Sunday, November 30, 2008

Steelers 33, Patriots 10

Was watching this game to its conclusion at the airport better than actually successfully flying from Pittsburgh to Newark? (4:15 kickoff, up against a 6:20 departure pushed back a few hours, beyond when it's useful for me to arrive in Newark.) The answer seems to be yes. On one hand, I miss a day of work and am somewhat inconvenienced. On the other hand, watching the defense light up New England like that is an obvious treat. And I got to have a couple of airport beers with Nate, whose own plane delays left him, eventually, in Phoenix tonight. I'm at home in Pittsburgh for an extra night.

It's remarkable how good you can feel even on the crappiest travel day of the year if your team shows that much life. Rough start to that first quarter, though. Definitely hinted at the desolation that would have hit us had a loss been piled on top of the flight delays. Best not to think about it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby, You've Got a Stew Goin'

Ahh... nothing like Autumn in Miami, when one's electricity bills finally drop! My latest bill was a full 33% smaller than the previous month's, and that's a downward trend that is yet complete. And already cheaper than any that I had in the apartment I lived in last year (this is primarily do to the fact that the noise pollution at the new place is so much less that I'm actually able to keep my windows open as often as I care to. Though, as I've tracked over in Culturology, not quite all is well with the new apartment, as the specter of EVIL still looms over it. I guess that's the hidden cost in paying a couple hundred dollars less a month for rent.

I reckon I've been a bit less present than usual on the blog recently, especially for this week when both Jack and Nate posted A-list material. Oh well. It's that time of the semester - now mostly passed, really - where I had to 1) work the Miami International Book Fair 2) write a poem in Terza Rima, and 3) write a lengthy analysis paper about the plot of one of my own long narrative poems. Man, being a grad student in creative writing sure is tough! And most of my life otherwise involves little more than reading books and repairing flat bicycle tires.

But I figured I should post something, for the small handful of non-family readers out there that might be tuning in, since with Thanksgiving week coming up, the blog will be somewhat silent then too. I've got some higher-quality posts stewing, so hopefully they'll surface here eventually. I'm hoping, eventually, to get into the habit of writing up my now weekly musings about science (Jack got me a subscription to New Scientist magazine for my birthday, which is pretty much awesome weekly science mag - never too in depth, but well documented and generally broad in its reach without overfocusing on technology), which I think would be fun to do (just a matter, as usual, of actually doing it).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Steelers 27, Cat Mammals 10

The Steelers prevailed over the Bungles tonight; in fact by the end it looked like a pretty decisive win. I say "looked" although the game was in fact unavailable to me via clock radio (curse you, regional AM radio sports chat programming!) but I triangulated the progress of the game pretty effectively via a couple of Internet sources and some texting with Jack. After a dismal start the offense apparently got going and the defense was epic once again. As a casual fan who reads a lot of press coverage around the team I think there are still some serious issues with the offense, particularly the O-line, that will hurt them from now through postseason -- but it's worth noting that they're 8-3 without having played any consistently weak teams except for Cincinnati (twice) and Houston. At any rate, nothing for the armchair observer to worry about until they go to New England in ten days except for whether Brett Keisel or (again) Willie Parker were injured enough tonight to miss any playing time. Go football. Meanwhile, back to the less spectatorial challenge of actually doing some dishes tonight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Wake it up, yells us the voice:

William Schuman: "When Jesus Wept" from New England Triptych (1956) for orchestra
Virgil Thomson: Variations on a Southern Hymn, mvt. II of Cello Concerto (1950)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata no. 5 in D major for Cello and Piano, op. 102, no. 2 (1815)
Franz Schubert: Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703 (1820)
Rebecca Clarke: Lullaby (1909) for viola and piano
Charles Ives: Thanksgiving and Forefathers Day from "Holidays" Symphony (1897, 1910, ??) for orchestra and chorus
Franz Liszt: Andante Lagrimoso (1853) for piano
J. S. Bach: Cantata BWV 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (1731)

I'm really happy with this playlist, but my mic breaks weren't very good at all. Bleh. Too cold to not be cranky, too tired to write out prepared scripts ahead of time.

That Thomson movement is one of the most haunting things I've heard on CD in the last few years.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Here's a neat website that lists all of Bach's cantatas according to where they fit into the Lutheran church year. It's really useful if you want to pick a random Bach cantata to listen to, or to play on your amateur classical radio show.

