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There's been an amusing discussion in the Sydney Morning Herald about the horrors of Pachelbel's Canon in D... from the perspective of the cellists. It is apparently the most boring piece in the world for them to play, and for good reason, according to this hilarious rant on YouTube.

But I do think the violists have it worse (as usual), especially given this perspective from one poor suffering soul: "We pluck, yes, pluck the same two bars 28 times. I am at serious risk of RSI from that infernal Canon. Moreover, we are expected to bow the last note! Yes, we either have to play the entire Canon with bow in hand all for one note, or we must leave a sizeable gap before said note in order to retrieve our bow. I don't think Pachelbel knew that violists are people too. Then again not many people seem to know that these days."

Now, I learned to play (to a middling standard, for a teenager) a few wind instruments when I was at school, and while I really love the Greensleeves melody, dear god, is there anything that has been more thrashed to death on a flute? And don't talk to me about saxophone music - there doesn't actually appear to be any. It's all horrible arrangements of pop songs (and pop songs are boring to play on an instrument that can't do chords), or the fucking Darth Vader theme. (Henry Mancini and Stevie Wonder were the only decent bits, at least until I got good enough to learn some jazz pieces)

I have an ex-girlfriend whose siblings all did piano lessons, being nice middle-class minister's daughters. They all got so sick of Für Elise that they had races to see who could play it the fastest. Not the best way to learn phrasing and dynamics, one feels. Then there was Smoke on the Water, which was ruined for me when I had to listen to literally dozens of kids at school pluck it out on their crappy guitars using the two-fingered chords.

Anyone else have horror stories of musical clichés you dread ever hearing, much less playing, again?
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Well, I was going to post up a pic of me sitting very self-consciously on my car de coolness, but I'm having Goddess Visitations of Hell, and my normal l33t pic-shrinking skillz are not working. So, another day.

[ profile] saluqi and I attended a very groovy exhibition at the NGA on Asia/Pacific photography from 1840-1940 - Picture Paradise. It covered a wide geographical area, from India to the west coast of North America, and all stops in between. This is appropriate because of the roving "crews" (whalers, sealers, sailors, gold diggers, pirates) who created a Pacific economy as colonialisation got underway. And, of course, Northern European colonialisation of those regions is a shared theme. We remarked on the propensity of the colonial elite to build humungous European-style mansions with their cast-of-thousands coolie labour, cut down all the trees and plant oaks in their newly-created parks just like Home (although having lived overseas for a significant proportion of my life now, I know deeply what it's like to miss one's own native foliage. I do prefer what is native to the actual location though).

There was a good range of actual photography styles - historical documentary, landscapes, romanticised "noble savages", bloody awe-inspiring Ansel Adams, the cultural commentary (look at what those nasty Chinese people do to torture criminals), homoeroticism, eroticalisation (is that a word?) of The Other; cultural imperialism, commentary about the cultural imperialism, and on and on. The only problem with the exhibition was that there was no warning about some of the more confronting images (just a warning that some images may not be suitable for children would have sufficed), nor was there much actual commentary on the themes (like those I just identified and more). I don't like it when an artist/curator needs to write an essay on the "meaning" of a work (I dislike art-wank), but I also think a discussion of historical context and the more obvious themes would be in order. For example, all the nameless subjects - I'm sure the Rajah of _stan (pick any) had a name, but it wasn't given with the picture of him in all his finery. Imagine omitting the name of Queen Victoria in any portrait of her.

Perhaps the book that was printed for the exhibition went into the thematic discussion a bit more, but I wasn't going to buy it due to the shoddy nature of the reproductions. It's not that hard to get reproductions of photos right (daguerrotypes and the like can be tricky because of their nature, but still), and for something produced by the NGA itself, it was unbelievable. Highlights blown out, pictures including the frame and thus cluttering up the actual image, incredibly flaky colour balances...

Blah de blah. If you're in Canberra, do go along to it though, if you have an interest in photography and/or the period and region.

