Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saints 20, Steelers 10

Looks like the offense has got some work to do this week. I'm not going to complain about a good, defensive football game that breaks the wrong way at the end. It's tough to see Heath Miller giving up the key fumble that turns the tide once and for all, though.

That's quite a few fourth-quarter points going up on the D again.

Also, this makes twice in three weeks where Ike Taylor has caught an interception in the opponent's territory, and two weeks where zero points come from it.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This thing happens when you're 30, apparently, where you look up and all the paperback books you bought in your twenties are turning yellow. I guess I knew this was going to happen, even to the not-all-that-pulpy paperbacks, but it's still a drag. And it makes me feel so kind-of-old-but-not-really.

Next thing the typeface'll start looking out of date, and before you know it they're sitting in the 25-cent bin at some public library book sale circa 2030 in Hamden or equivalent. I'd feel a little better if I could switch strategies and start buying my reading material exclusively in nicely produced hardcover. Unfortunately, I seem not to have developed my income proportionately to my taste in paper permanence. Could be some poorly plotted macro-level life planning on a decadal scale! Uh, do-over?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Steelers 23, Dolphins 22

If Pete hadn't gone to Germany this fall, I totally would have flown to Miami and bought tickets for us on StubHub. But sure, Eli's on Whitney is OK too, I guess.

I don't know how you describe this game. But it says something when you can make that many mistakes on the road and still walk away with a win. There's your proven Steelers method: stout defense, plus a little bit of highly questionable goal-line officiating.

Here's hoping Woodley and Smith aren't hurt for too long. Nate mentioned in our postgame phone chat that the run D doesn't break down as much without Smith this year, since Timmons is playing so hot and they've got Foote back. True.

Cleveland beats the Saints in New Orleans, meanwhile, so that game next week is officially winnable.

[near-immediate update] Smith is out for the season, apparently. That is not good.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oundjian Fifths

The conductor Peter Oundjian was up last night with the university Philharmonia, for Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. It came off fantastically well. This is actually the second time this year they've had Oundjian come in to conduct -- back in January, he did Vaughan Williams's Fifth here, which was also a great performance. I've known Oundjian's name but I don't believe I'd heard him conduct before. I like his style: these symphonies are both highly expressive affairs, but he kept them vigorous and direct and a little edgy when it's called for. And he keeps a strong guiding hand on the phrasing and tempo changes, too, while keeping them authentic to the piece's sensibility -- he strikes me as similar to Manfred Honeck in this skill.

Pete will be too jaded to agree with me, but to anyone else I'd say that Tchaikovsky's Fifth is a wildly satisfying piece of music. It hits a sweet spot between opulent high romanticism and fate-obsessed sturm and drang. Tchaikovsky's dramatic sensibility is pitch-perfect here, and the music is plotted as strongly as a well-constructed play. The first and last movements don't so much develop their themes symphonically as churn them up into a fervor, mounting and dissipating and sweeping you along moment to moment. And meanwhile you've got a couple of classic big melodies: the horn solo kicking off the second movement was lent a marvelous, earthy richness by its player last night. My favorite part of the Fifth, though, is the nearly themeless drama whipped up in parts of the last movement. It's like a bunch of demons running up and down the stairs.

No applause at the false ending! Sophisticated crowd here.

The concerto last night was Serge Koussevitsky's Double Bass Concerto, which was co-composed to some extent by Reinhold Gliere and survives as a minor repertoire piece on the basis of being a believable romantic exercise for an unusual solo instrument. No knock on the soloist, who carried himself strongly, but you could improve this concerto automatically by just transcribing it for cello. Of course, then you'd just pick out a better cello concerto. And no knock on Koussevitsky, who of course became a peerless conductor and commissioner and champion of midcentury American music.

Vaughan Williams's Fifth, going back to January, is pretty masterful, too: the British pastorale put through a war-haunted filter and made into a shadowy illusion. Vaughan Williams had a superb command of string textures, which you need to hear in concert for the full effect. Plus you've got a third movement which basically sounds like every movie soundtrack ever written, only a lot better. The opener to that concert was totally unrelated, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, but I don't think you ever need excuses to whip out a fun showpiece.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Emily Dickinson + Large Hadron Collider = Awesome

One of the best things about liking both poetry and science are the associations that occasionally flare up there-from.

Like this:

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They Are Going Wild at Dodger Stadium — No One Wants to Leave

I was just going through the entirety of this Joe Posnanski rundown of some of the great sports announcing calls -- which is well worth your time -- and with another quick search I realized that some good soul has disdained the Express Written Consent of Major League Baseball and placed the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series on the web.