This weekend it's BWV 140, the ever-popular Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. What's more, as Wikipedia explains, there's rather infrequently a 27th Sunday after Trinity, so 2008 is an unusually good year for Wachet auf. Score!

See, this is the side of organized religion that I like: the potential of generating large, ordered arrays of classical-music-related data.

Twin Theory of Bad Humor Feedback

Every time Nate comes up with some absolutely bizarre joke, which is not infrequent, I put a little more credence into what I call the Twin Theory of Bad Humor Feedback. Basically it goes like this: much the way some young pairs of twins develop their own languages (or, sometimes, just some really weird accent) by mutually reinforcing whatever they're babbling back and forth to each other, the twins' sense of humor can be warped if it develops through mutual reinforcement. Allow me to illustrate with the help of some free vintage clip art from The Internet. You may click pictures to see them larger. Also, please note my intention to misuse the terms "positive feedback" and "negative feedback" out of intellectual laziness.

First, the normal scenario.

Fig. A.

This is the humor life that most people live, and, of course, over time it will effectively condition the sense of humor to conform to prevailing social norms. But now, posit two twins who share identical predispositions toward what is considered funny.

Fig. B.

This crude model represents only the beginning; from here follows a cascade of inadequately filtered humor attempts, flying back and forth indiscriminately.

Oddly the resulting condition seems primarily to afflict Nate, while it turns out that I'm pretty consistently hilarious. I've got some scientists looking into this.

Also, you know that irrational feeling that vintage clip art looks vaguely the way you do sometimes? What do you call that?

Guide To Lighterly Painting (For Movies)

Vanity Fair has reproduced a rambly, sixteen-point stylistic guideline produced by Thomas Kinkade for folks working on his movie about, I guess, being him, which is getting a straight-to-DVD release just in time for this holiday season's consumer spending collapse. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Even in West Coast time it's getting pretty close to the point where I need to change out of my pajamas and go to work, so I won't summarize the list myself, but it's a pretty good read for the armchair aesthete who, like Kinkade, doesn't know much about making movies but has maybe seen "Barry Lyndon" a couple of times. (A couple of preceding notes on Kinkade's more private woes are fun, too; do a search for the word "codpiece".) The basic takeaway is that you should approach making a Thomas Kinkade film exactly the same way you would make a Thomas Kinkade painting: gauze up the lighting, create well-balanced but unchallenging compositions, pour on the anachronistic nostalgia signifiers. Also keep the camera movements and editing slow, almost as though your characters are walking around inside a painting; very slow. In fact the pacing should go so slow that the movie... just... stops. That way you can LaserJet it onto a two-by-three canvas and sell it at the mall.

The "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage" trailer gives you a taste of the outcome of the above principles: It looks like (TRAILER SPOILER ALERT) a maudlin, indifferently photographed story about a young man who makes a terrible public mural for Christmas. And somehow I feel a much more pronounced "oh, how his acting prospects have diminished" feeling for Chris Elliot than for Peter O'Toole, for whatever that's worth.

I remember hearing a Christmas Eve sermon some years ago that featured an anecdote about Thomas Kinkade discovering that his warmly lit paintings could make lots of people happy; I guess this is the movie version of that. It wasn't the most inspirational Christmas sermon, though I did prefer it to the "you'll go to Hell if we don't see you back here before Easter" angle.

Clash of the Really Big People / A Modest Football Proposal

With the Steelers playing again already on Thursday night I feel like I have a little more football on the brain than usual. Which I suppose is what the NFL had in mind a couple of years ago, when in addition to Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football they rolled out Sure, Why The Hell Not Have One On Thursday Night Too Football. This, however, is televised nationally only on the NFL Network, which leaves the rest of us peasants to go to a sports bar or listen to it on the radio. I prefer the latter option since this lets me experience professional football the old-fashioned way: Sitting on my couch drinking a beer and yelling at a six-inch by eight-inch by four-inch clock radio made out of silver-colored plastic. Some would argue that this is an inferior sensory experience but the Steelers are playing the lowly Bengals, which means that it probably won't be a great game and, being a game played in Heinz Field after midseason, has something like a one in four chance of becoming an offense-destroying slog played in ankle-deep mud.