Oh, and it inspired a cheezy joke made up by me, due to a cute pic of a duck:

What do you call a collection of insane ducks?

Sorry about that.

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There was a fantastic lemon tart that we had for dessert with our overpriced dinner, and the sugar rush made me want to engage in some interpretative dance at the height of the Bargiel. Something a bit like the following could have been quite appropriate, if it were done at about twice the speed:

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Had a very pleasant weekend. A great night out with [ profile] saluqi at a concert put on by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Llewlleyn Hall at the University. They've done it up well, and I thought the sound was better compared to the last time - neutral, but full and clear. The orchestra was fab. Really well-balanced, and they played with plenty of oomph. It took me a wee while to get over the facial contortions of the guest cellist, Stephen Isserlis, but he certainly played well.

They started off with CPE Bach, which was lovely, did a couple of nice small pieces by Ravel, rumpty-pumped through a selection by a Mendelssohn contemporary called Woldemar Bargiel (Isserlis told an entertaining story about the piece, but it didn't grab either of us), and then finished up with Bartók, which I really enjoyed.

Regarding the Bargiel piece, it was evidently written by a 19-year-old, since he seemed to chuck in the cool embellishments of the time, including some interesting pizzicato passages, which [ profile] saluqi reckoned was like speed metal guitarists playing with their teeth. With that in mind, I've got the perfect track to illustrate our findings - a nice mashup of DnB and Slayer called Angel of Theft (hee!) by "Player" aka Amon Tobin:

....and it's now the third time I've lost the second half of this post, so I'm giving up. I might be motivated to write about our unfortunately-overpriced dinner out, the most clever Afghan in Canberra, the satisfactions of mowing lawns, and the annoyances of gastroscopies finding nothing wrong with you. Some time. Maybe.


Dec. 4th, 2007 09:44 pm
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Deutsche Grammophon are selling all their music online. No DRM! 320kbps MP3s! Which means you have bloody excellent sounding music (what's iTunes default offering? 160kbps?) on any of your devices that you can store as you choose (without resorting to bullshit routines like burning stuff to CD, unless you want), without being locked into proprietary software to load it onto your device. 10 euros per CD on average is a pretty good deal too (at that quality). You can also buy per track (€ 1.29) or per work (which is still priced per track, but downloadable in one swodge).

Other grooviness is that the CD downloads also come with a PDF booklet. They're also rereleasing 600 out-of-print CDs as downloads. How fab. The site is has a nice clean design, and is nice and clear with what you're purchasing. You can listen to excellent quality 2 minute previews of the tracks (they've definitely taken a leaf out of Magnatune's book, although not quite as far as being able to preview the entire track). I do like the flexibility you get with purchasing either track/CD/work, and that high-quality NON-DRM'd download is bloody fantastic.


Now I can start replacing some of the classical music I've managed to lose since my teenage years. DG doesn't have the best of everything, but there is plenty of good stuff that they do have.
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[ profile] saluqi and I went to see the The Choir of Westminster Abbey last night, which was an excellent night out. It was made quite entertaining by half of Canberra also apparently going to see it, and the Parliament House (which is where the concert was) carpark maybe having the capacity for half the vehicles. And the fact that it was properly raining for the first time in weeks. After [ profile] saluqi did some excellent cross-country manoeuvres in finding us a parking spot amongst some trees (who needs a 4x4 when these intrepid Aussie babes are about?), we got to the venue with literally a minute to spare. It was full, so about 40 or so people (including us) got shunted upstairs to sit in the balcony.

It's funny, I was strongly reminded of a school hall, although it was much bigger, and the abstractish gum tree artwork at the back was quite nice. Perhaps it's a more interesting chamber when it's gussied up for state occasions, but at least we had comfy seats. When the choir came on, unfortunately the room was a bit too large for the number of voices (about 30) - it sounded nice (it wasn't a dead sound), but it was quiet. I'm certainly not a purist myself on such occasions - I think a bit of discreet amplification can definitely help out when the space doesn't quite fit the performance.

