Saturday, March 31, 2007

Side by Side by Side

This turned out to be a good week for that sprawling, vibrant genre of music known as "non-classical":

Firehouse 12. This is a bar and jazz performance spot in New Haven, built a few years back in a repurposed fire house. (Not to be confused with Firehouse 16 in East Haven, which does not have a jazz performance space but does have a fire hydrant robot.) The performance space is also a recording studio, so it has this sonic-sanctum feel to it, just dead cushiony silence when it's quiet, sealed off from the bar. I've been meaning to go for a while, and they just started up a weekly Friday night concert series that stretches through June. Last Friday was a trio featuring a pianist named Frank Kimbraugh, which was fairly low-key and straightforward, with a wide sentimental streak & some nicely angular melodies in the up-tempo numbers.

I like jazz, and I'd like to hear more jazz, and I'd like to be able to hear more in jazz. I realized last week my only reference points for piano jazz are Thelonius Monk and the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Antibalas. On Wednesday Stu landed some radio station comp tickets to this Afro-Latin funk fusion group, which was playing at Toad's Place, so we went. Good stuff -- an 11-piece ensemble including saxes & trumpets, and congas on top of the usual rhythm section. (MySpace here.) They layed down a series of nice fat 10-minute pieces, usually instrumental, founded on grooves that lash funk figures to African drumming patterns, sometimes with a Latin flavor. Solos on top of that -- particularly from their tenor sax, who can belt out a raspy tone like he's on a bari -- or vocals from the man on congas, who wears dreds and some face paint and a kind of ritual-looking getup and performs like he's summoning something. It all works, it makes quite a noise, and it's a show worth getting to. They've got a new album out, which I haven't listened to.

(They're in Washington D.C. on April 4th, Nate. And Dan, April 28th in Ann Arbor. Mike, if you still read this, Pittsburgh on May 3rd. Dad, I don't know if it would be your scene.)

Company. I took yesterday off work and went into New York, where I finally got around to seeing the revival of Sondheim's Company on Broadway, with Mandy and one of her lab coworkers. This is just an incredible show: smart, sophisticated, abstracted just the right amount. Raul Esparza plays Robert with an exquisite range of irony, detachment, and wry vulnerability, and his deadpan quips come off with natural spontaneity.

For further substantial description I refer you to the internet. The staging has the cast functioning as orchestra, hanging around onstage and playing various instruments, which they play solidly. This looks a lot more natural than it sounds, and it flows very well with the storyline, if you can even call it that, which is free-associative and doesn't take place within a literal passage of time.

The songs in this show are great, each one catchy and intelligent. The cast recording is out on CD.

Last spring I'd gotten hooked on the original recording from 1970 (featuring Dean Jones, also remembered for his work in Herbie the Love Bug, That Darn Cat, etc.) so I get these little flashes of memory of what it felt like driving home into East Haven a bunch of cool evenings last May, trying to game the Green Car's gas mileage by coasting towards all the stop signs, self-absorbing into "Poor Baby" or "Another Hundred People." I wasn't previously aware that I had any kind of nostalgia for May '06.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bumper Literally to Bumper

My car got mildly run into on the drive home from work this afternoon: I was stopped in a slightly denser than usual mass of stop-and-go traffic on I-66 East when a car ran into the car stopped behind me. Very slow speed, nobody hurt.

The three of us pulled over halfway into the grassy median and quickly exchanged our information. The woman who was driving the car in back wrote down her policy number on one of her business cards. The guy from the middle car asked if I wanted his info and then started to do the same; I noticed his card was from the company I work for.

Nate: Oh, you work for ___________! Me too.
Guy from Middle Car: I know, I see you around all the time.
Nate: Oh. ...Yeah, me too.

In retrospect I guess he looked kind of familiar, though I may just be covering for myself given that between the two of us we're something like 1.5% of the company's domestic workforce. I handed him my numbers written on an old card from my last job with that business number scratched out, which seemed slightly less classy.

Anyway, my bumper cover is somewhat looser than usual and extremely lightly scratched and the trunk floor might have gotten flexed a little, so hopefully I'll just do my follow-up call with Progressive tomorrow morning and then go have my car checked out at some body shop on somebody else's insurer's dollar. I guess one good thing about the citizenry's stubborn refusal to widen I-66 inside the Beltway is that at peak times it's hard for anyone to get going fast enough to inflict any serious damage.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yet another brief post about a book I'm reading

So I've been reading Danielewski's House of Leaves recently, which is a pretty neat book. It's all meta-textual and pretensious and shit, despite the fact that at its core its a mostly agoraphobic horror story, and another layer or two out its mostly a claustrophobic horror story with a melodramatic, way over-the-top narrator. I dunno though - through the first 166 pages or so I was really into it, and even finding it to be genuinely scary, but like so many horror-things, its, another 120 pages or so later, starting to get kinda boring. No details, though, as our blog-wide moratorium on details about books that no else has read continues.

Mostly, I mention it, 'cause I think there are some paralells, at the book level, with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, in that both books are first novels and both books are super-ambitious. House of Leaves is typographically ambitious, and Infinite Jest just is really fucking long. And they both have footnotes.

I don't know that I can really even recommend either book. Mostly I just feel kind of lame for reading yet another one of those books thats a book that people know by name or whatever, as one of those books that most people don't read or whatever. I'm looking forward to reading Lay of the Land, thusly, as that books seems much more acceptable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Am So Sick of that Tautology!

Apropos the present Blog slogan borrowed from my post borrowed from Futurama, I've often tried to come up with all the tautological cliches out there but never really managed to get them all down at once. But I think this is the whole list I'm aware of:
  • "You gotta do what you gotta do."
  • "Boys will be boys."
  • "It is what it is."
Any others you can think of? I actually feel like I forgot one while I was typing. Not like near-synonyms juxtaposed, but real definitional, "A is A" kind of stuff. No credit for "Stupid is as stupid does".

Tautologies seem to make particularly good cliches since they have the quality of being apparently meaningful yet logically vacuous.

Belated Notes from a Weekend

Note the First
Occasionally I have a thought that honestly embarrasses me, as in I think it and then feel ashamed in my own eyes.

The preface to this note is that I get a couple of magazine subscriptions, partly because of my public radio membership and partly because I paid for a couple subscriptions about a year ago with rewards points from my corporate credit card from my last job, which would have lapsed otherwise. (Actually they wouldn't have, since I just had to call the creditor to cancel a $75 Annual Reward Points Service Fee because my old company never terminated the card. But I digress.) I get Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and Wired, which I usually just leaf through once if I do anything with them at all before filing them with the rest of the junk mail (which some weeks means putting them in the garbage and some weeks means dumping them on the futon).

Anyway, sometime last week I was reading the Internet and saw some promotional blurb about how there is a saucy photo of The Office's Jenna Fischer on the cover of Wired this week. This is a magazine I haven't actually read while having it delivered to my door for the better part of a year; I mean, I kept the one with Stephen Colbert on the cover for a couple of weeks thinking I'd at least read the Stephen Colbert story but eventually threw it away anyway. And my first thought is, "oh man, I hope I'm still getting Wired". And my second, slightly squirmy thought is, "I can't believe this is the first use I've had for three magazine subscriptions in eleven months".

