Tuesday, October 29, 2013

408. MLB 2013

On this anticipatory stomach-growling withdrawal of an off-day, the sad reality of only TWO more games until April 2014 saddens me.

OTOH, I'll get a lot of (musical) work done.


Happily, I confidently predict that Mr. Wacha will continue his amazing run tomorrow, and defeat the Red Sox 5-1.

That will bring about the traditional Joe Wholestaff approach for Game #7, which tends to bring about a '93 Game #4 - type situation. Although both of these clubs have tremendous relief pitching -- I believe that Halloween at Fenway Park on Thursday night will be pretty darn scary!

15-14 Cards ...


Saturday, October 26, 2013

407. PROGRAM NOTES for MIDRASHIM, for violin and marimba (2013)

Composer Lewis Saul (b. 1952) graduated with a degree in Composition from the Interlochen Arts Academy and attended The Juilliard School before moving to Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger for two years.

Midrash means "story" (Midrashim is the plural). A clever Rabbinic device, midrash is a method of interpreting the biblical text in a wide-ranging, free-wheeling, almost stream-of-consciousness style -- somewhat resembling the head-scratching, double-entendre writings of the great Zen masters.

As an example, the two words from my opening movement generated over 17 separate commentaries in the Midrash Rabbah -- a massive collection of the Rabbinic midrashim -- including this unusual, seemingly challenging observation:

"Thus, whoever comes to say that this world was created out of tohu and vohu and darkness, does he not indeed impair God's Glory! R. Huna said in Bar Chappara's name: If the matter were not written, it would be impossible to say it..."

... "it" being followed by this footnote:

"God first created tohu and vohu, and out of these He created the world. But this is not to be taught publicly!" (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis I, pp. 2-3).

The sages spun extremely complex webs of word association and pun-like wordplay in their attempts to imbue the Bible verse with new meanings and interpretations, sometimes going far afield from the original text.

In that spirit, I have composed two separate midrashim for five verses from the Torah -- one from each book. In most cases, the "plain text" inspired a kind of musical midrash, perhaps less concerned with the actual textual meaning and more inspired by the possible midrash-like free association technique:

1. MIDRASH Ia. The longest of these ten movements, it is also perhaps the most literal. What is before the beginning? Do I dare teach this publicly?

2. MIDRASH Ib. Perhaps there was a phase variance in this pre-universe! (Yes, I love Star Trek.) Steve Reich -- one of the pioneers of minimalism and a master at using phased musical phrases -- has always been inspiring to me. Halfway through the movement, the violin shifts to a 9/8 + 7/8 meter, thrusting against the regular 4/4 of the marimba. Planets collide, nebulas sparkle, dark matter permeates...

3. MIDRASH IIa. The previous verse 25 reads: "If you take your neighbor's garment in pledge, you must return it to him before the sun sets; ..."

This is a mitzvah, a commandment -- one of 613 in the Torah -- but my concern is with those two Hebrew words in verse 26 -- "in what else shall he sleep?" God not only explains the (humane) reasoning behind the commandment, but He promises that He will follow through.

The feeling of "closeness" is intended here, as if wrapped in a warm, slightly atonal, blanket.

4. MIDRASH IIb. This is perhaps more literal, i.e. communicating compassion.

5. MIDRASH IIIa. The idea of something holy or sacred gradually coming to mean something real in one's life.

6. MIDRASH IIIb. This is a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to Mozart, whose music seems to me always holy! The half-step modulations are a salute to the crazy intentional dissonances in "The Musical Joke," K. 522.

7. MIDRASH IVa. This verse is familiar to Jews and Gentiles alike -- it is read in nearly every worship service, and is the pinnacle of every Jewish boy or girl's Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

The commentaries suggest that the Rabbis interpret this particular verse to be a general blessing for material and spiritual well-being. Thus a high-energy, feel-good movement, followed by ...

8. MIDRASH IVb. ... a calm and relaxed hymn of thanksgiving -- nervously cut short.

9. MIDRASH Va. The key Hebrew word is the verb RODEF -- "to chase or pursue." My wife's synagogue in Pittsburgh was called Rodef Shalom ("pursue peace"). As I composed these segments, I thought about how difficult it is to truly follow or pursue the really important things in life -- but yet at the same time, how absolutely critical it is that we all at least try to do so!

This is a literal metric chase between the two instruments -- very short and aggressive. The difficulty.

10. MIDRASH Vb. And the trying. Here -- in a sinuous 7/4 rhythm -- the two instruments combine to dream, hope and work together.