1988 World Series - Game 1 - Bottom of 9th - Kirk Gibson

We didn't watch that game when we were kids. I do remember coming downstairs the morning after and Dad lovingly recounting Kirk Gibson's at-bat for the sake of its sheer baseball gloriousness. Watching it now, I don't know what you say: just watch Gibson, from when they first show him in the dugout through to the end. If that's not the greatest plate appearance in the history of baseball, I don't know what is.

The sound goes a bit out of sync in that video, but it's there when it counts. That's Vin Scully doing the play-by-play. And that's organ music you can hear through the crowd noise as Gibson rounds third base: god bless pre-1990s baseball.

Note also Scully's now-quaint description of Dennis Eckersley's pitching role, and observe a surprisingly proportionate Mark McGwire holding Mike Davis on first base for the A's.

* * * * *

My favorite of the baseball calls on Posnanski's list is also Vin Scully, on the radio for Sandy Koufax's perfect game on September the 9th, 1965. (Start about 5 minutes into that clip.) Couldn't call that twenty-seventh out any more perfectly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Steelers 28, Browns 10

I'm not going to pretend it's not nice to watch Roethlisberger play again, no matter what kind of a dirtbag he's been and likely continues to be. If you want to sum up the difference, watch the Steelers start 1st and 10 at their own 2, and watch Ben drop back into the end zone, hang on to the ball a split second longer than it seems safe to, and hurl a pass 50 yards to Mike Wallace.

The three passing TDs -- to Wallace, Ward, and Miller -- each seemed typical to each of those guys. Thirty yards to Wallace, a step behind the secondary; a few yards to Ward, jockeying from the 4 to the goal line through a couple of different defenders; easy-looking throw to an open Miller, as sure a thing as you'd expect to see.

Most of this came in the 2nd half. At halftime it was 7 to 3 and looking like what Nate calls a "flow chart game," but even if Colt McCoy made a few plays happen it never felt like Cleveland had any kind of chance.

Go-figure sequence of the day:
--Sepulveda punts from midfield to about the 10, but the Steelers are called for illegal formation and the kick is repeated;
--Sepulveda punts a second time to about the 10, but the Steelers are called for offsides and the kick is repeated;
--Sepulveda punts a third time to about the 10, at which point the Browns receiver muffs the kick, leading to a Steelers recovery and shortly thereafter a touchdown run by Mendenhall.

Times like this is when it pays to play the Browns.

Josh Cribbs suffered a nasty-looking helmet-to-helmet hit from James Harrison partway through the first half (not intentional from the looks of it) and didn't return to the game. Hope he's okay, though I guess the worry's about the cumulative effect of all this.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


So, in case you've been worried that all I've done in Berlin is go to a couple snooty new music concerts, then to a metal concert, and then have just sat around listening to my ears ring, I bring the return of This Week in Creativity, since its possible to participate in interviews from across oceans (thanks to that new-fangled telegraph wire!):


As usual, the poem of mine featured towards the bottom of the article was written in a handful of minutes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


OK! So, it's been a while. My home Internet connection was suffering from some technical difficulties there, on account of my downstairs neighbors moving away and I was mooching off their unsecured wireless for the last 18 months. However! I've rejoined the late 1990s and have my own proprietary wireless (christened "Dr. Netgood," and secured to ward off any potential moochers), having set aside Sunday afternoon to listen to the Broncos/Ravens game on the radio and make chili and wait for the Comcast guy to show up an hour after the 3-hour window had ended and say he had to come back the next morning at 7 because he didn't have the right kind of modem with him. Hooray Internet!

This also means my wireless is stronger than it was before and, therefore, once again I can play Dr. Mario against anyone who also has a Wii, so, consider that an invitation. Better than my girlfriend kicking my ass in Wii boxing again, anyway.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Louder Than Thou

Lest you fear that all I do for fun anymore is go to classical music concerts featuring relatively recent pieces of forward-thinking art music from Italian and French composers, I can also report that the most recent concert that I attended (last Monday), was the amazing Canadian band Black Mountain, touring their new album Wilderness Heart. They play, basically, throw-back metal, though it's my opinion that they play a generally forward-thinking version of throw-back (listen to their previous album, aptly titled In the Future, and you'll hear what I mean). Or, actually, follow that link and download the freely available "Old Fangs." And listen to it, and listen to the way that the chord progression moves the first time after it leaves the opening chug-a-lug: the song sounds absolutely within the idiom of, say, Deep Purple or Iron Butterfly (especially that organ sound, eh?), but then, the way the chords move, I would argue, is very new; they turn in an unexpected direction.