However, really nice voices - you can see the depth of training they have. It was a nice selection of music as well. I liked the Elgar, even if it is a bit of a cliché. The Handel woke us all up before the interval with some fun rumpty-pumpty. [ profile] saluqi particularly liked the Hubert Parry (and I did too), and I thought the Taverner was really cool... although too quiet. I was impressed by the bass - he must have felt like he had run a marathon afterwards. There was one modernist piece, possibly by Ross Edwards, an Australian composer, and like much modernist classical music (certainly not all), it didn't float my boat. One "dud" out of an entire programme is fine by me.

But the best part was the cool (in a typical geekly way) organist! They had him on the harmonium to start with, but he did a couple of solo pieces with a proper organ, and they were the best parts, for me. We agreed it'd be nice to be able to see organists play - hands and feet - but it's not so great when they're hidden behind the console. I vote for organist-cam, myself. Since the director of the choir is the organist for the Abbey itself, it's no wonder there was a bit more prominence given to it than you might normally expect.

Strangely enough, I think I would have been quite happy without the boys singing (which is the whole point of the thing, after all). None of them particularly stood out for me, but one of the (adult) tenors (and the bass in the Taverner) certainly did. Perhaps some of that was my residual irkedness about the director's weak defence of boys-only choirs (towards the end of the article) - if they under puberty, who cares? I'm fine with adult male-only (or female-only) choirs, let me add. It was their obvious depth of training that impressed me, but not so much the boys' choir as itself. It was interesting to run up against that thought, and my wondering throughout why girls aren't permitted to have such an opportunity to be so intensively trained in that way.

Still, as I say, it was a great evening, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to go along. Canberra doesn't do too shabbily in this realm (certainly better than NZ does).


Aug. 19th, 2007 02:19 pm
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(not that kind, that was 21 years ago)

The delightful [ profile] saluqi bought us tickets to go see Broad for my birthday last month, and the concert was last night. It's an ensemble of women singer/songwriters put together by Deborah Conway, with a range of styles from the individual performers. While not one of them is a performer I'd go see individually, the show was definitely one where the whole was better (for me) than the sum of its parts. It certainly helps that all of the performers are good musicians and singers, and did a great job together.

Abby Mae was the standout individual performer for me. Interesting blues-flavoured songs, and a fantastic voice which sounded like a cross between Chrissy Amphlette and Stevie Nicks (IMO). Also, she was a dab hand with the ukulele and theremin (also, you haven't lived until you've heard Alice Cooper covered on the uke - not by Abby Mae, I hasten to add).

Deborah Conway rolled out a rousing rendition of Man Overboard, although we weren't quite sure what was up with the big grin on her face throughout. Mind you, I don't think I could sing the line about pubic hair with a straight face either. It was also nice that the lesbian fangirls (of which there were many) restrained themselves from dancing in the aisles. A couple of them attempted a standing ovation at the end of the show, but it didn't take. Oh well.

There were a few quibbles. One of the performers, Sally Seltmann, does the naive waifish thing, which irritates me no end musically (and personally, when I encounter such people older than their teens). While I'm fine with lyrics about flowers, the juxtaposition with bubbles lost me. Also, unfortunately, her voice was nowhere near as powerful as any of the others, and it showed up badly in the rocky ensemble pieces. The volume was up too loud for the concrete shell that is the Canberra Centre. The backing drum and bass were cranked up way too loud. They overpowered the main performers - there were times where I couldn't even make out the lead singer's lyrics.

