Sunday, 31 January 2010

Avatar

a film by James Cameron

Yesterday, Yuri and I went to see Avatar. Well I never. It may be a highest-grossing film of all time but I can’t help thinking that I was watching an overpriced three-hour long trailer for the 3-D videogame of the same name. I found it astoundingly boring. Jeez, I even fell asleep once. Of course it did not help that the other night I did watch a truly awesome old-school movie, Sherlock Holmes.

Avatar the movie has no acting to mention and is criminally devoid of any sense of humour. If that were not enough to put anyone off, it piles a cliché upon a cliché, with no original idea in sight. It was clear from the start that the only way to defeat American Sky People aggressors is to put a mind of a former Marine into a Blue Cat People body, seat him on a large dragon and give him a Sky People’s machine gun. The Sky People weaponry is apparently modelled on out-of-date Bionicle toys and as such is not as scary as one may think. For instance, the bullet-proof glass in their vehicles is easily pierced by the arrows. True, I enjoyed the dragon flight scenes there, but I’ve already seen Ice Age 3 and that animation was actually funny.

On a positive note, I am glad that Cameron scrapped the sex scene between the two main Blue Cat People, because it would be too painful to watch. (Why, even them kissing was embarrassing.) And I’ve got to keep the 3-D glasses.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

a film by Guy Ritchie

Sherlock Holmes the movie has all the ingredients of a great film. It comes complete with a supervillain, femme fatale, a secret society, numerous punch-ups and, naturally, a rooftop Tower-Bridge-under-construction-top showdown. And a result? The ingredients come together as a great film indeed. I still think that the best Holmes ever was played by Vasily Livanov, but... I really liked Robert Downey Jr. in this movie. Jude Law makes a very decent Dr. Watson, and my faith in Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) has been restored.

Good night.


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Ubiquity

by Mark Buchanan

Earthquakes, forest fires, avalanches, mass extinctions, heartbeat irregularities... What’s in common? Universality. Everywhere the distribution of events (or frozen potato shards*) follows the power law. Moreover, the same pattern appears in fluctuations of stock markets, the growth of the cities, distribution of deadly conflicts, and even citations of scientific papers.

Ubiquity: The Science of History... or Why the World is Simpler Than We Think, bought in Oxfam couple of years ago (I liked the name), was peacefully gathering dust until last week. I was looking for something else entirely and this book was in my way. By some reason, I read the first page and... couldn’t put it down. It is an excellent, gripping read, blissfully free of jargon and formulae. The only equation, on page 40, is understood by a nine-year old, as I just checked.

Ubiquity: The New Science That is Changing the World

* The frozen potato experiment is my favourite. I think these Danes who conducted their smashing experiments simply enjoy smashing things against the wall; I’m sure it’s more fun than, say, potato proteomics.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Isabelle au bois dormant

a film by Claude Cloutier

Sleeping Betty is an amazing ink-drawing animation by Claude Cloutier. A hilarious take on the old tale, with guest appearance of Henry VIII, Queen Victoria and Prince Charles.

Monday, 25 January 2010

В полях под снегом и дождём

by Robert Burns and Samuil Marshak
a song by
Alexander Gradsky

OK it is Burns Night, so let’s have another song. В полях, под снегом и дождём, performed by Alexander Gradsky.

Robert Burns
O wert thou in the cauld blast
Роберт Бёрнс, перевод С.Я. Маршака
В полях, под снегом и дождём
O wert thou in the cauld blast
On yonder lea, on yonder lea,
My plaidie to the angry airt,
I’d shelter thee, I’d shelter thee:
Or did Misfortune’s bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a’, to share it a’.

Or were I in the wildest waste,
Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,
The desert were a paradise,
If thou wert there, if thou wert there.
Or were I monarch o’ the globe,
Wi’ thee to reign, wi’ thee to reign,
The brightest jewel in my crown
Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.
В полях, под снегом и дождём,
Мой милый друг,
Мой бедный друг,
Тебя укрыл бы я плащом
От зимних вьюг,
От зимних вьюг.

А если мука суждена
Тебе судьбой,
Тебе судьбой,
Готов я скорбь твою до дна
Делить с тобой,
Делить с тобой.

Пускай сойду я в мрачный дол,
Где ночь кругом,
Где тьма кругом,
Во тьме я солнце бы нашел
С тобой вдвоём,
С тобой вдвоём.