I've steadily been listening to metal and punk and hardcore types of musics, alongside my fierce adoration of cutting edge art music, since High School (with particular props to my friend (Tuba) Dave for helping in the fostering of an abject adoration of the band Fugazi), but a lot of that listening has melted down in the last half-decade to a preference for what's generally called "stoner metal." You could call Black Mountain "stoner metal." Basically, though, all hardcore and most post-punk and all the metal that I care for grew and grow out of Black Sabbath (this might be a stretch, but I take the sheer number of bands with the name "Black... xyz" as further evidence of that), and that's more or less what you get with Black Mountain. But "stoner metal" acts have cut out the nonsense, and mostly stick to grooves, riffs, and the occasionally never-too-unhinged solo. It's the kind of music you would expect your father to enjoy, but would be nervous to share since it involves saying the word "stoner" over and over again.

The other thing about ("stoner") metal, and most of the types of metal that I find worth listening to (including other such awesomely named sub-categories like "psychedelic," "doom," and "sludge" metals), is that it's much better heard live, at incredible volume. I was always proud of my college space rock band for playing really loud (which, I think, of all people, our mother can actually attest too, since I recall her coming to see us when we played CMU's Spring Carnival back in '03, and were easily audible from halfway across campus. Of course, back then, I always wore ear plugs, both while performing and when at concerts. But the other night, here, when I went to see Black Mountain, I forgot my earplugs.

So this was easily the loudest concert I've ever witnessed without something protecting those little hairs in my ears. (Oops.) But one realizes that it's really okay. Sure, you do some damage early on, but once your ears adjust, apparently, you're not going to do that (that) much more harm to them. And it caused me to kind of surrender to the music in a way that I might not have had I had ear plugs in, since listening to carefully would bring out the fact that the volume was probably uncomfortably high. But I don't mean to dwell on the volume, because the band was really really really good, seriously. Go see them play when they tour through your town in the States this Fall. They will not disappoint.

There's a particular guitar sound that comes from running a Gibson SG into a Marshall head that hits in the middle of your body (especially at the aforementioned loud volume) which is perhaps the single greatest development in the history of amplified music. I remember being fairly young, at some concert or another (maybe an Oldies festival at Three Rivers Stadium...), and having my father point out the way that one could feel the amplified bass rumble in one's body. Which is true, and interesting. But this guitar sound is like someone swinging a brick wall like a tennis racket and hitting you on the front side of your spine with it; that is, fucking amazing. It's the type of thing that makes AC/DC so lovable.

And another tip, in case you ever find yourself going to a metal concert: if you ever notice an extra long pause being taken between songs as the guitar and bass players down-tune one or a couple of the strings on their instruments, note that this means that abject awesomeness is imminent. If, after this down-tuning takes place, the bass player begins to scrunch up his face as if he's a '60s or '70s era guitar god in the middle of an epic solo, before even striking the first note, be aware that this may be the apex of awesomeness for the whole concert.

Writing such things, my musical aesthetic pretty much makes perfect sense to me. I will probably always prefer acoustic music to amplified music, but if we're going to electronically enhance our volume, let's do it in the most spine-vibrating way possible. Which involves playing mostly loud and not too fast, with a fair amount of noise just ringing about. It's kind of like a short cut to the sound-fields of Berio, with the aleatory of ear-ringing pitches taking the place of the notes-written-and-prepared-and-played. Additionally, both the singers, especially Amber Webber, are great too. And now I'm bored with blogging about this, but there you go. All caught up on the Berlin concert-going front (with only three weeks of living here left).

Monday, October 04, 2010

Berio in Stereo

As much as I may be coming off as, like, Luciano Berio’s biggest superfan on the planet (three mini-Berios versus God: I take, the Berios, 17-13, in overtime…), the piece of his that was featured on the last of the Musikfest Berlin that I made it to, his Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, was one that I was totally unfamiliar with. I didn’t even know that it existed. But it’s really good too! Maybe not as worldview altering as Stanze or as sonically and sculpturally badass as Coro, but a stirring piece that, additionally, helps to inform some of Berio’s overall aesthetic project in the meantime (though, as usual, I’m gonna go all Fermat’s enigma on that, and leave out most of the explanation of the very interesting explication of that notion that I’ve developed).

Pianos are really bizarre instruments. I really enjoy a lot of piano music, and find the sound to often be very beautiful. And I think there’s an argument to be crafted for the piano as a triumph of use-value, since equal temperament is incredibly functional, but at the same time, pianos are really quite alienating (and I wonder if you couldn’t come up with some kind of argument against egalitarianism using the piano as your central metaphor) since all of its scales abide in a no man’s land of pitch-relations; that is, in order to play in all of the Western keys, you must simultaneously play in none of them (and someone out there who is smarter than me about music, please debunk this for me). And Berio’s Concerto has two pianos! Doppelbizzaro!