Despite those quibbles, it was an excellent night out, even with [ profile] saluqi soldiering on through the end of a nasty cold. I'm very happy and grateful she treated me with this. :-D
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By “library smut” I am in no way referring to the photo books on native peoples, or the illustrated health manuals, or any of the other volumes which, in your childhood, you lurked about the library aisle to find with the sole purpose of sneaking guilty glances at naked bodies. Nor am I referring to the “risqué” novels by Miller, Cleland, Réage, or Lawrence [or Burton (unexpurgated Arabian Nights), or Colette, or Nin, or Sheikh Nefzaoi (The Perfumed Garden)] you leafed impatiently through as a teenager. No. What I’m talking about here is the full-frontal objectification of the library itself. Oh yeah.
Just sumptuous pictures. I've been to the British Library reading room (of course - it was not far from work), but none of the others, alas. When I went to the UK, it was with the intention of eventually going to Trinity College in Dublin to study computational linguistics. I wish I had. I particularly like the libraries in Rio, Den Haag, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Pure sex.

I think I need this book. Or to be living in one of those places.
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I went to the National Museum of Australia yesterday to see the exhibition on Cook's Pacific Encounters. Frankly, I was a bit meh about the whole thing. It's actually the Göttingen University collection of Cook material - while it's great that they let all this stuff go travelling, it could have done with a bit of mix-and-match curating, from my perspective.

I admit to being probably quite fussy about Pacific collections. When you've seen the Māori and Pacific collections that the Auckland Museum has, you realise the breadth of what there is to cover. The British Museum has an excellent collection as well. So, it wasn't for the actual material they had that was specifically interesting to me - other than its age - it was the context of Cook's voyages that was the interesting part.

So, ok, you got an anteroom with a once-over-lightly description of Cook and the voyages, and a couple of potted biogs of Banks and Solander, with a few portraits - mainly reproductions - including the Dance one of Cook and one or two bits and pieces from the voyages, such as a spyglass used by one of Cook's lieutenants, a sextant, a botantical collecting bottle, a couple of printed volumes. And really, that was about it.

Then it was onto the main collection, which was admittedly large and diverse, but it had no context. The only theme appeared to be that all objects of a common type were chucked in together, but with no attempt to compare and contrast. While you can do a bit of that visually, things saying that "Tahitians used pieces of mother-of-pearl from oyster shells for fishing lures while the Maori used paua in similar instances" would have given more information. All we had was a description of the object (eg. kahu muka, flax fibre cloak) and where it was collected from (eg. New Zealand). There was no attempt to place items in context of the voyages - something saying, "Collected by Furneaux in 1773 in Dusky Sound, South Is, NZ, possibly from the Ngatimamoe tribe" would have been really nice.

Of course, that kind of provenance might have been difficult to put together, although my understanding is that the University of Göttingen acquired the collection very early on, from a very limited number of dealers and direct endowments. An alternative could have been to excerpt some log and journal entries that related to various objects, even if not identified specifically. Such as, say, about a headdress: "Besides the common dress some of these people wore on their heads ^round Caps made of birds feathers which were far from being unbecoming" (from Cook's description of the Endeavour's visit to Queen Charlotte Sound). By the way, Cook's, Banks' and Parkinson's (the artist) Endeavour journals are online at the National Library of Australia.

It's a shame that no-one appeared to think of doing something like that, although it's possible that the printed catalogue ($40, so I didn't buy it) gives more background. I strongly think, if so, that that kind of information (even condensed) should be part of the exhibition proper. The trend of essentially expecting you to buy a catalogue for the context is one that really irks me - it certainly appears to be getting more common in various institutions. Still, I wished I picked one up for a look to see if that was the case.

A nice alternative would be if the collection had been used as a basis for tracing the changes in Pacific art over the last 300 or so years, in which case you would need very little reference to Cook, or no more so than the other Pacific explorers of that time and subsequently, such as Wallis, de Surville, Du Fresne, etc.  Doing that for the whole Pacific would be a big job, though.

Still, it was interesting enough, and it's always groovy visiting the museum, which is a funky building, although the flow from one area to the next is kind of lacking. I like it despite that.
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HOLY TANGO ANTHOLOGY of LITERATURE, by Francis Heaney, is online!! 11!!!!eleventy!!! *SQUEE!*

For the uninitiated, it's a compilation of works as written by poets and playwrights whose titles were anagrams of their names. And it's a scream. Some examples below.