My third thought is the Simpsons joke where Lisa's reading Wired and Homer, misreading the cover, does this whole riff about an alleged, Mad-like magazine called Weird before he catches himself and asks, kind of self-effacingly, "There's no such thing as Weird Magazine, is there, Lisa?" But that's usually my first thought about any given issue of Wired.

Note the Second
There's a lunch-type restaurant a little bit south of the Dupont Circle Metro station in D.C. called "Kozy Korner Carry-Out". My friend John pointed out the sign to me as we walked past it on Saturday night. The name, or more specifically the potential abbreviation of the name, is funnier to me every time I think about it. From the owner's perspective, it must be either just a little too racist or not quite racist enough.

Note the Third
My iPod went missing from my backpack sometime Saturday night, I believe while I accidentally left it unattended in a bar with, seriously, about twelve people in it. This is not cool. However, Jack's copy of The Paradox of Choice, which I am belatedly finishing, was left unstolen, so on the train ride home I read some more of its general-readership economic arguments and mused morosely on whether various, financially equivalent losses would make me feel better or worse.

One tangential point Barry Schwartz makes in the book is that "downward comparisons" to others -- comparing ourselves to people who are worse off than ourselves -- often make us feel better about our own situations. So after confirming that Apple doesn't track the serial numbers of stolen iPods I googled something like "stolen iPod" and read a few message board posts by mildly sub-literate teenagers about how their iPods went missing from their lockers and they couldn't afford new ones. And to some extent I was like, ha ha, yeah, that does make me feel better. If Schwartz intended a self-help aspect to his book I'm pretty sure that wasn't it.

Also, as John somewhat humorously consoled me as we left the bar, "At least you beat me at darts four times in a row". It's true that that's a particularly unlikely circumstance due to my being terrible at darts.

Note the Nth
More words to live by from Futurama's Bender, since I seem to be watching through that again in between chunks of Grigori Kozintsev Shakespeare adaptations: "Bodies are for hookers and fat people! All I need is a wad of cash with a head wrapped around it."

Like most things I find unaccountably hilarious, I feel like I can read a lot of my own existential condition into this if I try hard enough. It's probably a lot less hilarious out of context.

Note the Last
While writing the first half of the first sentence of this post I managed to misspell both "occasionally" and "embarrasses". Thanks, Blogger spellcheck.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bumper Sticker Watch

Separate cars, but parked on the same block.

Bumper Sticker #1: I am a Miracle! Yep, praise God, all of us are. Too bad it doesn't prevent severe rust damage to our '88 Chevy Blazers.

Bumper Sticker #2: The Piano Sucked. Got a Problem with That? This is the most inexplicably combative movie review I've ever seen anyone paste to their car.

Mine would say "Honk if you found American Beauty entertaining but somewhat overrated!"

Empty Alphabetic Calories, Plus Monster Movie

My work friend Carmel got me a bag of editorially-appropriate "gummi letters" as a facetious gift last week, so I've been chewing on these during the last couple of workday afternoons. These are not the best thing to eat; I had a Scrabble rack's worth of them this afternoon (RHINELY—it's totally a word, you're going to be sorry if you challenge it) and I was feeling kind of unhappily buzzy until hitting the treadmill at the gym at 6 pm.

There's some cheap metaphor in there about literary consumption fueling go-nowhere action. I'll leave its working out as an exercise for the reader.

In more relevant news, all y'all need to go see The Host, which is exactly the smart & subtle monster movie everyone makes it out to be. The gigantic mutant salamander, or whatever it is, behaves convincingly like an animal (panicking huge crowds but eating only a few people); the main characters form a touchingly & comically dysfunctional family; the plot doesn't waste anything, doesn't let you take things for granted, and keeps its monster-appearance powder dry. The camera work is creative, the atmospherics are spot on (a lot of heavy rain), and the whole thing just gets better as it rolls along. The monster really isn't the main obstacle for the underdog good guys, but rather the paralyzing, inept government reaction to the situation.

Its social-criticism aspect has been talked up a lot, and it's there, but well-measured. It's American behavior that creates the monster, and largely an American impulse that creates hysteria over a monster-hosted virus that may or may not exist. But this is all secondary to the plot and kept as a vague, zeitgeisty kind of thing, which I think is the right way to do it. (Mostly the Americans are pegged as suspect by filling their roles with supremely odd-looking, pasty Caucasians. There's also a great moment where one of the good guys bursts out of the medical center where he's been detained and finds a bunch of American military personnel blithely having a barbecue.)

Clearly we've got the best Korean monster movie of early 2007 here, and I suggest again that you see it. You will not think about gigantic mutant salamanders the same way again!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Lay of the Land

I finished reading Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land about a week and a half ago, and it's good: powerful, satisfying. It's a different book than Independence Day, with the earlier book's scintillating onrush of detail being damped and darkened here, and with violence and volatility ever-present. (The book is set at recount-haunted Thanksgiving 2000, and 9/11 casts a shadow over it from the near future. This is an interesting choice of setting.) The storyline has Frank Bascombe, now in his mid-fifties, fighting prostate cancer, living oceanside in NJ, considering his own mortality, and mulling the "Permanent Period" that's followed the "Existence Period" of his earlier middle age.

Compared with the two earlier books, plot events here tend to be sharper and less likely; I mourn this a bit, since I found that to be a defining characteristic especially of Independence Day. Oddness does play well with poignancy, especially in a couple of episodes (Revolutionary War reenacters crossing in front of a misty suburban funeral procession; the public spectacle of an old hotel being imploded). The scene-setting detail work is still all there.

The narration starts throwing off new sparks, too: that quicksilver, present-tense Bascombe-perspective runs up into losses of emotional control, introducing an unpredictably recurring disconnect into the character's usual firm footing.

The final image in the book is beautiful and immensely satisfying, invested with the same kinetic sense of unending yearning that makes everyone remember Fitzgerald's boats beating against the current. It is good for the trilogy to close well.

As Pete noted a couple of weeks back regarding the new Pynchon book, it's kind of pointless to discuss a book much deeper when no one else has read it, so suffice it to say I recommend it. I think you'll want to have read both The Sportswriter and Independence Day first, since characters from both books are present.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Watch Me Now, Hey; Work, Work

Let the record show that, unlike Jack, I spent most of my birthday at the office scrambling towards a couple of deadlines next week.

It's not terrible (to quote the Battle Song from Deltron 3030, it "knocked me for a loop but I can still breathe") and it looks like my weekend has been largely spared. Still, I'm kind of down on the whole concept of working for a living right now. That and very tired.

The image above shows up on posters in an early episode or two of Futurama, before that show toned down its dystopian leanings, at least in terms of career assignment. I've been thinking all this week that I want one for my cubicle wall.

(Let the record also show that Jack, like me, is entering his twenty-eighth year, not his twenty-seventh, which he just completed. I guess working with words all day makes you lose your touch with the numbers?)

