game, Black and Blue Magic, and Eyes in the Fishbowl. I don't really remember why I liked the Egypt Game so much; I have fond but vague impressions of it. Black and Blue Magic was a good coming-of-age story with a dash of magic flying ointment. Eyes in the Fishbowl was probably the oddest book of them all. I didn't really understand it when I read it as a kid, and still didn't understand it much when I read it over Christmas last year. It seems to be a fairly trippy story about strange occurences in a department store after dark. If anyone else has read this and gotten something from it, feel free to enlighten me.

Speaking of creepy doings in department stores after dark, there was a Nickelodeon show in the 80s called Today's Special with a mannequin that came to life after dark, a postman made of play-doh, and a scary looking mouse that talked in rhyming couplets. The only thing scarier than that strange show in my childhood was the big red bird marionette on Pinwheel with cocked eyes that spoke like a cross between a hyena and a Slinky.

Tomorrow: Franklin Dixon, Ellen Raskin, and Brian Jacques

I read The Street Lawyer by John Grisham yesterday, which is like his other law books but with a little bit of moral conscience. It was made more enjoyable by the fact that it was set in D.C. and really felt like it, down to details such as the "freezing rowers on the Potomac". Grisham's books are always good for a little pleasure reading, though they're definitely not worth getting in hardback ever. I used to read them hot off the presses, but lost track of them a few years ago after the horrible Testament.

To finish off the pep band MP3s, here's two more featured arrangements: Verve, an up-tempo swing chart (MP3, 884KB), and X-Marks, your run-of-the-mill "descending seconds bass line with a Lydian melody" rock chart (MP3, 882 KB).

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Saturday, April 13, 2002

Authors of Yesteryear, Part VI of VI

Of all the books I read as a kid, Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game was probably the one that got the most face time. Part murder mystery and part treasure hunt, this slightly surreal book told the tale of a deceased millionaire and the seemingly random people selected to be his heirs. The entire book turned out to be as twisty and convoluted as a movie like The Usual Suspects. If you've never read it, go check it out of the public library. It'll only take a few hours to read and would be well worth it.

Brian Jacques began the Redwall series several years ago. Like Watership Down, it featured mice and other woodland creatures with human characteristics, set in a swords and battles fantasy setting. All the mice sang interminable songs and all the moles said things like "Boo hurr!".

When the series first began, I liked it quite a bit. However, after Mossflower and Mattimeo, the series started to go downhill. It became readily apparent that every book was a template copy of the previous, with a different villain and new characters. These were big books too -- as big as any Harry Potter book today. I stopped getting new ones after The Bellmaker, simply because I could get the same effect by rereading one of the earlier books. The last time I was in Border's, there were two whole shelves full of books in this series, so the author must be alive and well.

On the other side of the mass-produced book coin is Franklin Dixon. Of course, there isn't really a Franklin Dixon -- that was the pen name used by the syndicate which churned out the Hardy Boys series. Anonymous authors would churn out a story or two, leading to the uneven quality of the stories. As a kid, I eventually read all the "original" Hardy Boy books, which must have numbered in the sixties. They may not have been literary masterworks, but they were good for a quick reading fix, and predictable enough to be comfortable. You had the Hardy brothers running around solving crimes, their fat friend, Chet, sitting in his jalopy being chubby, and then the two girlfriends who never did anything but act like girls of the fifties (Chet didn't get a girl, apparently, because he was chubby).

These authors don't account for the entirety of my early reading; I haven't even cracked the surface. I could spend another week talking about Choose Your Own Adventure books, the Lone Wolf series, Philip Pullman, and all the other forgettable series from the public library. For a more balanced view of the books I used to read, check out the Fiction section of the Reviews page.

The End

I finished my final project for Fugal Writing yesterday, and I've posted an MP3 and score of it on the Music page under "Smaller Works". It was fun to do, although I'll probably get called on the carpet for the chromaticism in my countersubject.

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Sunday, April 14, 2002

Yesterday I read Grisham's The Brethren, so I'm now caught up on all the Grisham books I missed from my years as an undergrad. The book was surprisingly good, and a little deeper than most of his recent work has been. Grisham uses the device of two disparate stories eventually joining together, which is a nice change of pace from his usual narrative style. This one's definitely worth a read.