At any rate: Football on the brain, and as I was reading some commentary on this past weekend's games I realized that this season's Super Bowl favorites are the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants, teams whose names are nearly identical thematically. Surely this would be a championship match of literally gargantuan proportions, a Big Bowl for the ages. Perhaps great football rivalries develop out of mere geography or division rivalry but I'd like to think that some of them are based on the opposition inherent in their team names (the cowboy who ethnic-slurs his prairie foe as "redskin"; the packer who must defend his refrigerated beeves from the wily, scavenging bear). Giants/Titans, in contrast, would be an intriguingly homeopathic sort of showdown, like fighting like.

* * * * *

Actually I've thought for a while that NFL team names are more like each other than not. A couple of years ago I wanted to figure out if there were more teams named after birds or teams named after cats, so I produced the following classification of the current NFL teams. Note that while, say, Major League Baseball is stocked with franchises named for white socks and trolley dodgers and such, roughly half of all NFL names are taken from either birds or non-hominid mammals:

Baltimore Ravens
Philadelphia Eagles
Atlanta Falcons
Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks

Mammals, Cat
Cincinnati Bengals
Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina Panthers
Detroit Lions

Mammals, Horse
Indianapolis Colts
Denver Broncos
San Diego Chargers

Mammals, Misc.
Miami Dolphins
St. Louis Rams
Chicago Bears
Houston Texans

Persons Who Pillage
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Oakland Raiders
Minnesota Vikings

Persons Held in High Moral Esteem
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
Cleveland Browns

Rugged Frontierspersons
Dallas Cowboys
San Francisco 49ers
Buffalo Bills

Pittsburgh Steelers
Green Bay Packers

Very Large Persons
Tennessee Titans
New York Giants

Socially Retrograde References to American Indians
Kansas City Chiefs
Washington Redskins

Singing, Dancing Street Gangs from Broadway Musicals
New York Jets

* * * * *

Taking the above into account and averaging the geographic coordinates of all the home stadiums, I've calculated that the average NFL team is called the Catbirds and plays on the outskirts of Perryville, Missouri, about an hour south of St. Louis if you take I-55.

Indeed, in its next expansion I think the NFL should seriously consider incorporating the Perryville Catbirds because of the would-be team's very averageness. I'm not saying that the plan doesn't have its difficulties: The ownership of the St. Louis Rams will presumably oppose any incursion into their regional market and the adoption of a major professional sports franchise may present special challenges to a community of less than nine thousand people. Nonetheless, I think the attendant economic boom in the region will more than offset the medium-term costs of major infrastructure improvements and I believe football fans the world round will embrace all the charms that Perryville has to offer. In the words of the Perryville Area Chamber of Commerce:

It is a community of honest, friendly people, a place to get to know your neighbors. Perryville's pleasant atmosphere, excellent schools, medical facilities, shopping opportunities and progressive, growing base of local business and industry make it a natural choice for anyone who appreciates the many advantages of life in a smaller community.

Now, if that doesn't sound like a town crying out for the amped-up, bonecrushing, man-on-man violence sport that the National Football League is selling then I don't know Real America at all. To achieve optimal averageness the home field will have to be situated at the exact geofootbalgraphical center of the country, as mapped above, which looks in Satellite View like a fairly rural plot near the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and North Perry Boulevard. I project that an $800 million sports complex, including hotel and retail spaces, could be constructed at that location within two years of groundbreaking, with about 60% of the total cost provided by the municipal government via a sales tax increase. Until the completion of that facility the Catbirds' home games can be played at the nearby soccer park.

I think the NFL is eyeballing the Los Angeles market again, having failed there most recently with the Raiders and the Rams. But I think introducing a flashy, high-profile team in Southern California would risk overextending or even diluting the NFL's brand and quality of play. The Catbirds, in contrast, could be rolled out with little fanfare and, assuming league-average onfield performance can be reached within three or four years of expansion, will bring a modest increase in revenue while doing little to upset the competitive balance of the league. Indeed, casual observers of the sport will most likely mistake them for just another small-market club that has toiled with only middling success since the early 1960s. Perryville fans need not despair, either, since a projected 8-8 record each season should make them sufficiently competitive in the NFC West. Go you Catbirds!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Actually, make that the first NFL game in history to end illegitimately in an 11–10 score. Referee blew it in negating Polamalu's final touchdown. Some future oddball game just got cheated out of its claim to history.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Steelers 11, Chargers 10

They say this is the first NFL game in history to end with the score 11 to 10, which is amusing and surprising. We nearly missed out on this, since Polamalu came up with a dropped lateral during the Chargers' last-second kick return razzle-dazzle (following Jeff Reed's winning field goal) and ran it back into the end zone from the 15 or so. But the refs called an illegal forward pass in there someplace, so the unprecedented score remains.