И если б дали мне в удел
Весь шар земной,
Весь шар земной,
С каким бы счастьем я владел
Тобой одной,
Тобой одной.

Любовь и бедность

by Robert Burns and Samuil Marshak

It is a well-known fact to those who know it well that Rabbie Burns is people’s poet of Russia. For my generation, Burns exists almost exclusively in the translation by Marshak.

Любовь и бедность is the song from the 1975 Soviet movie Здравствуйте, я ваша тётя! performed by Aleksandr Kalyagin. His character, Babbs Baberley (posing as millionaire widow from Brazil, Donna Rosa d’Alvadorez), introduces it, to a comic effect, as ‘Brazilian folk song, O poortith cauld and restless love... lyrics by Robert Burns’.

Robert Burns
Song
Роберт Бёрнс, перевод С.Я. Маршака
Любовь и бедность
O poortith cauld, and restless love,
Ye wrack my peace between ye;
Yet poortith a’ I could forgive,
An ’twere na for my Jeannie.

O why should fate sic pleasure have,
Life’s dearest bands untwining;
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on fortune’s shining?

This warld’s wealth when I think on,
Its pride, and a’ the lave o’t —
Fie, fie on silly coward man,
That he should be the slave o’t!

Her een sae bonnie blue betray
How she repays my passion;
But prudence is her o’erword aye,
She talks of rank and fashion.

O wha can prudence think upon,
And sic a lassie by him?
O wha can prudence think upon,
And sae in love as I am?

How blest the humble cotter’s fate!
He woos his simple dearie;
The silly bogles, wealth and state,
Can never make them eerie.
Любовь и бедность навсегда
Меня поймали в сети.
Но мне и бедность не беда,
Не будь любви на свете.

Зачем разлучница-судьба —
Всегда любви помеха?
И почему любовь — раба
Достатка и успеха?

Богатство, честь в конце концов
Приносят мало счастья.
И жаль мне трусов и глупцов,
Что их покорны власти.

Твои глаза горят в ответ,
Когда теряю ум я,
А на устах твоих совет —
Хранить благоразумье.

На свете счастлив тот бедняк
С его простой любовью,
Кто не завидует никак
Богатому сословью.

Ах, почему жестокий рок —
Всегда любви помеха
И не цветет любви цветок
Без славы и успеха?


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Busking for Haiti

Today, Arco Iris performed to raise money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. We played a 15-minute set in front of the Guildhall at 12:30 pm, then paraded around to the corner of Market and Sidney Streets to do another 15-minute set. It was the biggest band I ever played: 45 players, plus three bucket-holding kids looking cute and collecting donations! (Yes it does pay to look cute.) All the money collected are going to Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam Haiti relief efforts.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Songlines

I’ve been subscribed to Songlines for five years. It is a great magazine. I have learned from it more about music than in my entire life. (Hmm. This sentence only makes sense if “my entire life” does not include those five years. So it is not really “entire life” then.) Songlines was responsible for my first encounter with music of Lila Downs, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Lhasa, Nina Nastasia, Angélique Kidjo, Yat-Kha etc., etc. Now that my subscription has lapsed, I am getting (thankfully, not very frequent) emails about renewal.

The latest notice was different.
We’re delighted to announce that Songlines magazine is now available on subscription in digital format. Songlines Digital looks and reads just like the print edition and is fully indexed and searchable. <...> Each edition also includes five free full track downloads which tie in with features and album reviews.

For a free trial issue of our sold-out 50th edition, click here.
So I did have a look and, frankly, I am not impressed. The whole thing is published with FlipViewer® Xpress. Indeed it looks exactly like the printed magazine, and this is a problem. For that magazine feel, one has to print it out. Seriously, you can’t read it in a browser. And what’s with five downloads? With a hard copy, I was getting at least one Top of The World CD with about 15 tracks (and sometimes, an extra CD). I think the electronic version of Songlines should be more web-friendly and make full use of multimedia. And there’s no need for the “flipping sound”!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

More harmonics

OK, I think I have mastered the fourth harmonic on trombone. For instance, in second position, I can play A2 (an octave up from the pedal A1), E3 (up one octave plus a perfect fifth), A3 (up two octaves) and C♯ (up two octaves and a major third), i.e. the A major chord:

A, E, A, C♯

Of course — and, of course, I did not realise it until now — this series is equivalent to a series of natural harmonics that I can play on 12th, 7th, 5th and 4th fret of bass string A, respectively:

Bass string A harmonics A, E, A, C♯

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Series 3

by David Mitchell and Robert Webb

I did not see the previous two series of That Mitchell and Webb Look so I can’t compare. All in all, I have enjoyed the show. I wish they’d shorten the sketches, cut couple of them altogether, and made this (rather good) double DVD set a really great single DVD set.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Playing with LilyPond

I’ve downloaded and installed LilyPond for Linux on my Acer Aspire One and spent an hour or so playing with it. It’s so neat! The excellent Learning Manual explains how to write music in LilyPond format. For instance, I’ve created this test file file.ly:
{
 \clef bass
  b,,1 e,1 a,1 d1 g1 c'1
}
To generate sheet music from this file, run LilyPond on the command line like this:
lilypond file.ly
By default, the output is saved as file.ps and file.pdf, but if you type
lilypond --png file.ly
it will generate file.png — this one:

B E A D G C

(Yes, this is the “standard” six-string bass tuning.)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Retromancer

by Robert Rankin

The latest (and it looks like it might be the last) novel featuring the incomparable Hugo Artemis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune, an adventurer and world traveller — ‘of this and many others’. One-time circus strongman, prizefighter, expert swordsman and Master of Dimac. Gourmet, connoisseur of fine wines and finer women, mystic, guru to gurus, also known as the hokus bloke, the Lad Himself and the Retromancer. Occasional jazz drummer, reinventor of the ocarina and inventor of the T-shirt. The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived. That Hugo Rune. Accompanied by his acolyte, assistant and amanuensis Rizla (James Arbuthnot Pooley), the guru’s guru embarks on an epic quest, to save the world as we know it and things of that nature generally.

Another tour de force from the world’s leading exponent of Far Fetched Fiction. Expect the liberal application of stout stick, frequent visits to the Ministry Of Serendipity, and most far-fetched yet gratifying explanation of the Tunguska event. Not to mention the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter. With guest appearance of George Cole (as Winston Churchill), Alan Turing (as himself), and the Ring of Power™ (also known as Isildur’s Bane™). Drinks and chewing fat provided by Fangio.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Gilad Atzmon & Strings @ The Junction

I don’t like “jazz with strings”. More often than not, it sounds like strings without any jazz. But it is always good to challenge the stereotypes. Gilad Atzmon’s take on Bird with Strings is much more than a tribute to Charlie Parker. As Atzmon put it himself, it could as well be Bird’s take on Gilad with strings. Provided that Parker was born in Kabul. Or Baghdad. Or Damascus.

Tonight’s set started with Everything Happens to Me followed by another ballad that was introduced as Round Midlands; these were good enough but I thought the band was a bit tense. Or maybe the Sigamos String Quartet was superfluous at that stage. Middle-Eastern flavoured The Burning Bush was great. After that, they played a tango (don’t remember if it was introduced at all) where the band and string quartet were mixing seamlessly.

The second half was opened with an achingly beautiful piece (afraid no name again) featuring Atzmon on clarinet, accompanied by strings only. And then there were some more. Gilad’s duo with Frank Harrison was hilarious. They saved Laura (also from Bird with Strings) for an encore, and when the Sigamos ladies left (for London, we were told), the band played another encore, What a Wonderful World.

Gilad Atzmon is one of the greatest sax players alive. Sure, his music is not everybody’s cup of tea, but still, how come that tiny Junction 2 was not even full?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Magical Mystery Tour Remastered

by The Beatles

I’ve borrowed from the library the newly (2009) remastered CD of Magical Mystery Tour just to see what the fuss is all about. I saw the reviews saying that the “original” (i.e. released in 1987) CD was horrible and 2009 version is either as bad as that or stunning. I never had that 1987 CD, so I can only compare it with the American LP I remember all too well. After a few listenings I have to confess that I can’t hear any difference (bar the vinyl crackle, of course). Not the best example of stereo panning I’m afraid but this is how I first heard The Beatles: drums in one channel, voice in another one. Anything different — apart from mono — would not sound right. In addition, the CD includes the Magical Mystery Tour mini-documentary viewable on PC, but I don’t think anybody really needs to watch it.