There's a Composers' Concert tonight, on which I'll be performing the third edition of Badinage with Rob. It's not really a "new" work per se, but it's always good to have the opportunity for quality recordings of older works. I'm considering putting my other trumpet work, Scarabus on a concert next year. The concert itself is going to be a bloated behemoth, with fifteen composers (seven of which are undergrads, I believe). One composer even has a five movement work on the program. It'll be like watching a double-feature of Ben-Hur and Spartacus but with fewer props.

The power was out in the building this morning, so hopefully that will get taken care of before the concert. I gamely waded into the pitch black confines of the downstairs locker bay and got my trumpet by the wan glow of my trusty watch light for a rehearsal this morning.

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Monday, April 15, 2002

Last night's concert went well if a little too long. With fifteen works on the program, it weighed in at about two and a half hours. There were some nice points to the music though and everything went pretty well. It was also nice to see several freshmen getting their works performed, and most of the ones I heard definitely had something to work with for the coming years.

Badinage went pretty well, although there were a few spots that I could have done better. Generally, I've received positive comments about the structure of the piece and the performance, but I'll wait until I can listen to the recording before I make any judgements of my own. Apparently, Professor Kubik's words on the matter were, "That's an ambitious piece," which can be interpreted several ways.

On the MIDI side, here's an MP3 of my first jazz-band funk chart, Neckbone, from 1995. Though not musically profound, it was fun to write and play, and got plenty of airtime back in high school. The "Hip Hop" drum set adds a lot to the MIDI recording (MP3, 3.2MB).

Here's a few news stories that have caught my eye this past week:

    Man's self-heating shoes cause airport scare
    24-hour video game channel set to launch (from the "Network execs don't realize that most gamers are ugly and won't make good TV stars" file)
    College Drinking Study is Intoxicating Scam
    Schemes and Loopholes: Tales from the IRS (from the "Can I deduct my cat?" file)

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Tuesday, April 16, 2002

There's a couple good recitals coming up at Tech this week. If you live in the area, you'll want to check them out. On Wednesday, 4/17, Jason Price will be giving a guest trumpet recital. He's an amazing trumpet player who graduated from Tech around '98 or so and probably should be finishing up at Eastman sometime soon, or already. After that, Doobie's tuba recital will be (I kid you not) on 4/20 in the afternoon.

While looking for information about the Audubon Quartet (the string quartet that used to be in residency at Virginia Tech), I came across a website detailing their ongoing legal disputes from the past few years. This open letter will be very interesting to anyone who's ever played in a small group where one of the members was universally disliked. To me, it's a case of a kid trying to take the sandbox home with him, but of course, I don't know all the details .

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Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Now that assistantships have been publicized, I can share some details about what I'll be doing next year. Dr. Mathes gave me a vague outline on April 1, but I didn't get a chance to meet with the professor until just yesterday. Next year, I'll be working with Dr. Spencer to teach MUT 1001, a fundamentals class for freshman who didn't do so well on entrance exams. He will lecture on Mondays, and I'll follow up, proctor drills, and answer questions on Wednesday and Friday. The experimental class is part of a renovation package for KMU-206; apparently that room is getting outfitted with computers or something.

Because so much of learning fundamentals is just drilling, the materials will be made available online for students to do through interactive Flash applets, which Dr. Spencer has already created (and may eventually publish). The first semester will be a trial run of the actual class, with the second semester most likely devoted to coding, and improving software for future iterations. I guess that gives me one more program to learn this summer in the midst of my work and thesis preparation.

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Thursday, April 18, 2002

Today was the final day of Fugue class, so there's only one class left between me and the summertime. I've kept busy packing and practicing how to think like a computer guy again, and I'm looking forward to seeing Virginia again. I'm not overly excited about the drive, but it won't be so bad if I leave early enough on Wednesday. In fact, I may even leave earlier, since my jazz class professor mentioned doing the exam by e-mail. I'll keep you all posted on that.