But this really hasn't happened before? Really? All you need is solid, ten-point defense (happens all the time!) plus one safety (courtesy James Harrison here), three field goals, one missed field goal, and one 4th-and-goal from about a foot out where Mewelde Moore doesn't even come close. Unless I'm reading this wrong, that particular play appears to have gotten Gary Russell installed as the third-down back, incidentally. It also set up the safety, so, I guess it's one little thing contributing to numerical history.

The whole offense, when it was running, was the happily familiar sight of Roethlisberger hitting Ward for clutch catches (and occasionally Holmes) and Willie running for 115 yards. Short to medium yardage, and some healthy chewing up of the clock. But penalties all over the place, and the usual disturbing amount of pressure on Ben from a defense that can't usually muster it.

Polamalu outdid his one-armed interception against the Eagles and, early in the game, managed an unbelievable sliding pick from a deflected pass that he tipped up into his arms from the fingers of one outstretched hand. Harrison had an easier but more important interception close to halftime near the end of a would-be drive by the Chargers.

Snow and a slippery field, too. Hard to tell what to make of this one: you're 7–3 now, but it doesn't feel all that more confidence-inspiring than the close loss last week. Not very clarifying.

* * * * *

[update 9:24 pm] While going back and (somewhat obsessively) adding the link in the post above to Nate's rundown of the Steelers/Eagles game, I very belatedly noticed his Roethlisberger/Tecmo Bowl joke video, very subtly linked there. For anyone else who missed it:

This is kind of Nate's sense of humor in a nutshell, really. He's already aware that I think it's baffling how many Tecmo Bowl jokes he makes. I'm also curious about who the other 66 people are who watched this on YouTube.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flowerblogging Followup

Five weeks later. Not unpredictable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Classical Novemberishness


Frederic Chopin: Prelude in F-sharp major op. 28, no. 13 (1839)
Philip Glass: String Quartet no. 5 (1991)
Gerald Finzi: Clarinet Concerto (1949)
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto (1944)
Antonin Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 (1889)

Granted, these pieces tend to express a crisp, clear early Novemberishness, rather than the overcast, coldly drizzling late Novemberishness that we had in town today. Still, those English woodwind & string orchestra concertos are involving enough to have cheered me up. Part of that may have been my traditional pre-radio-show latte.

I think Nate and I bought that Vaughan Williams CD in like 1996. Getting some good mileage out of that one.

That string quartet is incredibly warm and heartfelt for Philip Glass. I'm not sure if Dvorak's 8th cracks the classical top 90 (it could probably swing a spot in the top 120) but it's always been one of my favorites, anyway.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Zombie Actual Palin

Is anyone else miffed that Sarah Palin is still on television a whole week after the election? She seems electorally dead yet still publicly animate. All I want to do is go to the gym and use a treadmill without having to look at Sarah Palin on a screen. Seriously, like 53% of the country is with me on this, I know it is.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bloggin' Baseball

The unfamiliar AM station I somehow set my beside clock radio to last week reported briefly this morning on the passing of 92-year-old Preacher Roe, onetime Brooklyn Dodger. He was a country boy from the Ozarks, he threw a mean spitball, he was one of the Boys of Summer . . . basically everything in this guy's obituary, including the nickname, is what baseball used to be and isn't anymore. So there's your day's sepia-toned sports nostalgia.

Of course, he was also acquired by the Dodgers in a lopsided multi-player deal that turned out badly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so some traditions continue.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Evan Longoria has won the American League rookie of the year award. The most impressive aspect of Longoria's performance isn't that he helped lead the bottom-dwelling Tampa Bay Rays surge into the World Series, I think, but rather that he did so while maintaining his kooky drag-wearing alter ego on a popular TV program for so long without anyone realizing it. Which is really bizarre. I mean, "Eva Longoria"? It's like he's not even trying to cover it up. Now he might think that he can get away with this indefinitely, with only his wisecracking housemate Bill Murray in on the secret, but all it takes is one live taping gone hilariously awry and the whole thing will come crashing down. We've all seen this movie before, figuratively speaking.