To think happier thoughts, I've got my cancelled/usused plane tickets from last weekend reapplied to next weekend so I can meet Jack in NY for some more concert-going (David Robertson, Dawn Upshaw, the St. Louis Symphony doing Britten, Adams, Mahler at Carnegie Hall) . So, onwards and upwards with using the birthday as an excuse for classical music-related travel...

Friday, March 23, 2007


So I've been reading Douglas Hofstadter's new book, I am a Strange Loop (which I, of course, highly recommend), and its been exciting my brain a lot, so I figured I would try to get a little snippet out of my system here (it came to me last night as I was reading in a distracting enough manner that I actually had to stop reading for a little while until it calmed down a bit) if, as nothing else, an example of an idea that came out of the aether of my brain not in direct relation to anything that was written in the book, but just 'cause what was written their made my brain so excited:

I wonder whether or not its necessary, or important, or whatever, to make a distinction between processes of science and processes of technology. I feel like its something I've encountered before in readings/listenings/watchings, but I can't actually think of anyhting specific where someone argues on behalf of such a semantic split, nor can I convincingly argue that there is any pop-cultural notion of a difference between science and technology.

But, so far as I can tell, science is the process where by technology uses its own methods to analyze itself. Such that, while technology has been advancing since, like, forever, science is a relatively new pursuit (and one that has been not always active in the West (or any other culture, for that matter)).

So, to keep this post relatively short, let me just posit that the origin of science is in the recursive application of technology to its self, which eventually generated enough momentum that science evolved beyond being a mere metatechnology to being a genuine medium of its own (paralell (but not isomorphic with), perhaps, culturally, to the Enlightenment concept of art pour l'art), which now stands as a process by which humans can come to an understanding of much more than their own technological processes.

I suppose my main motivation in even thinking such things has to do with an intense desire that more people see non-Religious worldviews as being as complicatedly beautiful as I do, or something. I dunno. Maybe its just something I thought of last night that seemed compelling at the time, but is just another phenomenological fiction or something. Whatever.

5 seconds for sale

Many of the crosswalks in Portland, like those of most cities, have pedestrian signals that include an audible signal to assist blind pedestrians in making a smart decision as to (knowing) when to cross the street. Unlike any other crosswalks in any other cities that I've ever encountered, the audible signal in Portland is actually a male voice saying "Signal is on walk. Signal is on walk." (or something to that extent. This amuses me every time I hear it. Mostly because of the Mr. Show sketch about the "House of the Future," whose only technology are speakers on various items of furniture that say things like "this is a chair" when someone walks into close proximity. Its very funny. My description isn't very funny ("I am no symbolist!") but thats only because I was really expecting the sketch in question to live on youtube, but it doesn't and I really hadn't planned on, when I was walking here to the library, on having to describe it. At any rate, I also think its funny because the signal usually only lasts for a couple seconds, so there's no time for the Spanish voice to get its two bits in ("la señal dice la caminata" (or something like that)). Or at least I always imagine that there is a Spanish voice living in the little crosswalk box too, and its slowly getting more and more fed up at not ever having a chance to speak.

Also, I find that Ligeti's Cello Concerto makes me, when I listen to it, feel like I can write music, and my silly brain comes up with ideas for concert pieces, which so far as I'm concerned is a waste of both mine and my brain's time, since it distracts from listening to the music in the first place.

Also, I'm proud that right after listening to the Ligeti, I put on a CD of hardcore punk from the early '80s, and the ego shines at its eclectic tastes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rouse in the House

Alex Ross notes the upcoming premiere of Christopher Rouse's Requiem by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. You can watch Grant Gershon, the Chorale's music director, give an informal talk about the Requiem on YouTube, with some excerpts at the piano; this is a pretty neat taster. Gershon's modest preview of the bombastic Rex Tremendae section is fun to watch, and the quieter bits sound like they'll be incredible in concert.

It's part of a talk that Gershon gave to the Chorale's Board of Directors: low-tech, for sure, but earnest and endearing, and also I think surprisingly exciting. Good marketing, and cheap at that.

The LAMC has a great marketing angle on this on their website, too, making it clear there's something really big at stake. Every premiere should be described like this.

Anyway, here's hoping this makes its way to the East Coast sometime fairly soon. Gershon & LAMC, who a couple years back premiered and recorded Steve Reich's fantastic "You Are" Variations, know what they're talking about when they say something's a modern masterpiece.

(Two Rouse CDs are on my "essential listening" list, such as it is: the Second Symphony & Flute Concerto, and the Violin Concerto & Rapture. If you haven't heard these yet, you're missing out on some of the best orchestral music to come out of the 1990s.)

B-Day 2K7

Let the record show that I entered my twenty-seventh year exactly as I lived the first twenty-six: in a bemused, alcoholic haze.

Not really. But the camera phone is a cruel medium.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Future of an Instinct

So I've just finished reading a couple more books, namely, Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct (Jack's comments on tLI) and Sigmund Freud's The Future of an Illusion (which, admittedly, is more of a pamphlet-length essay). However, since I read them more or less simultaneously, I thought I'd go ahead and muse about them at the same time as well.

I did enjoy the Pinker book quite a lot - I'd read another of his books, The Blank Slate sometime back in '05, and liked that book, but it went rather off the deep end towards the end as Pinker misapplied his own notion to ultimate and proximal evolutionary causes of things like art and feminism, which seemed misguided at best, and much much worse at worst. His style however, his decidedly lucid, which is quite helpful for a book that acts as a general overview of where our knowledge of language stood back in 1994. And he doesn't say anything stupid at any point, which is additionally quite helpful.

I had tried at some point, back in college, to read some of Chomsky's writings on Universal Grammar, but have never really gotten very far into any of them, it was very helpful to have Pinker's general overview of Chomskyian linguistics open the book, and ground the work, in general throughout.

There's just something about writers like Pinker and his colleagues (by colleagues, I suppose I am referencing, in general, a list of thinkers that looks something like the list provided by Daniel Dennett in the Preface to his Darwin's Dangerous Idea).

So how then, do I in the same ego-breath, read and find useful a text by Sigmund Freud, founder of one of the most useless metapsychologies of all time? Well, mostly because a lot of his ideas actually are quite useful, no matter how much the evolutionary thinkers dislike him. Personally, I think a lot of Freud is pretty alright, but its just all his damn acolytes that fucked it all up (Jung & Lacan come to mind as the two biggest fuck-ups in the history of psychoanalysis). Future of an Illusion is fun 'cause its mostly just an atheist tract, wherein Freud simply states that human culture has been developing since its primordial days, and that religion was simply a manifestation of the neuroses of mankind's collective childhood.

Most of the details seem pretty outdated at this point, mostly because that sort of time-line view of the development of history is rather out of vogue (despite the best efforts of several neo-Hegelians (see, again, today, Slavoj Žižek)), and Freud, while acutely aware of the implications of evolution, subscribed to a rather backwards (albeit typical for the time) notion of what evolution was, leading to this sense of inevitable progress upward as one moves forward in evolutionary time. Conveniently, Pinker spends some thoughtful time in The Language Instinct, debunking the so-called Great Chain of Being.

