Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Place To Be

by Hiromi Uehara

I first heard Hiromi on internet radio about two years ago and was completely blown away. (It was one of the tunes from Brain.) I got a few more Hiromi records for my birthday, so brace yourself.

On Place To Be, Hiromi once again proves to be a goddess of jazz piano. Unadulterated solo piano, that is. Here’s one jazz pianist who is not afraid to be as virtuosic as she pleases without being arrogant or annoying. But her music is much more than a sheer display of virtuosity. It has intelligence, humour, joy, abandon: everything jazz is supposed to be all about. Listen to the boogie-woogie of Choux à la crème, crazy bebop of Bern Baby Bern or playful quasi-Baroque of Pachelbel’s Canon and you’ll see what I mean. A Place To Be? Any place where Hiromi plays.

Place to Be

Monday, 28 June 2010

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

by Alexander McCall Smith

I never heard about Aengus (aka Mac Óg), the Celtic god of love, youth and dreams, before I came across this book. (Neither did I hear the Scottish lullaby of the same name.) No, I bought it because I read a few novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Well, Dream Angus is nothing like them. The retelling of Celtic myths interspersed with contemporary short stories, all dealing with love and dreams and dreams about love.

If you are after a gift, look for the two-colour First Edition hardback: it is a beauty.

He is another person; he is not me. And there is a bit of him, of what makes him himself, which I shall never know, never touch. Something which I don’t know the word for. The soul? No. Well, maybe. That, whatever it is, will never be mine. What if I were to ask him to tell me some secret about himself; no secret in particular, just one that he would never tell anybody else, not ever. All of us have at least one of those. At least one secret.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sabra Zoo

by Mischa Hiller

Beirut, Summer 1982. We all know what is going to happen in Sabra and Shatila. Ivan, the teenage protagonist and narrator of Sabra Zoo, does not. So he is “simply” doing his jobs, of varying dangerousness, all the while trying to lose his virginity.

As is the case with so many things I read and watch, I first learned about this book from The Big Issue. And the novel did not disappoint. It has everything: love, suspense, tragedy, hope and some very English humour, all masterfully combined and developed in space of just over two hundred pages.

‘Ivan? It is you, isn’t it?’ It was my English teacher, Mr Brampton, who had been teaching us right up until the first air raids this summer. He used to board at the school.
‘Is the school still standing?’ I asked. Thinking of its position on the south side of the city I imagined it must have been in the front line at some point.

‘It’s still there, but the Jew boys took it over and crapped in the new chemistry lab and headmaster’s office. Shocking behaviour. I’d write to The Times about it if it would do any good.’ He shook his head and I watched his jowls move. ‘I couldn’t believe that professional soldiers could behave that way.’ He pursed his lips as if this was the worst outrage of the whole war. As if bombing and shelling civilians was all right but shitting in a school tipped the balance of unacceptable behaviour.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Pafuera Telarañas

by Bebe

A wonderful, uncategorisable album which just gets better and better with every listening. Better still, this version of Pafuera Telarañas has two awesome bonus tracks: electronic rap number Corre and Que Nadie Me Levante La Voz, flamenco-infused collaboration with Los Delinqüentes. Bebe rocks! (Also raps, folks, funks, punks, skas and so on.)

Annoyingly, the cover art is spoiled by the “Parental Advisory — Explicit Content” sticker. Which is ridiculous since the album is in Spanish (at least they could have bothered to translate the sticker). In any case, the only offending lyrics seems to be this verse of Malo:
Mi carita de niña linda
Se ha ido envejeciendo en el silencio
Cada vez que me dices ¡puta!
Se hace tu cerebro más pequeño.
Given the topic of the song, it is rather benign. Personally, I’d ¡@x%$#*! that %^#~*&$' son of the $%^*x.

Pafuera Telaranas

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Optical illusion mosaics

by Timur Kulikov

It was only matter of time before Timur created a few Roman mosaics which also are visual illusions. For instance, (a) is a variant of grid illusion:

(a)

In (b), the parallel vertical and horizontal lines appear to be slightly bent. It is similar to the café wall illusion.