Hopefully, at least, in an ambiguous yet heartfelt final scene, Longoria will be able to reach for a difficult way forward with his love interest, San Antonio Spurs all-star point guard Tony Parker.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Links

Zombie Palin #4


Culturology #7

Enjoy! (I think the art on Zombie Palin is the best yet.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Colts 24, Steelers 20

And that's why you don't throw interceptions inside your own 35.

By the numbers they're still in good shape in the division. Outside the numbers Ben needs to start playing like an A-list quarterback again, or at least get healthy enough to think about doing so. He made some nice throws in the first half, one supposes.

Watched this one at satisfactory bar/grill Eli's on Whitney up in Hamden, with Pennsylvanian friends Stu and Andrea and one friend each of theirs.

Children, I Want to Tell You Half of a Story

Seldom do my separate interests as John Adams fan and as production editor overlap, but: let's note that the CD release of A Flowering Tree contains a massive error in the liner notes, which instead of printing the libretto for Act Two repeat the text for Act One. I mean, you could have outsourced your proofreading to Bangalore and someone still would have caught this. I disapprove.

The music itself hasn't really caught my ears yet, and I haven't listened to Act Two yet. A lot of the opera's personality apparently comes from its staging, so maybe it works better in performance. Still, Adams at his best will pull you in pretty quick, and you wonder if premiering two operas in two consecutive years was too much to bite off at once.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Beloved Black Vultures

This post is just a visual aid for Pete's last one, about the Miami black vultures. The close-up shot is from the Everglades mini-zoo we stopped at during family Thanksgiving weekend last year. I didn't get a photograph of the vultures quietly circling en masse above downtown Miami, unfortunately. With the beach weather and the highrise construction boom and the idea of American paradise it can look outright apocalyptic, if you're not wary of a little hyperbole at least.

I doubt that these guys are singing the Shostakovich theme, but Pete, let us know if you find out what kind of bird does. It doesn't sound like a good omen.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Knight Comes Galloping Home

Every so often, I listen to some sequence of music (across genres here), either within a single day, or more often, across some span of time that causes me to suddenly believe that my own once-well-trained pitch is terribly slipping. My stereo has a 5 disc CD changer that I sometimes am too lazy to change the discs out of so I'll end up listening to the same recordings over and over again until I finally manage to go change them (it's not laziness, it's too beyond-laziness to be explained by that; maybe I just want to listen to the same music for many days in a row). This week's culprits were: Mahler's 5th Symphony (Bernstein/NY Phil); Miles Smiles; Weezer's "Blue Album"; Sufjan Steven's Seven Swans; and Mahler's 6th Symphony (Boulez/Vienna)., with cameo appearances by Bruckner's 4th Symphony (Boehm/Vienna), and Godspeed You! Black Emporer's F#A#(infinity) [that's an infinity symbol (GY!BE is probably the single most pretentious band that I have ever liked and continue to like (with Orchid being a close second))].

But every so often, I listen to music like this, over and over (as much as I leave my apartment for some part of the day most days, I'm there an awful lot), and suddenly come to believe that I'm tone deaf. Why? Because for whatever reason, though I don't do it a lot, when I try to sing along with something, I find myself struggling mightily to do it. Shouldn't be the case really. But, you know, that Weezer album was one of the first CDs I had the wherewithal to purchase when it first came out (I think I was in 6th grade at the time, and listening mostly to Nate and Jack's rapidly-de-shittifying classical music collection (post-2 CD set of Marches (disc 1 "classical," disc 2 "'Merican" if I recall correctly)) and They Might Be Giants otherwise), so yeah, I dont' mind singing along. And Sufjan Stephens writes some pretty melodies, one must admit. But I couldn't match pitch to save my life. So out with the tuning fork that I still keep readily-accessible and renewed efforts to rememorize A440.

Why admit something like this? Because migratory birds are returning to Miami (beloved black vultures amongst them) and with that a whole new set of noises outside of my apartment. And one bird in particular is whistling, not quite exactly, but too close to not notice, a repeating DSCH. With my pitch all in disarray, I had troubling convincing myself of this, but I'm pretty well convinced (bloggably convinced) of it. Pretty crazy! It's kind of fun, but also kind of annoying, sort of like a contrail being almost but not quite parallel to a power line in a given patch of sky that you might be looking at. I have not idea what kind of bird it is that's making the sound and I have as of yet heard it garner no responses, but I'm curious to see if the Dmitribird is going to hang out all winter or not.