I think the main point is that neither book really helps explain all that much, in the end, since a lot of human functionality occurs at a higher level of symbolic process than pure grammar or language generation, so some sort of top-down view of the abstract processes of the mind is necessary, so something like Freudian thought will need to happen eventually to really understand how the mind works (which keeps Pinker's other book, How the Mind Works, towards the bottom of my ever-expanding queue of books to read).

Monday, March 19, 2007

No, That's Too Big

Jack's last post led me to go sifting for Alfred Hitchcock clips among YouTube's plagiariffic offerings and I have to say that the children's party scene in The Birds, besides being an editing coup, actually is kind of hilarious, at least once it's chopped down to Internet clip form.

Other good stuff, if you're willing to keep adjusting your volume controls: Saul Bass' taut, striking opening credit sequences for Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, set to equally fine Bernard Herrmann overtures (though that last clip cuts out rather maddeningly right before the music finishes). And, immortal, freshman-film-seminar type examples of The Gaze, playful and plot-advancing in Rear Window and breathtakingly lush in Vertigo.

The big Birds reference in a Simpsons episode that doesn't involve Hans Moleman in a phone booth is out there too -- I find it easy to forget how densely parodic those early episodes could be, but note how they transition directly from taking off of The Great Escape to taking off of The Birds, taking light jabs at Ayn Rand in the background all the while. I think my biggest disappointment when I finally saw The Birds for the first time was that nobody actually says "Uhhhhggghh... birds" in a Homer-like voice.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Need the Biggest Seed Bell You Have

When I was having lunch yesterday at the diner closest the train station (nachos & fixins over poached eggs: no better and no worse than it sounds), I noticed that the city's movie theater, which is right across the street from the diner, was advertising an 11 AM showing of The Birds for this morning. So I finally got around to seeing that. Is there a stranger movie out there than The Birds? I love how the first 45 minutes is all Hitchcockian character entanglement that gets utterly subsumed by the following plot. I think the movie is best enjoyed as a kind of wacky, unlikely medium for some very effective suspense. (And magnificent camera work, and scenes where someone's talking into a phone in the foreground and people in the background gradually bring their attention to what is being said, and other Hitchcockian goodness.) And then it just kind of ends.

I was wondering whether there's any conventional wisdom of what this might be "about"—usually I'd suspect some kind of Cold War paranoia from a '60s movie, but it really just seems to be about birds. And great soundtrack! Or lack of soundtrack, except for silences and bird noises. Very striking. Bernard Herrmann is in the credits for consulting on the sound.

Note to guy sitting behind me: hearty ironic-appreciation laughter comes across as kinda creepy when it's a scene involving terrified children, don't you think?

My first thought on seeing some decidedly unthreatening pigeons outside the theater afterwards was "Ha, you guys really don't have your act together." The walk home from the gym takes me right by a large cemetery, where a large but invisible crowd of small birds was chattering away relentlessly, and that does make you think twice . . .

This is actually two movies in two days for me, which I don't often accomplish. Yesterday it was The Lives of Others, conveniently screened at the Lincoln Plaza theater a movie-length and change before the start of the Philharmonic concert. I liked this but didn't love it. It's a story about a Stasi officer in mid-'80s East Germany who is assigned to monitor a possibly dissident playwright and begins to lose his steely detachment; the writer, for his part, is forced for other reasons to question his existence within the regime & to reexamine his compromises there.

It's a rich subject, and the movie draws a lot out of it. But it felt like the movie couldn't quite decide which of the main characters it was really about—the very long ending seems to reflect difficulty in getting to a point of resolution—and the reasons for some crucial character changes seemed muddy to me: maybe relying on a shorthand "proximity to art or artists will make people change their tune." The main female character in particular is always a bit of a plot element.

But it's worth seeing, if the story sounds like it would interest you. There are some effective, subtle touches too. A couple of scenes, for example, are set in an utterly drab Stasi headquarters cafeteria, which may be about as effective a banality-of-evil statement as you can make.

The Performin' o' the Ligeti

I did make it down to NYC yesterday, just for the afternoon and evening (and also the inescapable late-night Metro North ride back). Ligeti, Bach, Schumann. Good concert.

Christian Tetzlaff wears round-lens glasses and looks kind of like a young professor when he's dressed to concertize, so watching him angle over & lean into his violin while rocking out on bizarre slashes of the Ligeti concerto is a neat sight. Actually, most of the piece is lyrical, though unconventionally so: a direct manifestation of Ligeti's oft-quoted nostalgia for a homeland that no longer exists. Tetzlaff is a fine emissary from that homeland.

The first few seconds of sound that comes out of the violin in this concerto, an electric tendril beaming in out of silence, is one of the most amazing noises ever composed. Echoing crickets of mistuned strings soon join in; from there it's a rougher, ryhtmically complex jaunt through the rest of the movement. The second movement is long, a set of variations on a folk song (I'm not sure if it's "real" or not) familiar from Ligeti's Musica Ricercare and woodwind Bagatelles. (It's the beautiful, gliding, slow one: track three here.) Here it's modally warped and set as, among other things, a chorale for ocarinas and slide whistles. I've thought this sounds odd on CD, but live it's a great effect. The third movement is a brisk meteor shower; the fourth an eerie harmonic canvas that breaks out into modernist slashing.

The last movement is again propulsive and rhythmic, folky in a post-Bartok kinda way. Right before the end Ligeti indicates that the soloist should perform a self-composed cadenza; Tetzlaff's was one of the most jaw-dropping things I've ever heard someone play. It's like he's got his instrument hooked up to an amp and a pedal and he keeps changing the sound and color and edge to his tone, plus he's going up and down the strings like mad. Whoever he sold his soul to in order to play like that, it was worth it.

Tetzlaff played an encore, too, after some minutes of applause; I think it was probably from Bartok's solo violin sonata. Even more than the cadenza, here was an uncanny display of line, sound, and texture, the music itself a dizzying buzz of a fast movement. Three more curtain calls there, which is great to see for something as chromatic and complex as that.

Schumann's Rhenish Symphony on the back half of the program was also great: hearty, colorful, conducted in vivid brushstrokes by Alan Gilbert. The second and fourth movements of the symphony are especially vibrant—a sturdy German dance and an evocation of the Cologne Cathedral featuring some memorably majestic work from the trombones and horns. I didn't really know this piece till listening to it in advance of the concert, so that's something substantial to take away from the experience.

Webern's arrangement of Bach's Ricercare from the Musical Offering was set before the Schumann, and was appropriately gentle and lonely. The wildly different Stokowski arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (that's the Fantasia one) opened the concert as more of a throwaway overture.

The acoustics at Avery Fisher Hall continue to confuse me; the reputation is that they're terrible, though I've heard a bunch of concerts there now and it seems to range from mediocre to actually pretty good. I had a student ticket in the second tier center last night, under the ceiling of the third tier; Bach/Stokowski and Ligeti in the first half were both damped down and a bit distant, but Bach/Webern was OK and the Schumann sounded fantastic from the same spot.