As for the album itself, it is an absolute classic. My favourite song? Far too many for such a short record. Perhaps Your Mother Should Know.

Monday, 11 January 2010

All the Ghosts

by Gwyneth Herbert

This album shows that Gwyneth Herbert can do much more than sing jazz standards. (Which she can also do beautifully, but not on this record.) All songs here are written by Ms Herbert bar the last (hidden) track, the cover of Bowie’s Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide (which is not bad, but I can live without it just fine). And her band is as good as one can dream. My favourites are Lorelei, My Narrow Man and Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Book of Tea

by Okakura Kakuzō
Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good and bad paintings — generally the latter. There is no single recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for producing a Titian or a Sesson. Each preparation of the leaves has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat, its hereditary memories to recall, its own method of telling a story. The truly beautiful must always be in it. How much do we not suffer through the constant failure of society to recognise this simple and fundamental law of art and life; Lichihlai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked that there were three most deplorable things in the world: the spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine paintings through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation.

The Book of Tea was written by Kakuzō in English more than a century ago. It remains a fine reading, more an essay than a guide; still, I learned a lot from this small book.

We classify too much and enjoy too little.
The claims of contemporary art cannot be ignored in any vital scheme of life. The art of to-day is that which really belongs to us: it is our own reflection. In condemning it we but condemn ourselves. We say that the present age possesses no art: — who is responsible for this?
I’ve got this very cute hardcover slipcase edition, printed in Japan.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Hannah and Her Sisters

a film by Woody Allen

According to IMDb,

Woody Allen was originally going to have a more downbeat ending, but the studios asked him to make it more upbeat.
What a shame. I find the coda unconvincing. I don’t know what exactly Allen had in mind, but I would expect him to reserve the happy ending only for two “losers” of the story, i.e. Holly (Dianne Wiest) and Mickey (Allen).

Never mind that. Hannah and Her Sisters is a great film. Julie Kavner (yes, the voice of Marge Simpson!) is brilliant in a “small” role of Gail, Mickey’s deadpan assistant. The black and white movie Mickey watches in the cinema after his failed suicide is Marx Brothers’ classic, Duck Soup.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Camino de la Vida Entera

by Canteca de Macao

I bought this album from an Amazon UK seller and it arrived just before the New Year — from Argentina, of all places. What a great record. In fact, two records, because this package includes both Camino de la Vida Entera (2007) and Canteca’s previous album, Cachai? (2005). It is far too difficult to pick up a favourite song, they are all gorgeous. Probably the closing number, Chic tu Chic (I am pretty sure the pun is intended).

I admire the attitude of this band: all their music is freely available under a copyleft license. The sleeve includes the band’s Manifesto, which is concluded with this:
COMPRA, COPIA O DESCARGA ESTE DISCO. TÚ MISM@.
Similarly, the inscription on the disc itself goes:
Canteca de Macao te permite legalmente la copia de este CD
So there, Warner Music Spain!

Monday, 4 January 2010

パプリカ

a film by Satoshi Kon

On second watching, Paprika remains an awesome anime. Still, it failed (again!) to keep me fully awake. I am pretty sure something is lost in translation here. (In English-dubbed version, the subtitles and spoken English do not match at all.) All the visual pyrotechnics notwithstanding, the best scenes in this film are the most restrained ones, taking place in a fictitious Radio Club (www.radioclub.jp — alas, this website does not exist).

“Don’t you think dreams and the internet are similar? They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents.”
Shall I give it another go in a year’s time?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Safety Last!

a film by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor

Today, we went to Saffron Screen to see this classic featuring Harold Lloyd “with live piano accompaniment from Gail Ford”. Which by now looks like a tradition (last year, it was Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.), and may it last. Just like a year ago, the kids were less than enthusiastic about watching the black and white silent movie but were left with little choice. Needless to say, they thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to the end.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!

a film by Eldar Ryazanov

For everyone who had lived in Soviet Union after 1975, this film was the New Year movie. So it remains for me. This year, we watched it on the New Year’s eve in Edinburgh. For the first time, Yuri was following it, from time to time providing the running English translation, such as “Every year on 31st of December we go to the bath”.

The songs in the film are performed by Alla Pugacheva and Sergey Nikitin (both uncredited).