(b)

I see some illusory motion in (c):

(c)

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Statue

a film by Rod Amateau

The Statue is the perfect illustration how one should not make a comedy. With material barely sufficient for five-minute sketch, this feature film, when not insulting or embarrassingly silly, is plain boring. And the punchline is obvious half-way through.

John Cleese, who plays the ex-psychiatrist making a career in advertisement, was the only reason I borrowed this DVD. Towards the end of the movie, Graham Chapman appears as a talking head on BBC. I suggest you fast-forward it or, better still, see all of the Chapman scene at YouTube.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Lost Girls and Love Hotels

by Catherine Hanrahan

Margaret and her friend Ines, seriously messed-up but instantly likeable gaijin girls.
Kazu, a well-read “gangster or something. Very dangerous”.
And, of course, love hotels.

If it took me about a week to finish Lost Girls and Love Hotels, it is only because I was reading it every night between 1:30 am and 2 am. It is fast, raw, often hilarious and at times disturbing. It is extremely well-written. It leaves you wanting for more.

“What do you look for?” Kazu asks. His cheeks are two perfect circles of red.
What do I look for? Calm. Home. Good coffee. Happiness. Oral sex. Oblivion.
“Fiction,” I say. “Something dark.”
“Can I suggest?”
“Please.”
Abe Kobo no Woman and Sand.”
Woman and Sand?”
“Story is a man is prisoner in the sand hole with the woman. He is digging every day by force. Digging, digging. He must dig or the hole will fill up. He tries to escape and can't escape. Hates the woman, then loves the woman.”
“So what happens?”
“He can escape, but finally he stays in the sand hole. Digging.”
“He stays for love?” I moan.
“No, for digging.”

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Moon

a film by Duncan Jones

It’s been a while since I saw an intelligent sci-fi movie. So I was pleasantly surprised by Moon, with its (deliberate?) 1970s-era visual effects, Solaris quotes and general mood of Space Oddity. With a lot of interesting twists. For instance: unlike HAL 9000, GERTY obeys Asimov’s Three Laws. But also (like so many of us nowadays) he is able to express himself via emoticons — something that most probably would be lost on a 70s viewer . One of the most touching scenes of Moon is the one where GERTY is crying .

Moon

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The First Person and Other Stories

by Ali Smith

So far, I liked every book by Ali Smith that I read. Her novels are great. But it is the short stories where she excels. And this short book of short stories is a treasure.

In The Child, the cherub-like creature is found sitting in the Waitrose shopping trolley. Just wait till the infant starts talking.

In The History of History, the schoolgirl writes a newspaper report of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, while her “mother’s gone mad”.

In Writ, the narrator comes home from work only to discover her fourteen-old-self sitting there. Again.

In The Third Person she takes the art to the extreme: it is several stories, none has either beginning or end.

“All short stories long”, she writes. I am not sure about that. But all short stories by Ali Smith long.

The First Person and Other Stories
All short stories long.

This one is about two people who have just gone to bed together for the first time. It’s autumn. They met in the summer.
They’ve done it, they’ve shrugged themselves out of their shy clothes at last, they've slipped in under the covers of a small double bed, they’re holding each other in nothing but skin. One of them even has a quite bad cold and the other doesn’t care. Ah, love. Outside, the trees are quiet. The light is coming down. It’s five in the evening. But enough about them. It’s spring. It’s morning. In the tress the birds are singing like crazy.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Racing Car #16

by Timur Kulikov
Every block of wood has a racing car inside it and it is the task of the Cub Scout or his parents to set it free.

One day, Timur brought from the Cubs a kit consisting of a wooden block and four wheels. The task was to design a racing car for a pinewood derby. So here it is. (OK the parents helped with wood carving and sanding. As a result, it looks more like a bullet train, mostly because I was fed up with carving much earlier than I thought.)

Pine wood, acrylic paint. Dimensions: 7'' x 2.5'' x 1.5''.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A Serious Man

a film by Joel & Ethan Coen

As the end credits rolled, I read the line “No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture”. Which is a jolly good news because you’d think some were. Nothing good happens to Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). I was hoping for some development with his sunbathing-in-the-buff neighbour, Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker) but no such luck. And what’s with the hideous frames? I thought these were banned long before Airplane recorded Somebody to Love. The best part is The Goy’s Teeth story — it could be a great short film on its own.