You Know What We Could Use? More Superdomes

I noticed this in the magazine pile at the gym: Sports Illustrated devoted a cover story a couple weeks back to global warming. You can read it online: the effects of global warming on sports, and the supposedly growing awareness within the sports world of global warming. Interesting! Odd! It's good to know that the global warming issue continues to popularize, though "what happens to sports" isn't exactly the most urgent angle to the problem.

Typically overoptimistic quote: "It's only a short jump from a NASCAR driver with a raised consciousness to a NASCAR fan with the same." Oh yeah, they're famously easy to educate.

Sports will most likely have their greatest role in climate change by instilling America with the crucial team spirit and us-against-the-world mentality necessary to defend our precious agricultural resources against waves of desperate refugees. Wooooo!! Not in our house!!

Speaking of Sports Illustrated, did anyone else notice that Beyonce Knowles is on the cover of their swimsuit issue? My understanding of the swimsuit issue was that they're supposed to put some unknown Eastern European model on the cover, and that if the gods of cheesecake smiled on her she might become a celebrity for having appeared there. I fear that Sports Illustrated has instead determined that American men are no longer interested in ogling half-naked women unless those women are already celebrities. It's like there's an ever-expanding laziness even at the low end of our collective intellectual spectrum.

More pressing for Beyonce may be dealing with the famous Sports Illustrated cover curse, which hasn't been tested on singer/actresses yet. They say for athletes it's just regression to the mean, but if I were her I'd be mindful anyway. Don't forget the chilling example of that movie they made with Rebecca Romijn.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Different Trains, Every Time

Welp, the weekend fit of Lousy Smarch Weather has indeed cancelled Nate's flight to NYC, so instead of having a metropolitan weekend I'm just going to duck down for the evening to catch Christian Tetzlaff zigzagging through Ligeti's Violin Concerto with the NY Philharmonic (presuming the weather holds, which it looks like it's doing by now). I like snow days a lot—Friday work, for example, was pleasantly low-impact due to a midafternoon "use your discretion" crypto–office-closure—but, it's obviously less nice when it interrupts actual plans. And also there's the part about walking around in freezing gusts of raining ice.

Good to have had a St. Patrick's Day parade last weekend, so I don't feel like I'm missing much by having a lazy snow-muted day in the meantime.

It occurred to me this morning to find out whether you can find audio samples of different train whistles online, and you can. Actually I mean air horns, not whistles. My ears have always perked up when I've heard these but I've never known anything about them. That bright added-sixth chord you hear a lot turns out to be a number called the Airchime K5LA, the most common air horn used in North America. Check out the moodier Nathan M5, too; I think that's also a familiar one. More info, pictures, and (a treat) identification of the chords here. Good times.

If you poke around that website you notice it's run by folks who purchase and restore railroad air horns and then rig them up on pickup trucks. I'm now tentatively planning to pick up this hobby in late middle age, most likely through a period of time starting when my someday-kids have left for college and ending when my someday-wife packs a suitcase and says it's either her or the goddamn train whistles.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Winter Underland

I just drove home from work through a sleety-snowy mix that's slushing up all the roads pretty good. This is very much a step down from the middle of the week, with its high temperatures in the 70s and cool, springlike breezes. Friday afternoon is the Achilles heel of D.C. area traffic, so although I'm happy that I spent a relatively minimal 65 minutes in the icy Hell Commute I still want to look angrily up at the weather and yell -- what was it Samuel L. Jackson told Robert De Niro right after shooting him in Jackie Brown? -- What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful! Except of course that I'd just get a cold faceful of ice pellets.

The grim weather doesn't make much of a difference to my evening since I was already planning an early bedtime before an early flight to New York tomorrow to go listen to the NY Philharmonic with Jack. I'm not altogether hopeful for that plan itself -- I guess we'll see overnight whether the God of Weekends continues to spit on us from above, amused by how it freezes before it hits the ground.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Old News

If you have a functioning .edu email address, you can get free access to the NY Times' pay-for-access content now. (Visit: here, then click University Faculty and Student Subscription. Some more info in general: here. There seem to be some exceptions to how this works, like for alumni addresses.)

Anyway, if you've been jonesing for Thomas Friedman columns for the last couple of years but too cheap to pay for them (is the world still flat? tell me, tell me, tell me!!!) this could be your golden ticket. This also gives you access to the complete access to their archives, if you enjoy picking through old news more than picking through new news.

Proto Photo Posto

Loading Dock, originally uploaded by nateborr.

I've opened a flickr account and added images of exactly five prints there. I'll try to add new ones that are worth sharing as they exist. I'm hoping flickr's integrated photo-blog feature works. I'll update as necessary with any other info/ links needed to see my stuff.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blades of Steel

All riiight, Penguins stay in Pittsburgh. Kiss our morally compromised ass, Kansas City.

This guarantees all kinds of interesting things, like more hockey games and probably an arena implosion not so far down the line.

And it hopefully foretells a good year for Pittsburgh sports in general, by which I mean the Pirates lose fewer than 85 games and Roethlisberger doesn't get himself hit by another car.


So, I found a bar in Portland, the Horsebrass Tavern, that usually has 5-6 beers on cask at any given time. Its a straight-up British-style Pub, specializing in good beer and carefully-measured mixed drinks (I've only had the beer, but watched from the bar the careful measurements, which to me, seem to make a well-mixed drink an impossibility (but, then again, most of the drinks I mix (never measured) are designed to be served in a 2001 PNC Park Inaugural Season Souvenir Cup)). As with most bars that specialize in good beer (esp. real beer), the prices are a bit high, with most of the 20 oz. pints coming in at $4.50. There doesn't, either, appear to be a happy hour at this establishment, so my limited budget keeps me from declaring this pub the perfect cask-destination in Portland.

Next stop on our tour is the New Old Lompoc, in Portland's yuppie-infested Northwest area. I had a pint of their C-Note "Imperial" IPA on cask. No happy hour drink specials here, but I was able to split a delightful spicy hummus plate with my friend Joe for only $2.50 each. Cask beers were $4 a piece, but, unlike every other cask-venue yet surveyed, these ones were poured into puny, American 16 oz. pint glasses (which is, like, totally not cool, man). Fucking yuppies. A tasty beer, but at only 6.9% abv, its hard to consider it an Imperial IPA (the Imperial label is borrowed from the Imperial/Russian Stout style that has its origins in Industrial Revolution era Britain, where new malting technologies allowed for black malts to be produced with coal as opposed to wood, generally eradicating the traditional smoky qualities of beers that would've been porters (porters actually, apparently, pretty well disappeared for a while there), evolving the British dark ales into Stouts, and these particular, the Russian export stouts, were made with an extra dosage of pale crystal malts underneath the black patent malts (patent since that coal-malting process was patented) and some additional hopping to make a beer more likely to survive the rigorous journey to Imperial Russia, but basically anything made in America these days that is strong will sometimes, if the folks at the brewery deem it fit, be labels as "Imperial" examples of their style, which, in my opinion is okay, but mostly stupid (for an excellent example of an imperial stout see, Victory's Storm King, North Coast's Old Rasputin, or Smuttynose's Imperial Stout). (and also, I've been reading Pinker's The Language Instinct currently, so will leave, for the sake of science, the faulty grammar above uncorrected).