-- Lewis Saul



Saturday, June 29, 2013

217. How and Why I Love Film

Up until 1982 -- the year I turned 30 -- I thought of films and filmmaking as something which could provide some nice visual entertainment. Like most film-goers, I sat back and let the movie wash over me. Any critical thinking -- even after the fact -- seemed unnecessary, a waste of time.

It was not until 1982 that I came to the realization that I was much more interested in studying the film; trying to figure out how it was made; beginning to understand the individual components, i.e., Director, Producer, DP, Set Designer, Composer, etc. -- and how things got put together.

During my time in Paris, I had been exposed to some Buñuel, Truffaut and others. It was pretty obvious that these types of films had little in common with the typical Hollywood product.

And then that day in 1982 when my wife and I went to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

I walked out of that theater having experienced what seemed like a completely new emotion: Filmic Manipulation Anger Syndrome.

I still had tears dribbling from my eyes from Spielberg's emotional, sappy ending.

And I was mad!

It dawned on me -- gradually -- that Mr. Spielberg had done quite a masterful job at prodding the sodium chloride from my tearducts. Bit by bit, scene by scene, John Williams cue by John Williams cue -- I was being manipulated!

And a damned fine job he (they) did of it. I spent the following months constantly thinking about how Spielberg had pulled it all off.

And for the next decade or so, I always kept at least one of my newly analytic eyes open during Hollywood attempts to lure me into their insidious design.


In 1999, everything changed.

I saw my first Kurosawa film (Red Beard). I could not get enough AK and soon had all 30 of his films.

What I noticed in his work (and later Ozu's), after much study, was that these guys used the exact same "manipulative" techniques that Spielberg was using -- but the difference was subtle. Instead of hitting us over the head with a musical/visual "cry now" cue, these non-Hollywood directors were trusting their audience not to need those types of sledgehammer clue-ins.

And it got better. Kurosawa, for example, took the corny old wipes from the 30's Saturday serials, and transformed the dusty old trick into an entire subset of his massive filmic vocabulary.

Ozu went even further, for example, by rejecting the artifice of lens size (he only used one, the 50mm) and set perfection (he loved to move a salt shaker two inches to the left from take to take, just for the hell of it). Some of the "heaviest" emotional scenes in Ozu occur in medium shots with no music or sound. Other times, crucial events in the plot (such as it is in Ozu films!) are completely elided -- leaving the (Ozu-presumed intelligent) viewer to figure it all out.

I soon realized I preferred watching this type of film to most of gunk coming out of Hollywood. Not much has changed in the past 15 years. My Top Twenty favorite directors:

  1. Akira Kurosaswa
  2. Yasujiro Ozu
  3. Zhang Yimou
  4. Andrei Tarkovsky
  5. Tom Tykwer
  6. Takeshi Kitano
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. Terry Gilliam
  9. Woody Allen
  10. Ang Lee
  11. Quentin Tarrantino
  12. Richard Linklater
  13. Alejandro González Iñárritu
  14. Frederico Fellini
  15. Wes Anderson
  16. Juzo Itami
  17. Pedro Almodovar
  18. Martin Scorsese
  19. Powell/Pressburger
  20. Jean Renoir

216. DONALD FAGEN: Suken Condos (2012)

Whoa! It's here.

Donald Fagen will be 65 in a few months. Old man, on behalf of all us aging motherfuckers who still think we can swing, plant funk, sew it all up and serve it on out -- we thank you! This has got to be one of the swingingest albums of all time. And as the kids say ... Really?

His fourth solo album promises to be a most delicious dish ... but is it a luscious dessert, a cherry-banana topping off the Trilogy ( Nightfly (1982) / Kamakiriad (1993) / Morph the Cat (2006) // or is it something brand new; perhaps the start of a new series ... or is it an enigma, to be slowly unwrapped over a long period of time; each listening revealing yet another wondrous kick on some ambiguous and-of-four which punches up a whole new set of matrices, weaving in and out of lyrics like this:

I can hold my breath
For a really long time now
I can hold my own
I'm not the same without you

Whoa! It's here.

Mike Ragogna's interview with Donald and Michael Leonhart

What stands out for me in this lovely interview with the two forces behind this product is the delicious way they "recall" the other talent on the disc, including Michael's father, Jay:

"DF: Well we've got a couple of acoustic bass players. We have a man named Jay Leonhart, of whom Michael is a progeny, we have a man named Joe Martin, I don't know whose progeny he is, probably Mr. Martin's ..."