And I would leave you with that, but I don't want you to go off thinking that my 5 years of totally rigorous classical music training have all gone for not, now that I'm hearing birds singing not-quite-DSCHes and all. I'm legit. Too legit. It's more like the same kind of experience that happens to me sometimes with my reading as well; namely, that I every so often get worried that I'm not reading enough (I think the general consensus is that I read a lot), or no longer, like, good at reading. But it's generally the case that it's more what I'm reading that causes those feelings, not anything on my end. Any thing more exciting to read will respark my self confidence re:reading. That is why the discs in my stereo will be shifted once I get home, though I hope the Dmitribird sticks around.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

You Might Say I Feel Like Radiation Man

Saturday night was opera night in the city, specifically for the Met's new production of Doctor Atomic by John Adams. Stu and I hopped the Metro North in the afternoon and, blearily, again late at night; Mandy and her new significant other met us there, although we got unfortunately little conversational time, in between their arriving late and our bolting during curtain calls to catch a cab back to Grand Central. The opera itself is striking, and it resists simple reactions.

Nate and I flew out to San Francisco in October '05 to see a show out of the first run (and to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and ride the streetcar to Fisherman's Wharf, etc. etc.), and we were both hit pretty hard with the music, which is rich and lush and shiny with mallet percussion, while being much darker and more expressionistic than Adams has ever been. The dramatic shape of the opera, really its whole theatrical M.O., is ambitious but seriously flawed, and there are some punishing slow spots in both acts. (In total it's three hours of music or so.) The cobbled-together libretto has much to do with this, but on a deeper level there's not that much actually going on -- sure, the A-bomb explosion, but no character development and no real tensions in the plot to resolve. As a series of choral or vocal settings taken in isolation it works -- I mean, better than works; several of these scenes are unforgettably absorbing -- but you have to take them spaced apart, and you'd better have an appetite for slow music too.

The new production is by Penny Woolcock, who created a very intriguing realist film adaptation of The Death of Klinghoffer a few years ago; her abstracted staging here is generally pretty sharp but starts to take on a throw-at-wall-see-what-sticks feeling in the second act. I think she does brilliantly with the concluding test scene, evoking very classily an abstract sense of urban destruction and also a feeling of time stopping, a theme that surfaces strongly toward the end. The original staging by the Adams's co-creator Peter Sellars (note: not Peter Sellers) had a maddening ending, with a realistic Gadget hanging above the stage even while it ostensibly was in the business of exploding -- I'm actually a huge literalist in my taste for opera stagings. (Woolcock also, appropriately, sealed Sellars's militarily clad ballet dancers into a box and shipped them back to 1944 c/o Jerome Robbins.) I never thought the ending of the opera would be able to work as well as it does here. Adams also substantially revised, to my memory, the explosion music, and I think for the better, but I can't remember what I heard in San Francisco now. At the climax a substrate of alienated clock-ticking sounds is subsumed under a flat, bone-rattling low electronic tone piped into the house. It's more of a physiological effect than a musical one, really, but I do think it works. If there's one thing the end of the opera does right it's that it creates a palpable sense of troubled disorientation.

Adams and Sellars's appetite for realistic detail, or at least an apparent documentary-grade legitimacy, misfires a little bit. They want to stay fairly true to the events of the test, but to me this jars with the liberty they take with the cast of characters, first and foremost in creating Oppenheimer's torment, but also in mocking up their moody Edward Teller and blustery General Leslie Groves. Scientific accuracy is another apparent fixation; Adams, since '05, has recast an opening chorus that once stated what he didn't realize was an out-of-date scientific truism, "Energy can be neither created nor destroyed," losing in the process a haunting melodic lilt.

Adams created the show with a necessity for electronic sound design, partly to integrate the electronic elements of the score, partly to achieve an ideal vocal and orchestral balance for its own sake. (His wildly successful 1999 oratorio El Niño has a subtle and usually unremarked upon sound design as well.) It does change the quality of the sound; from the Nosebleed Circle it's not a net loss, though it trades off some resonance for definition and makes the choral sections less atmospheric. That's a shame in that it leaches some sadness out of a couple of Act I scenes I'd remembered as very powerful. Now and then it would sound like a contrabass clarinet was playing thirty feet behind you. The sound is much better than at the San Francisco Opera, where it occasionally frayed or fuzzed.