So, where does this leave us? Right now, do to proximity to my abode, and happy hour pricing, despite probably having the worst beer (and worst website) Bridgeport Ale House is in the lead. In fact, the other day, I poked my head in after work for a quick happy-hour pint of their Blue Heron Ale, on cask, and wound up getting two additional pints for free, do to a couple of mis-pours from the cask (not everyone actually wants the cask beer, apparently). The bartender, while she placed the second freebie pint in front of me at the bar (I had really only been planning on having one beer, so being pushed to the 60 oz. point at 4 in the afternoon wasn't really what I was planning on) said "You don't have to drink this, but [the other guy behind the bar] did it again. Welcome to Portland."

"You don't have to drink this"? come on...

Poem for a Tuesday Morning

Slate's weekly poem, posted this morning, is a little piece by one Stephen Burt called "Dulles Access Road". It's well enough put though it covers pretty heavily visited ground ("We are untrained / to manage even the pace / at which we live"). I'd find it a lot less effective if the cab ride to Dulles he jumps off from didn't overlap the bulk of my morning drive to the office. Or rather run parallel to it, without the toll.

En forme de poire

My February was less of a wintery sinkhole than Jack's and my spring-forward weekend less of a subjectively productive one, though I did accomplish some minor errands, throw all the windows open, and embark on some spring cleaning (mostly in the form of a ferocious, bleach-powered assault on my shower walls that unfolded like the porcelain tile equivalent of the battle of Stalingrad). All this of course woven into my usual weekend rhythm of two-hour naps every four to six waking hours or so.

This morning I cruised into work under a reproachfully high-in-the-sky sun at about the same time as I should have were it not Eastern Daylight Time already. The office was in a minor state of temporal disarray since the network time all our machines are synched to neglected to spring -- this was straightened out piecemeal over the course of the day. It's an odd feeling when the meetings in your normally precise Outlook calendar are suddenly, variably accurate to within a tolerance of about two hours.

The crux of my late afternoon was formed by one of those slightly slow-sinking meetings where I watched a minor code defect with my fingerprints all over it complicate a looming, fairly high-profile release to one of the company's major clients. Just a quick fix needed, but I typically estimate anywhere between one and three hours to get everything straightened out for this kind of thing, so I started on it around 5:30 figuring it would wipe out a chunk of my evening and keep me out of photography class. I turned it around in about 55 minutes, though... So I drive back to Arlington, the sun of course still very much out (the sky, though, banded pink at the horizon). The radio starts to play the bouncy, slightly off-kilter last movement of one Bernhard Crusell's first clarinet concerto, which I clearly but incompletely recognize from way back -- the first page of it must have been the audition piece for the Allegheny Valley honors band one year. So, happy music, happy sun, plenty of time for class and not a lot of traffic for 6:30-ish PM, as though most of the rest of workerdom already gave up on this whole daylight savings concept. And I think, contentedly, this evening broke my way.

I just printed the photograph above this evening -- this is a size-conscious jpeg that loses the quality of the grain but the general idea comes across. I title it "Pear", which is what the subject more or less still was when I found it sitting at the foot of a bench in front of my apartment. At some point I'll try to put higher-resolution images of my couple of shots worth showing off on a Flickr page or something.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Brighter Later

You always see it coming, but the first day after the clocks turn back and it stays light out till 7 pm is a real push in the right direction. I'm celebrating with a turkey sandwich on the couch and an Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter that was bottled back on 6/21/06. (Dammit, I specifically looked for a bottled-on date before I bought that six-pack, but I couldn't find it. Although I actually couldn't tell you whether nine months is too much gestation for a beer or for what reason.)

(On bottle day 6/21/06 I myself had just found the apartment I'm living in now and heard a bone-chilling rendition of Shostakovich's Thirteenth Quartet. Anniversary fetishizing is much, much easier with a blog.)

After work I bought a usable bike pump (the portable mini hand pump I'd been ostensibly relying on till recently turning out to be basically unusable for someone of my, um, measured upper-arm strength) and re-installed a curtain rod bracket that I'd accidentally pulled out of the wall this morning by tripping over the curtain. (I like my curtains and their attendant rods but, like the walls, they're on the flimsy side.) I guess if I didn't keep the ironing board right by the window I wouldn't have to tiptoe around it to open the curtains and risk tripping, but then I couldn't look right out the window when I'm doing my ironing, and could you call that living?

These small errands have a surprising capacity to make you feel productive, even though in this case I solved one problem I just created myself and one problem that I thought I solved several months ago but didn't.

(According to mathematical extrapolation, I should be drinking an Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter bottled on the day I originally hung my curtains up on July 9, 2007. Fascinating! It's like my life is already mapped out ahead of me.)

After I bought the bike pump I also purchased (elsewhere) a hand mirror and a bottle of generic Advil; I think this may be as unrelated a set of three items I've ever bought in quick succession. Part of my brain wants them to relate somehow, like there's some connection there but I can't sense it. Yet.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Like a Parade

New Haven had its St. Patrick's Day parade a week early for some reason, which is to say, today; I'm not sure whether it precedes the actual holiday every year or just this year. I spent most of the parade on a street corner with coworkers, one of whom hosted a brunch at her apartment right beforehand, though I missed most of that gathering due to forgetting the start time and also neglecting to set my clocks forward until 10:30 (rather 11:30) this morning.

So, fortified with a thick bloody mary and some quiche, one watches the procession of good people constituting a parade: fife and drum corps, little kids in Irish dancing clubs, bagpipers, firemen riding restored vintage trucks, mounted police, Civil War style riflemen, cyclists on odd bicycles, elderly Purple Heart recipients, Miss Greater Hamden and Miss New Haven County and Little Miss Branford and so forth. (I wondered if they have full-fledged pageants for all of these crowned young women.) For some reason there was a group of people costumed in Star Wars getup: one Jedi plus Darth and a gaggle of Storm Troopers. Later along, three or four pirates with a cannon. Fewer high school marching bands than I would have thought, but enough to occasionally overlay and produce a Charles Ives-y cadence clash, a nice sound appropriate to the old composer's stomping grounds.

Someone said that about 200,000 people attend this parade, but I have no idea whether that's accurate or not. We were situated at a quieter corner of the route, near its beginning, which suits me just fine since it keeps you away from the municipal-frat-party vibe in downtown proper.

Good times. They more or less let you drink on the street today too, so we all did.

Certain key muscles in the leg, back, and (um) gluteal regions have been a bit cranky today, owing to an informal practice yesterday with a group of people I may or may not play in a softball league with. (Okay, fine, I'll stretch next time. Not as limber as in the ol' college intramural days: check.) It is good to know that I can consistently catch soft fly balls and even hit reasonably well, however. Like today, it was mostly cloudy and in the forties, perfectly acceptable weather for early March.

Tonight, about forty minutes ago, it occurred to me that I felt as robustly happy at the moment as I had in some matter of weeks—but I can't remember why (there was no real reason) and I'm happy enough to let that go and just hit the hay: an untroubled mind, a clear conscience, eight hours of sleep and no further agenda.

