Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Counterintuitive, but sort of true

Writing something down is probably the most reliable way to forget about it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lady goes up to eleven

This, dear readers, is wrong, just wrong. On so many levels.

To begin with, the John Lennon glasses are kind of distracting, don't you think? But whatever, trying not to be superficial here. The whole Wagnerian attitude (both in her gestures and her voice) is a real problem however. It's a piece about an increasingly desperate father trying to save his son, not the musical score for the final boss fight against the Flying Dutchman, lady. And a whole orchestra, instead of a simple piano accompaniment? Was that really necessary? (especially when considering that her voice, I admit that much, is pretty strong.) Maybe she just needed all of them to distract the audience from the fact that she's not really getting her lyrical characters right. (I'm working under the assumption here that the story in the translation is developed more or less parallel to the German text.) (Oh, right. They've translated it into Japanese. Did you notice?). For example, when she's singing the Erlkoenig persona, she kind of looks as if she is air-a tergo-ing the dying kid. Singer, ask thyself, is this really what you wanted to convey? There are even cymbal crashes at the conclusion of the most dramatic lines. That should be enough to convince you how corny this is, right?


Then why do I actually like her interpretation so much? Guess I have to file it under weeaboo.

* * * * *

Enough of this. Let's have a young Fischer-Dieskau (or maybe it's Orson Welles?) version as an antidote.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The park is living room in the city*

I recently thought of, for no particular reason that I could then determine, a certain park I had visited in Tokyo in July 2009. It wasn't the largest or most impressive park I've seen while being there, but it was the one that left the strongest impression on me. It was rather small, maybe more adequately called a garden. I realized I don't remember the name of it or its exact location, not even which ward it was in, and a quick search on the webpage of the Tokyo Park Association didn't help either. I do however remember its overall layout, it looked something like this. I wonder if, by chance, I'll find it again when I am back in Tokyo at some point.

The garden was, like I said, not all that impressive: a pretty but rather small pond next to a tea house, surrounded by a small forest, with some stone-covered paths leading from the main lawn area to the pond. That lawn, probably not much larger than a single tennis court, had a few cheap plastic chairs on it, in addition to one or two old metal benches. Nothing about it looked truly outstanding or particularly beautiful, but what made the experience so remarkable was the deep tranquility that emanated from the place.

Admission was limited, the entrance booth only sold so many tickets before letting no one else in; the fee wasn't even that expensive, and probably not too many people would have come anyway on that afternoon, on a pretty hot day, if I remember it right. I wasn't alone, but probably not more than 10 other people were in it at the time; some retirees, a group of mothers and their children, maybe one or two couples. I was sitting in one of the plastic chairs (it's remarkable how this little ugly piece of white plastic became such a universal constant in gardens and cafes everywhere on earth -- disfiguring each surrounding it ends up in equally if you make the mistake to pay attention to it, yet easily blending in if you ignore its design, which is the default after years of exposure to it), reading 'The Master and Margarita', not particularly concentrated though, letting my mind wander around aimlessly most of the time.

The aforementioned forest in the back and a few rather high bushes and trees around the lawn sealed off the park from the city, at least visually: apart from some barely visible fragments of colorful motion (probably larger trucks driving by) the city was invisible; you could easily hear it however, though slightly muted. I stayed maybe an hour or two, probably reading not more than just a few pages, nor did I observe anything around me with more than just fleeting concentration. (How did the children and their mothers look like? I don't remember. Who was sitting next to me? I can't say.) When I remembered this afternoon now, a poem by Jim Dodge came to my mind, which captures the feeling nearly perfect, even though the circumstances are entirely different:

'Practice, Practice, Practice'

It exacts the strictest discipline
To truly take it easy

Yet still retain the minimal
Quiver of ambition
Required for consciousness.

That's what I've been working on all morning,

Stretched out on the couch
By the cabin window at Bob's,

Watching the rain,
Without pattern,
Fall on the pond,

Just me and the dogs.

* Thank you, Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In which the protagonist must admit...

...that he learned both the meaning of syncopation and singing in harmony/multi-part singing[1] from a little girl appearing as a foil for Paul Simon (but clearly outshining him, in an adorable way) in a 1970-something episode of Sesame Street.

[1] In German I would probably call it 'zweite Stimme', which seems to be close to, but not identical to 'singing in harmony', given that the the German word conventionally implies some amount of improvisation on the part of the one singing the second voice. Is there a more appropriate word in English as well?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

He Was There From The Day We Moved In [1]

When I found the screenshot on another site, the first thing I did was go to the company's webpage myself to see if it was a fake. Turns out, it's real, and still there (at least at the time of this writing).

Hail to you, bearded IT consultant. Don't ever let the big haired, fake smile sporting man or woman bring you down.

Just in case you wonder: the staff profile of essentially every computer science, mathematics (or logic) department on earth tends to look like the exact inverse.

* * *

[1] It's probably just the fact that I grew up with tons of Diogenes books (the publisher, not the philosopher) around me and now feel compelled to connect everything back to them, but this picture (and the tentative story behind it, created in the back of my mind upon seeing it) makes me think of a children book by Levine/Gorey; in particular the cover evokes a strong feeling of resemblance [not so great reproduction here].