‘What happened to the goy?’
‘The goy? Who cares?’
The rest of the movie seems to be rather pointless, and not particularly funny.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Brick Lane

by Monica Ali

That’s one well-written novel — but. As much as I enjoyed the story, I found the happy (?) ending a tad unconvincing: with both husband and lover conveniently out of the country and out of the way, Nazneen finally takes her fate in her own hands. My favourite character is Nazneen’s sister Hasina, “who listened to no one”. She never appears in the book directly: we mostly know her from her letters. In the end she mysteriously vanishes. I hope she has found her true love.

Brick Lane

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Koko Kanyinda @ St Paul’s

Yesterday, Timur and I went to see Koko Kanyinda and his band at the St Paul’s Centre. At 9 pm it was practically empty! (Well, Cambridge was unbelievably empty yesterday. Too hot for going out on Friday night?). Perhaps the band was waiting for more people to come, since for half an hour nothing happened. Luckily, there was a short (impromptu) bhangra class. Bhangra is not exactly a Congolese dance style but it was a good fun anyway. And then the band began to play. After the first song, Timur asked: ‘Can we go home now?’

I have convinced him to stay for another half an hour. By the time we left, the hall was half-full and it looked like everybody was finally dancing.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Quantum Tunnelling Telescope

by Tim Hunkin
There’s never much to look at out to sea, so why waste time with an ordinary telescope?
Indeed. This Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, created by Tim Hunkin (yes, the designer of Pink Floyd’s flying pigs and sheep), is installed at the end of the Southwold Pier. Apparently, many believe this inscription on behalf of “England Heritage” and European Onion:
England Heritage is delighted to present the Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, first tested here on Southwold pier in 1968. It was developed by the Royal Radar Establishment in their secret East Anglian laboratory at Orfordness. An astonishing achievement for the time, it exploited the latest advances in particle physics and quantum dynamics. The project was led by Dr Tim Hunkin, ably supported by Graham Norgate, Gavin Morris, Patrick Bond, Will Jackson, Ben Bourne, and Mimi Ling Yan Leung. Without such an extraordinary team the telescope would never have succeeded. In use at the government’s GCHQ, it completely changed the course of the cold war, monitoring activity in communist territories. Recently declassified, the telescope has been restored to full working order by Quinetiq, with a generous grant from the EUs crossing boundaries fund.

So, what’s on offer?
Absolutely everything you could possibly want to view through a pier telescope!
  • World leaders on jet skis
  • Oil rig raves
  • Sizewell emergencies
  • Shark attacks
  • Beachuts washed out to sea
  • Oil slicks
  • Mermaids and dolphins
  • Climate change
  • Southwold’s property boom

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Thaw

by Fiona Robyn

That’s it. It’s over. The last chapter of Thaw was published yesterday.

Come to think of it, I would never read Thaw if it was not serialised on a blog. Thaw it is not a comedy or fantasy or science fiction. If anything, it tries hard to be realistic. To a rather disturbing degree, I should add. The trouble is, as a whole, it is not believable. I hope you forgive me for expecting the work of fiction (that includes diary fiction too) to be believable or, at least, self-consistent.

Here’s a premise: Ruth, the author of the diary, is describing her life, writing every day for three months, all while she is deciding whether it is worth to carry on living. Why three months exactly, is anyone’s guess, but wait. From 1 March to 31 May, Ruth somehow acquired a friend, got a real (not imaginary) boyfriend, re-connected with her aunt and even started to mend her relationships with her father and his second wife. Moreover, she enrolled to and completed a beginner photography course. Very impressive achievement for a depressed person, I say.

Ruth also managed to annoy me on a different level. Sometimes she writes as the master of suspense. And some other times as if she plans her diary to be read on stage. No real person would ever write in her journal this:
People. Things. Places. Moments. Stories. All moving past in a blur of beautiful colours, as if my whole life were flashing before me.
And so, after some initial discomfort, I stopped to worry about Ruth. Yet this morning it felt weird not to read her diary. Maybe I miss her annoying me on daily basis? I think now I understand the soap addicts.

Thaw