Monday, 29 November 2010

Bookmarks

by Timur Kulikov

Coloured paper, sandpaper, glue.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Panique au village

a film by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar

Tired of computer-generated (celebrity-voiced / 3-D / Pixar) animations? Try this one for a change. Refreshingly lo-fi, low-budget stop-motion Belgian film featuring Cowboy, Indian and Horse. Silly, crazy, absurd... call it whatever, A Town Called Panic is the funniest animation I’ve seen this year.

We’ve missed this film when it was screened in Cambridge (for one week only in October — I call that crazy). Once again, well done Saffron Screen!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome

After all these years in England, I am yet to meet an Englishman who actually read this book (as opposed to read about the book). Shocking! When I were a lad, which was back in Soviet space-time, it seemed that everybody read it. And for a good reason.

Chances are that every now and then you will come across one of them lists of “one hundred (for example) books to read before you die” which inevitably have War and Peace, Ulysses and The Lord of the Rings. But not Three Men in a Boat. Why? True, Jerome is not Tolstoy. Thank goodness! This book is guaranteed to never bore you to death. Moreover, you’ll want to re-read it on regular basis. From any place, for its chapters have these useful as well as hilarious summaries that help you to get to your favourite bit quickly:

The food question — Objections to paraffin oil as an atmosphere — Advantages of cheese as a travelling companion — A married woman deserts her home — Further provisions for getting upset — I pack — Cussedness of tooth-brushes — George and Harris pack — Awful behaviour of Montmorency — We retire to rest.
I’ve got this very cute Bloomsbury Classics edition which fits perfectly in the pocket of my fleece: another advantage over War and Peace.

I don’t know why it should be, but everybody is always so exceptionally irritable on the river. Little mishaps, that you would hardly notice on dry land, drive you nearly frantic with rage, when they occur on the water. When Harris or George makes an ass of himself on dry land, I smile indulgently; when they behave in a chuckle-head way on the river, I use the most blood-curdling language to them. When another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Clarissa P-30

by C.L. Strumenti Musicali

Rome, October 1993. I was outside the former USSR for the very first time. My visit to Italy coincided with some rather disturbing events in Russia. A few weeks before that, I received my very first grant: US$500 from Soros’s International Science Foundation — a huge sum of money for me. I was determined to bring something great from Rome.

This Italian beauty looked and sounded just right. I think I paid about 200,000 Italian lire for it. It travelled with me back to Moscow, then back to Italy, back to Moscow, then to England. It became a standard of a classical guitar for me. I have seen and played apparently superior — well, at least, much more expensive instruments. None of them ever did feel as good. Last time I tried to find a better guitar, I ended up buying Parker PM-20 instead.

Four years ago, Clarissa went through a repair. The soundboard was all warped and the bridge had to be reattached. After that, I found that the action is too high for my liking. After mutilating the original saddle beyond recognition, I finally took it out and put there a bit of old Rotosound Tru Bass black nylon string. It is still there, you can see it on the photo.

Yuri was learning guitar on it for two years. Now Timur does the same. Long live Clarissa!

More photos of classical guitar @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 19 November 2010

de lo Flamenco in Corralejo

I was torn between the choices yesterday: shall I go to see de lo Flamenco at Blue Jazz Bar or Reggae Revolution at Waikiki? As it happened, I managed to visit both. This particular incarnation of de lo Flamenco comprises:
  • a la guitarra: Marco Carrasco
  • al cante: Rafael Carrasco
  • al baile: Anna Villacampa
Now in any decent-sized European city people would come in hundreds and pay good money to see the show. As it were, yesterday’s concert was free and there were about twenty us spectators. At some point, de lo Flamenco left their tiny stage and came to play, sing and dance in the middle of the audience. It was absolutely awesome. When I am back to proper bandwidth, I will try to upload somewhere a few short video snippets of the show. (There are several videos at their YouTube channel but, as far as I can see, none features the Carrasco brothers.)

The reggae “evening” with Michael (Cuba) and Smoka Smoka Sound System (Italy) did not start until after midnight, so I even had time for dinner at Waikiki. It was not bad at all (I mean reggae, and food as well), but I was too tired to stay till the end.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

La planète blanche

a film by Jean Lemire, Thierry Piantanida and Thierry Ragobert

I am a great admirer of David Attenborough & Co. work. Now, forget Attenborough. This film is something completely different. Its point is not to give you amazing facts but make you to fall in love with the White Planet. It is not as much documentary as poetry.