So, the thing that’s so interesting about Berio’s Concerto is hearing his sound-fields as played by instruments in equal temperament. You can hear that they’re the same (the same, but different) as when they come out of the orchestra, but they’re also totally different, since the strings and winds all play justly, and even in a tonal world that is as fractured as Berio’s can be, they’re still bending and blending to whichever intervals they hear themselves as most interacting with (this tendency is, I still argue, best exemplified via Ligeti’s Horn Trio, where you have the added intricacy of a horn playing in natural intonation, against the equal temperament of the piano, and the just temperament of the violin, whose tendency will be to bend towards the piano). There’s a long and permanent discussion/argument/investigation to be made into exactly how and in what way tonal systems are arbitrary or not (and whether the orchestra or the organ is the apex of Western instrumental technology), but that starts to distance me from what I meant to be writing about here, so let’s leave this one incomplete as well.

In a way, hearing the note-stacks coming out of the pianos makes Berio more understandable (not that his music is ununderstandable; I certainly feel like I “get” his music in spite of my education, not because of it), or put another way, one can hear, out of the featured pianos, that Berio makes his strangenesses through utterly normal means (as opposed to say, Scelsi (that’s right, quarter tones aren’t normal…)). And, since I’m writing about this concert two weeks after it happened, and I don’t have the same kind of emotional nostalgia for it as I do for Stanze or Coro, I guess that’s why this post hints at more of the explanatory role the Concerto played for me as opposed to any sheer experiential thing.

So I can also mention: I like Kent Nagano. I’m distanced enough from the classical music world at this point that I don’t know if that makes me a chump or not. But I liked his stage presence, and I liked his hands pretty well too. It was also interesting to hear the Bayerisches Staatsorchester, since I think for the most part one only hears the Radio Orchestra up out of Bayern. And, in general, I like hearing opera orchestras play in non-operatic contexts, since there’s a palpable difference in their approach to things (who is it palpable—once again, figure it out for yourself, gladiator…).

The next piece after the Berio was Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for strings. I don’t get tired of hearing this piece performed, especially by German string players. Once again, like with the previous concerts, part of me was willing to just tune out once the Berio portion of the concert was finished, but the Metamorphosen is a piece that commands and deserves the attention and praise that it gets. I guess all it takes to make great music is to be a Nazi and then have a big old “Oops! My bad!” moment (maybe this is why Heidegger’s poetry is so terrible). So, as mentioned already, this concert definitely had me in a more intellectually-engaged mode as any of the others (and opposed to the intellectually-meta-engaged way of listening present in the Boulez concert), and I thusly did poke a bit more at the piece (and I know it pretty well, so that helps too, I guess) as I listened to it, trying to make sure that it really did and was holding up, but after a while I had to let go of that, since, really, one should listen to these strings doing what they’re doing as they do it.

After the break came Stravinsky’s Petruschka. Not quite the waste of time that Pulcinella is! Some part of me has a bit of a soft spot for Petruschka, mostly because I feel like it’s the neglected corner of the Stravinsky’s Russian Triangle, and because I’m pretty sure I made it until my first year of music school before ever actually hearing it, and so somehow I feel like Petruschka is more sophisticated than either Firebird or The Rite of Spring (though, I guess RoS’s hexachords are more intricate than Petrushcka’s tritones?). This is the second time I’ve heard it in the Philharmonie (first time was with Mariss "Rockstar" Jansons, and his stoic run-through); I liked Nagano’s take on it, which was definitely more in line with the burlesque (and less with the permafrost). I think I still prefer the Stravinsky of the Symphonies of Psalms and C, and I guess of Les Noces, but Petruschka isn’t bad. Just antique.

This being the last of the Musikfest concerts that I attended (with mixed feelings at having gone to so few of what was an amazing sequence of concerts), so props to the folks that put this shit on! Even though I’m here for another three weeks, there’s no way any of the remaining concerts I’ll make it to will have the impact of these ones. I consistently find it an odd thing to be a 28 year old human that likes modern art-music so much, and going to concerts filled with so many stuffy rich old people, when I should be out doing young and vital (and anti-capitalistic) things (I stop myself short of thanking the festival’s sponsors…), but Berio is good for good reasons, and these reasons are all the clearer in a live acoustic and space. It’s too bad that there aren’t more orchestral communities in the world that are dedicated to making new music as vital as it should be, but it’s been great being in contact with this one.