Anyway, happy workweek to all & to each. Five days, holiday-free: another one of these.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blahs, Degas, Mendelssohn, Blahs

Back in the fall I would tell people that I was reserving some of my judgment of New Haven until I'd spent a winter here, since I figured it would be a lot more claustrophobic and dull during the colder months. I remembered this sometime last week. December and January were both pretty tolerable, all things told, but that late-winter fog descended over the end of February pretty strongly. Now it's staying light out later, and a crocus-like sense of optimism is poking up out of my mind's ground, much-needed but, of course, in danger of being frozen off next time the temperature plunges.

Put in a less frilly way, I've been bored. I think part of this is that I haven't left Connecticut for more than an evening since a month ago, and of course within Connecticut I'm mostly limited to New Haven and its immediate surroundings.

Though last weekend I did get to ditch town for Farmington, up near Hartford, with a work friend & some of her people. In Farmington is a place called Hill-Stead, a colonial revival house encompassing some 13,000 square feet of interesting architectural detail and impressionist art, just up the street from the onetime finishing school (and now quaint-looking but selective girls' academy) Miss Porter's School. Hill-Stead was designed by an independent-minded woman named Theodate Pope, whose father had made it big in the Cleveland iron industry in the early part of the Gilded Age. Certain rooms were actually designed around centerpiece Monet or Degas paintings, and in general the art fits seamlessly with the general scheme of things, definitely a neat effect. The place is big enough to roam around for a while, and when we were there a docent was in each room to point out oddities and discuss "Theodate" as if she were an admired relative. Also on the premises is Theodate's beloved parrot Alfred, taxidermied several decades ago and still residing in his original cage.

Wednesday a couple of other work friends came with me to a performance of Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony (a.k.a. the "Italian") put on by a small group of school-of-music orchestra members and one of the student conductors. This was extremely satisfying, not only since the symphony came off great—this piece actually picks up a beneficial rustic character when there's a bit of roughness and ruddiness around the edges, so it's well suited to a student ensemble—but also since both friends completely enjoyed it despite not being "classical" people. (One is a hard-indie-rock fan with generally broad tastes, including some quasi classical like Reich and Varese; the other doesn't profess any special musical tastes, though she's got a background in visual art and is generally switched on, culturally speaking.) This was my intent in taking people in the first place—taking advantage of a performance that was short, informal, and free of charge—so I'm glad it worked out as well as it did. We skipped the second half of the program, which was Beethoven's sleepy Second Symphony; I'd pitched the idea as a 35-minute mini-excursion.

Is it just me, or do you hear a lot less about Felix Mendelssohn than other similarly brilliant composers? Or is this just because he hasn't had an anniversary year recently? I don't think I'd heard the Italian Symphony in concert before, and the thing is perfect down to the note: great melodies, marvelous detail work. I love the minor-key finale: some nice peppery baroque-suite-style gusto there. Also, Mendelssohn is extremely good with instrumental texture—contrasts between strings and winds are deft and clear, and in some of the key outer-movement crescendos you hear him build up a thicker body in the string voicings to complement the increase in loudness, which adds just the right subtle oomph.

Anyway, that's the story of the recent late winter: attempting to chase off malaise with art appreciation until it's warm enough to start spending more time outside again. The general feeling of cabin fever should be ameliorated during the next several weeks, when I hit NYC a couple of times as well as Pittsburgh and most likely D.C. (Or I guess I should say, as Nate does, NoVA.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Things to Sit on your Ass and Watch

Well, back in the realm of shallow, non-self-congratulatory readings of pop culture products, I'll note that NBC is introducing a show called Andy Barker P.I. into its once-again respectable Thursday night lineup. It was co-created by Conan O'Brien and stars his onetime Late Night sidekick Andy Richter as an accountant who semi-accidentally starts working as a detective on the side. (The show also gives a big supporting part to Tony Hale, which I see as a very good thing because -- as Slate's movie critic Dana Stevens comprehensively put it when noting one of Hale's bit parts in a recent movie -- "to those of us still in mourning for Arrested Development, that would be Buster Bluth without the hook-hand".)

If this sounds almost exactly like the premise of an earlier Conan O'Brien co-creation, that's because it's almost exactly the premise of an earlier Conan O'Brien co-creation. NBC has the first order of episodes on their website in their entirety (apparently promotional S.O.P. now for their less popular wares), so you can see how similar Andy Barker is to Lookwell in tone as well as concept, down to the vintage cop show-style music running behind the parody chase scenes at the end of both pilots.

Andy Barker's failings are much the same as the earlier show's too, and easier to see across multiple episodes: The show is almost all premise, and after the writers have had Andy self-consciously open a line of questioning with "I'm an accountant/ detective combination" there's not much they're able to do with it, which means the show starts to go slack every time it has to advance the plot. Still, there are plenty of joys in watching Richter and Hale play to type within the same frame, and the show's gags, though hit-or-miss and not very dense by today's über-quirky comedy standards, are cartoonish and likeable and funny enough of the time. I also like the fake, un-followed-up cliffhangers that archly punctuate a couple of the episodes, particularly a broad gag at the expense of a well-meaning accounting client named Jim "Don't call me James" Bixler. Hopefully the show will last long enough for the writers to figure out what works (crazy old people, Andy getting punched in the stomach), quietly write out the elements that don't (Andy and his wife have kids?), and let the central characters gel enough to start getting some real mileage out of them.

Anyway, if you don't mind watching the same TurboTax commercial before each segment I'd check out either the pilot, which gets about as much use out of the accountant/ detective concept as the series is ever likely to manage, or The Lady Varnishes, which features Amy Sedaris in a funny part as an elderly ex-starlet. Whatever its long-term prospects it's worth a look.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Batting 4th

A couple of things I forget to get to, in the past span of limited-internet usage in my little ol' life here:

1) PRINCE WON THE SUPER BOWL. His performance was the first Super Bowl halftime performance that I can recall being, like, really, not bad, musically, like, ever. He rips on the guitar. Easily more exciting than any of the game that was played.

2) CURTIS WHITE'S NEW BOOK IS A BIG LET-DOWN. The Spirit of Disobedience, which in theory is a call for a return to Thoreau by Americans, so that we can, like, be better people 'n' shit, turns out to be a pastiche of Curtis White-esqu writings that lack any of the structure that make his fiction (Anarcho-Hindu aside) and nonfiction generally worth reading, if not applicable to real life in anyway. The worst part is a "close reading" of the movie Office Space which I really doubt is gonna help sell copies of the book, if it was in fact, as it is, according to White, his close readings of Fresh Air and Saving Private Ryan that made his last polemical book, The Middle Mind "popular" (it wasn't popular).



Sunday, March 04, 2007

Atomic Almanac

The Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced their 07/08 season, which includes Doctor Atomic in December and January. The middle of winter: always the perfect time to visit Chicago. Non-subscription tickets go on sale August 1.

The Met Opera's got this lined up for 08/09, in a new staging. The Times noted a couple of days ago that the Met was pursuing Audra McDonald to play Kitty Oppenheimer. Sounds like a good idea to me, good for cachet and good for the music, too; I don't know how much opera McDonald has done, but she sang an extract from Doctor Atomic ("Easter Eve 1945," the Rukeyser poem that opens the second act) with the NY Philharmonic the spring before the San Francisco premiere, and she sounded great there.