It is an ancient Mariner,
And he taketh lots of drugs,
And he thinks his beard is made of snakes
And his body crawls with bugs.


Dramatis Personae:
SADLER HIGGINBOTHAM, an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service
AMBROSE PECK, a taxpayer
SADLER: ... I am merely here to clarify a few minor tax matters which occasioned question.
AMBROSE: It has been my experience that clarification never works in my favor. Why is it, for example, that whenever one has finally found an agreeable female dinner companion, invariably one is asked to clarify one’s feelings about her? It makes a simple relationship so dreadfully awkward.
SADLER: I’m afraid such questions are out of my purview. But shall we begin?


In tholde dayes of the towne Seatel,
Of whos charmes Nirvana fans yet pratel,
Al that reyny land fayn slepen late.
Thus ofte a sutor failled to keepe a date;
And werkers reched offices at noon,
Noddyng of although the sunne shoon;
Husbondes were too tyred by the eve
A staf for plesyng wyves to acheve.

Now to this citie in a languor stukke,
Came a fair knyght cleped Sterrebukke,
Beryng benes from a forein land
Ygrounde to a poudre in his hand,
From which a potent brew could he deryve
That causeth wery peple to revyve.

The Pinter and the Beckett, OMFG! Best rendition of Waiting for Godot (sorry, Bake Me Cutlets) EVAH.

And there's not just tons and tons of awesome prose and poetry, there's some explication of the poetic devices used:
However, novice poetry readers do often misunderstand the role of rhythm and meter in poetry, and this is easily set right. A line of a poem can be broken down into individual “feet”; three of these feet make a yard, which can then be converted into the poem’s meter using a metric conversion table. A foot generally consists of one stressed syllable and a small number of unstressed syllables. Here are the most common poetic feet, as well as some obscure ones included mainly to show how well educated we are, with illustrative examples.

iamb: ku-RUPT
trochee: OUT-kast
spondee: SLICK RICK
anapest: de la SOUL
dactyl: LUD-a-cris
amphibrach: the PHAR-cyde
amphimacer: FOX-y BROWN
choriamb: BIG dad-dy KANE
amphitrochidactapest: DEL tha FUN-kee ho-mo-SA-pi-en

Weren't those 6th Form poetry lessons a waste of time? What if you'd had THAT kind of teaching?

Anyway. Go read. I must buy the book.

Don't drink or eat while doing so (my nostrils were nicely rinsed and sand(biscuit)-blasted during morning tea. I blame C3P0 and R2D2. Hayfever's gone though).
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I've found an awesome website, discussing Bach's fugues and running through each of the 48 pieces from The Well Tempered Clavier by way of example.

It uses Shockwave. You have audio of the piece being played (very nicely). At the same time, the sheet music is being displayed, with each measure marked via highlighting. There is a description of the performance. There is analysis that describes what is going on with the music. Ok, I can read simple music (eighth notes are a sufficient challenge, thank you, and with wind instruments, you're only following a single line), but when you start talking counterpoint, I start feeling like Larson's dog: blah blah blah notes blah music blah. The analysis is done in such a clear way that it's almost intelligible to me. It's also hyperlinked, so that when it starts talking about the triple counterpoint, you can click and it starts playing those measures. There is a graphical exposition of the music that shows what's going on in its structure (the intertwining of subject and countersubject, the play of canons and sequences) using wee animations.

Here's a screenshot. )

Just fantastic, and you can tell it's a labour of love from the commentary:
Delicious Canons & Sequences

If Bach were a chef, the canonic sequences in this fugue would be his Crêpes Suzettes Flambé. Before sinking your teeth into this delight you might enjoy an appetizier -- a quick review of canon and seqence.

The food parallels are quite common throughout. And, hey, that's a metaphor that works for me.