Gerald Finley is extremely good as Oppenheimer; Thomas Glenn stands out with a delicate but powerful voice in the smaller role of Robert Wilson. Alan Gilbert made an excellent conductor of it all, and I hope he applies that talent to some more Adams when he's helming the New York Philharmonic.

YouTube has a fair number of clips (if abruptly excerpted) of a DVD made from a Dutch performance of the Sellars production; two of Finley's solo numbers are the ones not to miss, I think, the setting of John Donne's sonnet Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God that closes Act I, and an expansively eerie Baudelaire setting close to the end of Act II. For the Donne, a wrenchingly stately deploration weathering Stravinskian body blows; for the Baudelaire, shadow-filled open music spaces evoking a profound moral loneliness.

What's exciting about this opera to me is that I don't hear anyone else composing music that's this rich and complex and elusive while remaining so emotionally resonant. Theatrical cohesion could have lit this show up as an instant modern masterpiece, but I don't think you knock what you've got when it's this rare.

Morning in America Mix

This week's radio playlist: assertively progressive yet populist American classical music guided by a strong compositional hand.

Michael Torke, Bright Blue Music (1985) for orchestra
Aaron Copland, Sextet (1937) for clarinet, piano, and string quartet
Jennifer Higdon, Concerto for Orchestra (2002)
John Adams, Harmonielehre (1985) for orchestra

Nate wrote a good description of Jennifer Higdon's music here a while ago (City Scape is the other work on the Concerto for Orchestra CD). The Copland Sextet is a fun, punchy little gem; the Torke piece is breezy and fun and has some sophisticated textural rippling going on just under the surface if you listen closely.

Salonen Site

The LA Philharmonic has a rather thorough tribute internet page up honoring Salonen, with quite a few musical excerpts (and some whole movements/pieces) up in the multimedia section, and a bunch of interview clips as well. I'm succeeding in wasting some time in there, and now just listening to music from it, so figure I'd pass along the link.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sports News of Sports Nates

During one of the Steelers games earlier this fall, Nate sent a celebratory text after a long Nate Washington reception toasting "Pittsburgh's second best sports Nate!" As Washington continues to haul in a 50-yard pass once per game he may be making a run for first-place Sports Nate, but the other Sports Nate won a Gold Glove today, so it looks like it's Game On. You might need to handicap McLouth since he can't do anything else till spring training. Maybe they can settle this one-on-one somehow, like with foosball or bowling or something.

Election Wrapup

I voted before work yesterday, at a local elementary school with a forty-five-minute line at the polls. I had a latte and a New Yorker to pass the time with. Gotta rock it east coast liberal elite style.

Connecticut has paper forms and markers. I almost disenfranchised myself by putting X's in the scantron bubbles instead of filling them in, but I caught myself halfway through. Man, I thought, Did high school teach me nothing about filling in bubbles? I used to be good at this sort of thing.

The state broke 60–40 against its anti-gay-marriage proposition (specifically the question of whether to convene a constitutional convention) so I am happy about that.

I successfully avoided absorbing any non-news news until going over to a work friend's gathering around 9 pm. They called PA and Ohio shortly after that, and obviously as soon as that much Steelers turf was going blue it was the end of things, no matter how the cable anchors were stretching it out. So not much nervousness; I guess the wine helped too.

I'm not sure I've reacted in line with a historic occasion; I'm more relieved that enough people have come into their senses that we've got a fighting chance of improving things. It's not good news so much as it's necessary news, and it's making me impatient for January to roll around already.

One thing that made me inordinately giddy during the postmortem coverage was hearing one of the anchors describe how the Bidens were going to move into the Naval Observatory. I think they get the keys to the undisclosed location, too. Maybe they can renovate it into a rec room or something.

I really like this chart. Simple explanations are elegant.

Hooray For Earth

I'm still waiting to see the results on some down-ballot stuff in Oregon (in particular the Senatorial seat) but the big-ticket item worked out nicely. Pretty neat to actually vote for a winning President.