I've settled on the instrumentation for my thesis composition: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), oboe, alto sax (doubling soprano), bassoon, trumpet, 2 horns, trombone, tuba, 2 violins, cello, double bass, 2 percussion, and a conductor. Most of the theses before about 1980 here were for orchestral forces, but a chamber setting may be more successful in getting one or more performances. I've got several ideas on where I want to go, and I'm looking at a sixteen-minute piece in nine continuous movements. Though it may be adventurous in several aspects, it will definitely not be an about-face from any of my previous work.

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Friday, April 19, 2002

The final class of the semester finished off this morning, and I'm free of responsibility, other than a minor playing gig for an orchestration class this afternoon. Overall, this semester had a lot of ups and downs, but seemed to go quite a bit faster than last semester. I definitely got more accomplished this year though, and it looks like the summer will be chock full of useful activities.

I'll definitely be leaving Tallahassee on Monday, rather than Wednesday, so it would behoove you to send your going away gifts by priority mail. After a week's visit in Blacksburg (and maybe a few recordings of some older works), I start working at FGM on May 1 and I'll be in or around the D.C. metropolitan area for the remainder of the summer. If you're around, feel free to send me an e-mail sometime. Other than computer work, I have a few other irons in the fire: working on my thesis composition, learning some more on orchestration, exercise, getting a new computer, and possibly breaking in a new trumpet. My summers tend to be much busier than my school years, simply because it's easier for me to compartmentalize my time. As I've mentioned before, I get more work done in two one-hour blocks than when I have an entire day free to waste.

In other news, my friend Nikki passed her recital hearing yesterday, and her recital is scheduled to be on May 3. Even though it means another weekend road trip after I've started working, I'm pretty excited about it, because she's an excellent soprano. She was one of two sopranos at Virginia Tech that sang on my fifth-year recital in 2001. Both of them will be graduating this semester.

I've gotten word that the CD from my fifth-year recital is finally ready to go, so I'll be able to get a copy when I'm in Blacksburg. The version I have was really just a sound dump, with no editing or level mixing between vocalists and ensembles, so I'm looking forward to it.

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Saturday, April 20, 2002

I've only played two games since spring break: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, and Dungeon Seige. The first game is a budget title with an amazing 3D engine by a drugged up team of programmers from Croatia. The game is a first person shooter like Doom but with an endless stream of monsters at all times. It definitely has personality and oddball humour, and is worth the money if your system can handle the frame rate, but you will be sick of first person shooters for a while after beating it. Dungeon Seige is the latest big-hype game on the block, published directly by Microsoft. It's an action role-playing game like the Diablo series, but has a fully 3D world with user-maneuverable camera and no loading screens between worlds. The story is nonexistant, and it doesn't quite have the charm of Diablo, but it is very addictive and will keep you playing for hours on end if that's the sort of game you're into. This summer, I'm hoping to finish off Zelda 2 on the N64, since it's the type of game you really have to sit down at for a couple hours at a time to make any progress in.

I finally finished the gargantuan task of converting all my MIDIs and scores to being compatible with Finale 2002 and the SC-8850. Every file on the Music page now has an 8850 compatible MIDI file, and several employ extended MIDI techniques. If you are hurting for disk space, and have many old Finale files on your hard drive, even the simple process of re-saving them in Finale 2002 will free up quite a bit of space. Most of my older scores from Finale 97 and before were reduced by over 600% just through re-saving.

I've been considering starting an experimental website for next year's cadre of FSU composers, combining a message board, uploading ability, and the Finale web plugin. The idea I had in mind was something of an open forum or round table, where any FSU composer with an account could post MIDIs and scores of whatever he or she happened to be working on on a weekly basis. Other composers visiting the site could listen and view works at their leisure, and post their comments and suggestions (non-anonymously) in a message board thread specifically made for that piece. I can see lots of benefits from such a site, but it would entail a hell of a lot of work. At the most, it will probably remain an intangible brainstorm, at least until my thesis is done. If you have any comments about this, send me an e-mail with your witty thoughts.

In the News:
Man gets cat out of tree... with gun.
Abercrombie & Fitch's new line of stylish racist T-shirts

Portal of Evil News is really a great place to go for off the wall news (www.poe-news.com). For this story about a naked man's attempted assault in a Subway sub shop restroom , their headline was "Girls attacked in Subway store by 6 inch on white".