The analysis from Fugue 16, Book II has to be seen to be believed. The writer draws comparisons with the Grand Canyon, and you have a slideshow of pics playing throughout. When the discussion is on themes (Moonlight), the pictures are in black and white, as are the sheetmusic and exposition. When he talks about voices (Colorado), the pictures are in colour, as are the sheet music and exposition parts. Amazing.

Also, listening to the pieces again and seeing the explanation of their structure reminds me of why I can't be an atheist. I mean, the music just goes beyond genius.

Sydney II

May. 7th, 2005 06:42 pm
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I like being here, much more so than Canberra. Canberra is so utterly homogonised, except perhaps for the ambassadors and their various families. Here, there are all sorts. I miss this kind of cultural diversity.

I really like King Street here in Newtown. Just to put in Auckland terms, it's like a big long Ponsonby Rd crossed with K Rd, without K Rd's sleaziness or Ponsonby Rd's - I have to say it - ponciness. The area around reminds me of Grey Lynn/Ponsonby, those late-19th Century central Auckland suburbs. Narrow streets and small houses (especially in Australian terms), and those vibrant yet slightly-decayed-round-the-edges-shops. The queer culture (not just "gay") is evident, and it is like standing in a revitalising rainstorm. I haven't realised how much I've missed it.

So, I've done my normal "holiday" pursuits: spent way too much money on books, music and especially food. I've tried sampling coffee around and about, but haven't really found a cup that makes me go, "Yum!". I had high hopes of a cafe called Allegro, where they roast on the premises, but like everywhere else I've encountered so far around here, they do a light French roast which is too acidic for my taste. Dark roast is the way to go, for me. To put in spice terms, it's like the difference between nutmeg and cinnamon: nutmeg is great for extra zing and a sharper note, but if you want your apple pie to taste right, it has to be cinnamon. Oh, and speaking of hot drink oddness, to all those baristas out there, chocolate sprinkled over one's chai latte does NOT work. Kills the small hint of spices you get in the commercial syrups and you most certainly can't taste the tea. Cinnamon OR nutmeg are just fine, thank you.

I just had some delicious sushi - just from a sushi robot, but yummo. While I was there, they were showing stuff from a Japanese TV programme on sushi - how the fish is caught, how it's prepared, types of sushi, etc. They kept doing long slow food porn shots of the rich and glistening hunks of flesh, I mean fish. But they killed the mood with a nice middle-aged Japanese bloke complete with bushy fu manchu moustache and pony tail, gobbling it up, and, presumably, giving a spiel on what it tastes like. Frankly, I'd much rather watch Nigella Lawson doing food porn, any time. I'd much rather watch Nigella Lawson doing ANY porn, any time. Or in fact, anything at all, if it's in close proximity to me. (sorry, gratuitous Nigella-dribble there).

I had good intentions of going to the Australia Museum today, but didn't get the time. As well as my coffee search, I bumped into one of my old colleagues, Chris, who left my last workplace to come back to Australia a couple of months after I left. So off we went and caught up on the goss and talked boring techie talk. He's looking so much happier and relaxed back here, and he told to me that he is utterly relieved to be out of Wellington. It was very evident. Personally, I'd be relieved to be back there, but it's all about what we have an affinity for, isn't it? I also can't believe I just bumped into the only other person I know in Sydney; I didn't have a clue that he lived in Newtown, and there ARE 4 million people in this town, after all.

Other than catching up with Chris, I also had the massage from hell (actually, it was fantastic), which I evidently needed, given how much everything is aching right now. But my upper back is sooo much looser and I feel like I've dropped 20 kilos. Must remember that while I'm not having sex, a massage is a GOOD THING to have regularly. The massage chappie told me that everything was completely locked up (yes, I could tell that when he ran his fingers down my spine, and I had to stop myself from yelping, in several places)... but that once he had a chance to work on me, everything loosened up incredibly well. Sounds like me, really, all or nothing.

So, I'm back off home tomorrow evening, but I hope to get to the museum in the morning, it's just a quick train ride from here. And I've definitely decided that I need to come visit more often, so as to be able to recharge various of my batteries more often.


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