Personally I'm reminded of a line in the late Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake. His crusty sci-fi writer alter ego, Kilgore Trout, who is the first person to realize he has free will again after a rerun of the past decade, rushes about telling it to the still-passive people he sees: "You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do." Here's hoping for competent governance.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Steelers 79%, Redskins 21%, Undecided 0%

This bodes well. Now that Western PA has sent its football team to wreak good election-eve defensive karma, all that Western PA needs to do is not vote like a bunch of rednecks, and we'll be set.

I think this went pretty well for a game where (A) they botched a surprise onside kick to start the game, (B) Roethlisberger left at the half, and (C) Jeff Reed missed an extra point somehow. Seemed like those first six points they spotted them were going to be insurmountable. But that is what good defense will do.

Show me a game, every week really, where the opposing side feels like it needs to try a pass play on the crucial 4th and Goal from the one. Not in our house! By which we mean your house.

Nate Washington seems to be serious about making these 50-yard completions once a game, huh? And it's good to see Mewelde Moore being a clutch part of the passing game, too. To say nothing of Ward.

Watched this one in the solitary barfly role at the preferred neighborhood spot, which is a persona I'm not particularly interested in cultivating. Beats paying for ESPN though.

* * * * *

Pete says this is a "good joke" so I'll include it as an example of our copious interbrotherly football-game text messaging:
Pete. Well,this should mean that obama wins, right?
Jack. Well, except that with the Bradley effect they lose 26–23
It's only funny because it's not true.

Monday, November 03, 2008

More like... Treehouse of Bore-or

I think I may have mentioned at some point already, but I have a TV now. I accepted a friend's TV as a gift when she was leaving Miami. It hasn't changed my life too much, except that I watch DVDs on a TV now instead of on a computer monitor. Although, I must admit, as much as I don't like admitting that I ever watch sports, that I've been watching some amount of NFL football most Sundays. Why? Not sure really, I guess because I can. I don't have much to say about that really - I've always kept of with sports to some extent, though the relationship between my sports-watching self and my sports-hating self shifts over time. Generally ambivalent these days. The Dolphins are a pretty fun team to watch this year, I must admit. At least their defense, anyway.

I bring it up because watching football (I guess mostly it was watching the Giants-Steelers game on Fox last weekend) caused me to see some number of commercials for the new Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" Episode. It looked like it might be funny. Transformers and the Peanuts. I liked Transformers and Peanuts. So I tuned in, for the first time in years, to a Simpsons episode as it premiered (I burned out at around the 10th season, by my recollection, which puts my decline in interest in the Simpsons at already a decade old (maybe it was more like the 12th season when I finally gave up for good...)). I should give away the TV. What an f-ing disappointment.

It may be because I'm taking a class currently on plot, but the fact that these three vignettes had barely more ideas than the average SNL skit and even less action was pretty hugely disappointing. I did enjoy them having Homer kill Neil Armstrong, but only because, as some of you might remember, I spent a brief segment of the summer speculating as to whether or not Neil Armstrong was dead while refusing to look it up on the internet (I honestly didn't know whether he was or not, and finally got an answer when a couple random citizens in Hell's Kitchen overheard me talking about it in a small coffee shop). The funny thing is, I misremembered the answer I got then (because the story of the answer-getting is more about how the people that let me and my friends about Armstrong than went off on a very strange tirade about the Soviet space program, and then Star Trek and then Vulcans which caused myself and my friends to quickly vacate the cafe), and when Neil Armstrong showed up on The Simpsons, I thought to myself that they had fucked up because he was already dead.

Beyond that, however, it was really a crappy episode. Ideas are not jokes. Some ideas are funny, but I would generally argue that successful cartoons need a combination of ideas, jokes, and plot (e.g. the first six or seven seasons of The Simpsons, or South Park (which is generally still successful even when its not funny)). Furthermore, the writers at one point have Nelson tell Milhouse that an idea of Milhouse's is "Super-gay." Certainly not the kind of joke that would have shown up in the good old days of The Simpsons. And even worse, in the sames story, when making a joke about racism, they have Nelson claim that he doesn't discriminate. What the fuck? So dismayed am I, that I'm not even sure that I'll go out to a bar tonight to watch the Steelers game on cable.

The Latest Case of the Mondays

I guess I'll keep linking to these things:

Zombie Palin #3


Culturology #6