The St. Louis Symphony just announced their season, and they've got the "Doctor Atomic Symphony" rescheduled for February '08. (Adams didn't finish it in time for them to premiere it this month as scheduled.) I like that it's paired now with Brahms and Mozart instead of Britten and Mahler, and yet it's framed just as well by those pieces.

Not surprisingly, the whole St. Louis season looks fantastic: something interesting on every program. Again: David Robertson is incredible at this. And read the concert descriptions on their website: this actually gave me chills. Far and away the best orchestra marketing writing I've ever seen. A couple of deft strokes & the the concert is explained, the unfamiliar works contextualized with the familiar ones: this is exactly the right way to do it, and it ought to get some appetites whetted out there. I'm pretty sure this is Greg Sandow's work; I know he had done some work with St. Louis's program descriptions last year, and it reads just like him.

Finally, the Atlanta Symphony is doing a suite of Doctor Atomic extracts in January '08 with their principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles, who conducted the opera premiere in San Francisco. It's kind of hard to tell what this is, since there's no description on their season press release and there are no vocalists indicated on the program description.

Dept. of Creepy Art for Kids

Back from a visit to Dr. Dremo's, which apparently won't be closed for another year or so; something of a reprieve since it's my favorite bar in the D.C. area...

Chuck Close it most certainly ain't, but I scanned this a few days ago with some other stuff so I'll expound on it a little bit: By far my favorite terrible children's book cover is the one for the Choose Your Own Adventure installment Inside UFO 54-40, as rendered by Paul Granger. Here's the art itself, which obviates a lot further commentary:

Now, hamhandedly amateurish illustrations were par for the Choose Your Own Adventure course, but since I've been old enough to know better I've been impressed that the only parts of this book cover without disturbing Freudian import are the lake and stars in the background. I mean, the juxtaposition of the rocket-powered phallic spaceship with the floating ball-thingies might be acceptible on its own, as would be the obvious case of statue envy experienced by the young man in the foreground. But the two of them combined with the claw-handed, um, spider creature suggest a badly neurotic view of human sexuality, even for someone who's made it past the developmental horrors awaiting the book's intended pre-pubescent readership.

Sadly, this book holds you to storytelling choices within the realm of run-of-the-mill science fiction rather than plunging you into the psychosexual nightmare portended by the cover. On second thought I guess that's just as well, though, since if I were still a kid I'd rather choose an adventure that's not some kind of creepy mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Psycho.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Breakfast Culture Bringing Me Down

I ate a doughnut last week. It was at work, at, maybe, 6:45 in the morning. It was the first doughnut I've eaten since 2002. I'm not sure why I did it, I guess I wanted to fit in, and be friendly with my co-workers. I've been regretting it ever since. So much for the time without doughnuts measure - back to 1 week again, much less impressive than 5 years.

Defective Time Travel

So I finally finished Pynchon's Against the Day, the other Day (Wednesday). Its very good. You should read it. Takes some time though - 1080 or so pages long but unlike Gravity's Rainbow, its really readable throughout - never goes off the deep end the way GR does now and then. Won't say a whole lot about it, at this juncture, I suppose since I don't think that any of our gentle readers out there have read it yet either. If you have, email me, and I'll discuss it. I will say that it seems most similar to me, out of Pynchon's novels, to be most similar to V. in that it operates from a more-or-less central thesis throughout, and really says something critical through the fiction.

I really like Pynchon because whatever it is that makes his works "postmodern" (the cartoony aspects of GR, for instance) is always contained within the text. He never breaks character, doesn't have footnotes (like, say, Infinite Jest (I like this book less and less every time I think about it) or Kiss of the Spider Woman (very cool book, but esoteric and probably uninteresting to most)), never enters the authors voice into the text (like, you know, Kundera, or Stoppard, or whoever it was that wrote The French Lieutenant's Woman), and general his books are just so fucking fascinating.

My feeling, having finished the novel, was something akin to my feeling after watching all of David Lynch's Twin Peaks - there's so many interesting characters and events, one wishes the author would continue the output because it'll be a long time before the characters and what they do would get boring.

Dept. of Funny-Ass Jokes

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it until it's off the air again, but I disapprove of Family Guy on the grounds that it's a lukewarm bath of mean-spirited sitcom plotting and arbitrary pop culture jokes. That said, I keep watching it because when the jokes are close enough to my own preferred pop-cultural reference points I laugh really hard. Case in point from a couple weeks ago: Wrong-sounding Muppets.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Close Encounters, Third Encounters

Easily the most jazzed I've ever felt following a lecture was about 28 hours ago, following a talk in the university's Art Gallery between Chuck Close and the gallery head. The conversation ranged from Close's time at the university & in the NYC art scene in the late '60s to the need for museums to keep small spaces for upcoming curators to create shows in, spiked with some well-told and zany anecdotes. There were slides of an "artist's choice" exhibit Close put together at MOMA back in (I think) the '70s, which featured a huge number of portraits (paintings, prints, photographs) jammed into a smallish space with more energy than you'd think the effect could create. Neat stuff.

Now and then you get woken up out of a passive but keen interest in something and realize there are all kinds of vibrant goings-on within it that you know nothing about; that's what this did for me in relation to art exhibition & museums. I still know approximately squat about the art world but something's smoldering a bit in the back of the brain now, and I like that feeling.

Chuck Close was also the favorite artist of our intermediate high school art teacher, Mr. Hawthorne, and I remember learning about his photorealistic portraits before I knew too much of anything else about art. So I'm especially fond of his art for the reason that he's the first living artist I ever knew anything about. Appropriate, I guess, that he's the first artist I ever heard speak from the same room too.

Meanwhile, tonight was Mahler 3 courtesy of the Philharmonia, free on campus. I was happy to affirm that, yes, the Bartok/Prokofiev concert I thought was so abysmal last month was largely an effect of the other hall they performed in; the Third was plenty alive and awake. There's a girl's chorus in the city that assisted with the Bimms & Bamms in the angel-carol movement; the same music-school mezzo who sang Ligeti with the percussionists last weekend layed into the operatic Nietzsche setting with a dusky & midnight-appropriate voice. The final slow movement was a thing of ardent, illuminated beauty.

Oh, also, applause in three out of the four movement breaks: I approve. And a big ol' ovation at the very end, very much called for.

I haven't really paid much attention to Mahler 3 before (it's so long, and soooo broad) but especially with that final movement it does get to some places that the other Mahler symphonies don't.

Yesterday after the Close talk I heard the New Haven Symphony Orchestra for the first time, performing Berlioz's "Le Corsaire" and Beethoven's Triple Concerto (both boring as paste, whoever might be playing them) and the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, which was pretty sharp but not the joyride you hope it to be. Worth the price of admission to get that "pair games" scherzo back in your ears, anyway. I heard the undergrads put on the Bartok last spring & was more impressed with the job they did with it, but I think the difference is probably just due to my own expectations and experiential framing. Then again, what else is there?