Personally, I think this album should have been titled "q.v." Quod vide, which see; meaning check out every single musician on this date, and you will find an amazing artist in his or her own right, including Jay's daughter and Michael's beautiful sister, Carolyn:

For example, clicking on any of the three links above (Jay, Joe, Carolyn) will send you down a rabbit-hole of musical deepness (listen to the audio which plays when you click on Martin's name!) and must-check-this-out type of talent.


Especially, Michael Leonhart.

I. Slinky Thing

The first thing we notice is an acoustic bass! Mr. Joe Martin, ladies and gentlemen. As I said, q.v. Every single musician on this release ... and this dude is tasty! [If you click through on his name above, you will hear a clip from his latest...]

Check out the instrumentation here at the beginning: Bass, Clavinet (Leonhart [hereinafter referred to as ML]), Drums (also ML), Guitar (Jon Herington), and another sound which sounds like a soft synth sound; perhaps it is Fagen (DF) on Prophet 5.

It's interesting to note how the bass, clavinet and "soft-synth" parts are written-out while Herington slides around ...

It could not possibly be more deliciously funky!

It was an October morning
Near the carousel
I met a lithe young beauty
And we talked there for a spell
We walked up by the Great Lawn
And my heart began to sing
A madman on a bench screams out:
Hold on to that slinky thing (note the vibes [ML]!)
Hold on to that slinky thing

Sure is October, in any case. At least it was when I began this post...

An A Minor groove sizzles until the penultimate line in each verse when he shifts to some exotic false-dominant substitutions. The sizzle becomes positively steamy in the second verse:

We went to a party
Everybody stood around
Thinkin': Hey what's she doin'
With a burned-out hippie clown
Young dudes were grinnin'
I can't say it didn't sting
Some punk says: Pops you better
Hold on to that slinky thing
Hold on to that slinky thing

The vibes now stay in the mix while Donald and the girls chant More light -- more light six times.

II. I'm Not the Same Without You

III. Memorabilia

IV. Weather in my Head

V. The New Breed

VI. Out of the Ghetto

VII. Miss Marlene

VIII. Good Stuff

IX. Planet d'Rhonda

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

215. Arts and Entertainment

The video of Samura1man's (hereinafter "Samura" for simplicity) record-setting quest for the 100% Speedrun world record of the Nintendo Game Cube release, Mario Sunshine, begins with a failed wall-kick. A slip of his finger on the movement controller plunges Mario into a small stream, where he clings to the bank, ready to move on.

I would estimate this mistake -- which most casual players would have avoided -- might have cost him, perhaps, 15 to 20 seconds in lost time.

So, at 0:00:08, Samura says: "Let's reset."

~ ~ ~

The object of a 100% completion of Mario Sunshine is quite simple, actually.

You must collect 120 Shine Sprites and 240 Blue Coins. The Sprites (twinkling, rotating 8-pointed yellow stars with smiley faces) are earned after completing an "episode" of a "level" of the Mario world; in addition, sprinkled throughout the game are various Sprites that can only be won by some clever gameplay, often using newly acquired devices which augment the power of Mario's water-weapon.

My daughters and I played this game for years and years -- and at least one of my daughters (although not myself!) completed the entire game. I can only estimate vaguely -- but I suspect that they probably played for at least 100 hours -- perhaps more -- to accomplish this task.

In this video, Samura completes 100% of the game in 3 hours and 43 minutes, 15 seconds. All 120 Sprites. All 240 Blue Coins.

~ ~ ~

Understanding the SpeedRunsLive box on the left is quite simple: The name of the "level/episode" / the number of Blue Coins collected (in parentheses) / and the cumulative time. When an episode is completed, the cumulative time turns into a + or - figure, indicating the split between this run and the previous world record (held by Samura -- 3:48:00).

The actual gameplay for this run begins at 0:07:05. Mario's very first belly-slide (the quickest method for moving him straight ahead) results in a crash (see the stars?).

"Horrible," Samura exclaims. Nevertheless, he dispatches the first Petey Piranha boss quite quickly.

The next task is to chase down "Shadow Mario" and spray him until he "dies." Samura quickly picks up a Blue Coin before racing back to the big "M" where he will enter the next level. He cannot enter until Shadow Mario (resurrected) races back and paints that big "M" and he has to wait two or three seconds for Shadow Mario to finally show up!

"Hey!" Samura seems surprised that he had to wait those few precious seconds before jumping in. The clock reads 8:56 as he begins the final section of the episode; the previous record is 9:47:10; can he complete it in 51 seconds?

Once again, Samura fails to execute a clean belly-slide right out of the gate. I believe he curses in Finnish! But the rest of the run is note-perfect, as far as I can tell.

The split is in red -- 6:03. He must make up that time quickly if he wants to set a new record.