This DVD comes with two short “making of” documentaries which are both well worth watching, especially the making of the music. It is fascinating to see the score by Bruno Coulais (who composed the music for such movies as Microcosmos and Coraline) evolving, in collaboration with Jorane and native Inuit singers, into a weird and beautiful soundtrack.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Plastic Beach

by Gorillaz

Isn’t it ironic that the latest album of a virtual band credits real guest musicians on ten out of 16 tracks? An excessive number of guest artists is never a good sign even for a real band. Especially if we are talking a concept album, and Plastic Beach kind of pretends to be one. The most interesting, music-wise, composition here is White Flag; more specifically, its introduction and conclusion played by the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental-Arabic Music (who, bizarrely, are not credited as performers on the CD booklet. The middle bit, featuring rap by Bashy & Kano, is utterly unremarkable). Disappointing.

Plastic Beach

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Château Ollieux Romanis Cuvée Classique 2008

Perfect on its own as well as with pasta and meat dishes.

We all have seen these useful wine recommendations, didn’t we. Luckily, this particular red, from Château Ollieux Romanis, Corbières has nothing of the sort on the bottle. Nor does it have any gratuitous description of bogus flavours — and since it is unoaked, it isn’t even oaky! In fact, it doesn’t have written there much at all. I bought it in Joseph Barnes Wines shop in Saffron Walden, on recommendation of its proprietor, Charles Hardcastle. No regrets, because it is simply an excellent wine.

More photos of red wine @ Shutterstock.

Monday, 8 November 2010

One Hundred Great Books in Haiku

by David Bader
Developed by Zen monks possibly suffering from attention deficit disorder, these poems were packed with keen insights on frogs and cherry blossom yet short enough to be recited in a single breath. Japanese readers could experience and savour the finest haiku of Bashō in its entirety (three lines), while Western readers of, say, John Milton’s Paradise Lost (10,000 lines) were still staring at the title page.

Even if you hate this book (its author, haiku, poetry in general), you can’t complain that it is too long. It took me less than ten minutes to read through one hundred books. And for terminally lazy, there is an index in the end, so you don’t spend any time looking for that Dostoyevsky (page 42). Most of the haiku here indeed have seventeen syllables, except for this one:

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Laurence Sterne
I’ve torn out line two.

Reader, it was dull.

Beats the nine volumes of the original, I say.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Lord of the Rings

a film trilogy by Peter Jackson
“I think Mr. C.S. Lewis is a very good writer. But he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books.”
“You are right there,” Miss Honey said.
“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr. Tolkien either,” Matilda said.

I cannot agree more with Roald Dahl’s heroine. With all due respect, J.R.R. Tolkien is not funny. Of course, Peter Jackson’s trilogy has some incredibly cool battle scenes, but I wouldn’t want to watch it more than once if not for humour that is sorely missing from the book. Alas, a lot of material, including some really funny episodes, did not make into theatrical release. To fully appreciate the LotR movies, you have to watch this extended edition. It will take 11 hours to sit through the six DVDs though.

Make no mistake: LotR has some of greatest as well as some of most embarrassing moments in modern cinema. The latter include the silly battle-cum-break-dance between two elderly wizards in The Fellowship of the Ring; Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) singing in The Return of the King; and almost every scene involving Frodo (Elijah Wood). Throughout the movies, Frodo cycles between three equally creepy states: distressed and agitated; rolling his blue eyes (otherwise doing nothing); and smiling while thinking about the Shire (and doing nothing). Yuck! His sidekick Sam (Sean Astin) is marginally better, although by the third film he becomes as unbearable as Frodo. Most probably because, as we know, he’s always stuffing his face when Master’s not looking.