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Sunday, April 21, 2002

With over 3100 visitors in nine months, the Sixth Edition of the URI! Domain draws to a close. It's been a great run, and the second semester saw even more people waste their ephemeral lives here than the first. If you've been a regular reader, I thank you for giving me the impetus to maintain daily updates, regardless of whether they were of any lasting value to the human psyche. So I don't burn out on making updates, this site will only be updated on a weekly basis (most likely on the weekends) until school starts up again in August. If you are incredibly bored, take a moment to explore other sections of the Domain, or go to the Archive and read my old news updates (yes, there really are nine months worth of trite news to enjoy!)

I was definitely more verbose this semester than the previous semester, since I actually had an audience that tuned in regularly, for whatever reason. Since I've gotten a few questions about how I actually go about writing for this page, I thought I'd take a moment to eludicate.

I always keep a shorthand list of topics that might be interesting to discuss on the News page. Many of them are no longer topical by the time I get around to using them, but most can contribute at least a line or two. Every day (usually early in the morning or around seven at night) I sit down and decide what sort of interesting things I'll discuss. If I can't think of anything particularly appealing, I'll turn to my list for ideas. I try to keep a balance between the computer and music stuff, because I know that not all readers are interested in one or the other.

After I've written (and hopefully proofread) the day's entry, I'll decide if it warrants a sleek graphic and take some time to create that. I'll then view everything locally, using OmniHTTPd to set my computer up as a local server, to see how it will look to the outside world. Once it's perfected, I upload the news to the Tech music web server and look at it again at the llamaboy address. This allows me to catch the occasional mistake that slips through, like forgetting the graphic. Honestly, I haven't browsed on the Internet with images turned on since I had Ethernet in 1999, so sometimes the graphic gets forgotten and I don't notice it right away. Once everything looks good to go, I'll bump the old entries off to the archive page and I'm done. For the techno-geeks, I write my pages in a hybrid of JavaScript and HTML, so it's incredibly easy to isolate entries and move them around at will. Take a look at the source code for this page in IE if you're interested; Netscape does not show JavaScript code all the time.

When I'm particularly industrious, I'll write a couple days worth in advance. This whole process usually takes twenty minutes to a half hour. On special feature or featurette weeks, it usually takes about an hour, because of the extra research involved. I also get sidetracked when researching sometimes, and forget that I'm supposed to be updating! It's a wonder that I managed to update so regularly with everything else going on.

Tomorrow I'm off to Blacksburg, so there probably will not be any updates next weekend. The next scheduled update will be sometime over the second weekend in May, although I'll try to get a quickie in before that.

Cheers, matey.

Late-breaking update:
I got my FGM employment letter in the mail with a nice $2.04/hr raise attached to it. When I get back to town in August, I'll take everyone out for Chinese food to celebrate. "Hooray!"

"The Trumpet now became a much more subservient instrument. It was 'warned off' the obbligato ground altogether and dethroned from the ridiculously false orchestral position which it had hitherto occupied. This was all to the good in the cause of music. Indeed one may say that without this step the development of the Symphony would have been an impossibility. So long as the Trumpet -- the most aggressive of all instruments -- was allowed to play tunes in its top octave all pleasure in the orchestral ensemble disappeared as far as the unhappy audience was concerned." - Cecil Forsyth in Orchestration

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Sunday, April 28, 2002

I'm back from a relaxing week in Blacksburg, and ready to start working on Wednesday. The trip was just like old times: I got in a couple birthdays, some quality practicing, a few readings of my stuff, and even did some last minute poster work for the upcoming War Requiem concert this week. Luckily I didn't have to turn any pages this trip, but I did make it to a Convo and a New River Valley Symphony concert on Saturday. My trip coincided with the first annual Music Education Alumni Conference, so there were lots of familiar faces around the department. I also added a few cat and normal pictures on the Photos page, but I didn't get out much with the camera so the offerings are pretty slim.

I'm heading back to Blacksburg on Friday for Nikki's and Shac's recitals, but for the next few days I'll just be doing housekeeping tasks and settling into the Northern Virginia lifestyle. I also want to start writing for my thesis this week. Hopefully my dual residency plans for the summer won't interfere with my creativity.

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