On the contrary, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd — I love his accent) are there to provide comic relief, as well as some real action. Ditto Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), always in competition with Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) appears to have a good sense of humour too (“Do not mention Frodo, or the Ring. And say nothing of Aragorn either. In fact, it’s better if you don’t speak at all, Peregrin Took”). However, my absolutely favourite character is Gollum/Sméagol (Andy Serkis). I am looking forward to his reappearance in The Hobbit.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Addenbrooke’s fireworks again

Just like last year, Arco Iris played two very loud sets at Addenbrooke’s, pre- and post-firework display. The programme included our new-ish maracatu piece which, as far as I know, we never played in public before. Also, this was Arco Iris’s first gig featuring yours truly on repinique. I did not really intend it, but, since far too many people signed up to play caixa this time, I did volunteer. To my horror, I turned out to be the only (non-leader) rep player tonight. So when the leaders were doing their leading stuff, I was playing, um, whatever I could recall from my few rep practice sessions. Ah well, nobody was complaining.

More photos of fireworks @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Five-string Electric Upright Bass

by Jon Shuker

Back in 2004, I was looking for a British maker of electric upright basses and came across several excellent reviews of Shuker instruments. At the time, Shuker was making two models of EUB, both of them now discontinued. I think they were codenamed Up1 and Up2. I went to Sheffield to see Jon in his workshop and discuss the specification. Here it is (I looked it up in an email from July 2004):

  • Five-string Up2
  • 36″ scale
  • Five-piece laminate neck (African walnut / sycamore veneer) — black or white veneer
    stripes
  • Ebony true upright board
  • Figured wood facings (flamed maple)
  • Matching wood facings for headstock and control cavity cover
  • Edge fretlines and position dots
  • Two way adjustable truss rod
  • Gotoh GB70 tuners
  • Ebony nut
  • Schertler transducer system
  • Three-band equaliser
  • Clear finish, satin lacquer
  • Stand/fittings
The instrument was ready in early 2005. It was fitted with D’Addario Helicore Orchestral bass ¾ scale medium tension strings, including H616 (low B) string (the bass is tuned B-E-A-D-G). Moreover, Jon put the bass in a padded bag specially made-to-measure by some small company. It is the coolest upright bass I have ever seen, not to mention owned. (Well it is the only upright bass you have ever owned. — I told you not to mention it.)

More photos of electric upright bass @ Shutterstock.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Carnegie Hall Concert

by Keith Jarrett

I bought this two-CD set on sale the other week. Just another Keith Jarrett album for my collection, you understand. You don’t see a lot of Keith Jarretts on sale. True, some of his albums are disappointing. So what? Being as prolific as Jarrett is, the man is surely allowed to record a weak album now and then, and who can blame him? I certainly did not expect another Köln Concert, and The Köln Concert it ain’t. It is something completely different, and yet unmistakeably Jarrett. I don’t think it would be a blasphemy to say that The Carnegie Hall Concert is almost as great as that 30-year older masterpiece. Why “almost”? Let me explain.

I understand that ECM released the concert exactly as it was played in Carnegie Hall on 26 September 2005, taking care to present the first half of the concert on disc one and what followed after the interval, that is, the second half plus five encores, on disc two. (That explains why the second CD is more than twice as long as the first one.) Which is fair enough, but sometimes less is more; of all record companies, ECM should know that better. On this occasion, Part I, Part IV and Part VI are amorphous, tuneless free-jazz exercises which I can happily live without. On the other hand, my favourite tracks are Part III, Part VII and Paint My Heart Red. You see, I am cherry-picking here. I wouldn’t dare to do that with The Köln Concert, which is pretty much indivisible, like an atom.

Carnegie Hall Concert

Monday, 1 November 2010

L’Illusionniste

a film by Sylvain Chomet

I find it ridiculous, if not criminal, that however good, bad or downward horrible any Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks production may be, it is invariably screened everywhere while our own masterpiece, The Illusionist (made in Edinburgh!) was shown only in 42 cinemas in the UK. Luckily, we’ve got it in Saffron Screen for two nights only — so if you missed it, you still have tonight to fix that!

Based on an unproduced script by great Jacques Tati (note the protagonist’s name, Tatischeff), this beautiful animation takes us on nostalgic journey through 1950s Britain: London, Scottish islands, Edinburgh... Absolutely marvellous. My favourite characters are carnivorous rabbit and a perpetually inebriated Scotsman. Also, look out for the guest appearance of the mechanic from Les Triplettes de Belleville.