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In which the protagonist summarizes what he has has learned in the recent past (I)

The possibility that you might fail is not an excuse not to try.

Even assuming that you would fail essentially all the time [1], you are nonetheless obligated to try, do your best, and act as if the outcome is unknowable [2].

This is a direct consequence of the first principle [3], possibly in conjunction with a few natural minor assumptions, such as: if you don't even try, the outcome will usually be worse than the worst case outcome in case you would have tried.

* * *

[1] An assumption which, for different reasons though, might in fact not even be viable.

[2] Or, possibly, even assume that you will succeed. [related to the question whether an objective independent reality exists and, more importantly, matters; to be addressed later]

[3] Which states that your supreme goal is to be happy, or -- probably equivalently -- that there is no alternative to life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where's your dignity, cat?

Reaction of black cat to Whiskas cat treats: mildly enthusiastic. Cat tries to open container by clawing at it, when this method proves unsuccessful, cat tries to run away with container as a whole (probably planning to open it later with the help of his workbench).

Reaction of black cat to milk: strongly enthusiastic. Cat rubs against leg in anticipation when milk container is taken out of fridge, jumps up nervously in the general direction of said milk container. After consuming allocated small amount of milk, cat signals preference for additional allowance of lactic fluid. (That's supposed to be a fancy way of saying 'milk', but I don't think that's actually what it means.)

Reaction of black cat to canned Tun... whoa, cat, what's wrong with you? Why is your tail shaking like that? And why are you romancing my leg, could you please stop that? (Or at least wait until we had a bit of a conversation.) Cat, seriously, I understand you: Tuna is great, no question. But you act like you're suffering from heroin withdrawal and someone just offered you a swimming pool full of smack.

Addendum. Solution for jittery cat situation: feed him half the can, eat the rest yourself in a salad. Notice cat calming down almost immediately, presumably via tuna-induced food coma, and then fall asleep on your sofa.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Clever noise is still noise, m'kay?

"Usually, such moments are short-lived, as the mind quickly resumes its noise making activity that we call thinking."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I couldn't feel any better or I'd be sick

Went to the Filmmuseum in Vondelpark, on Tuesday. North by Northwest. One of my two favorite movies. As it turns out, I still get very much excited while watching this. Like a little boy, before his first vasectomy. Still, at the same time, in some hidden corner of my mind, there's a streak of sadness because of that as well. It seems that it's impossible to share this particular state of mind with anyone, no matter how well one would know me. But then I realized I never seriously tried to convey what this movie means to me. I should say one thing: what I'm about to write cannot substitute watching the film yourself. But perhaps I can make some of those moments visible that send little jolts through my spine every time I watch them on the screen.

The title sequence is a slick piece of visual magic. Perhaps it's too deliberately cool to be really liked, but not to worry, this will be the first and last time that something in this movie might go above our head.

There is this concept which I like to call dream logic. Things that make perfect sense and are causally connected, but only in a particular setting (originally: in my dreams), but that would turn out to be completely non sequitur chains of events if interpreted by the harsh rules of reality. An example? How about 'attempted murder by getting someone drunk, then forcing him to drive a car' (reckless, yet hilarious driving ensues). Another one? Maybe 'pulling the knife out of someone who was just assassinated (not by you), in the middle of the United Nations reception hall'.

Speaking of the UN General Assembly building, please understand he simply had to go there, there was never really any decision he could make about it. Call it compulsion, if you must. Those are the laws of the movie universe. But since this is the moment that really sets things in motion, aren't you glad at least it turned out to become the most beautiful sequence of the whole movie.[1]

Mother. Despite the way he acts, I believe he kind of loves her, in a Madison Avenue ad executive sort of way. Sometimes I wish I would want to write fanfiction. Then I would write a scene where she meets with Vandamm, somewhere towards the end of the movie. He's the main villain, would you have guessed it by the name? The possibilities of those two getting at each other's throats would be limitless -- although I suspect that, ultimately, they would reach a deal where Vandamm is allowed to drop a rock on the protagonist, as long as she is allowed to take her son's wallet afterwards.

This takes place about 20 minutes into the movie. And removes any doubt whether this is a suspense film (Hint: is not). I also took the name of this blog from there.

This is where we witness the smartest flirting scene inside the dining car of a moving train, like, ever. Maybe 'foreplay at the table' would be a better description. But it's okay because it's the 50s. People didn't really have sex back then, which means the innuendo is completely innocent and charming. But why, Mr. Hitchcock, wherever you are, did you have to follow it up with the most awkward kissing scene in movie history. The hands, those awful hands, why do they follow me into my nightmares?

Why is Thornhill so grumpy the morning after? That's just, ungrateful, you know.

Don't mention the war. Okay.

The iconic scenes, crops and heads, strangely leave me comparably cold. Perhaps because I wasn't able to discover them myself when I first watched the movie. You cannot really make something your own if others already told you that and why you should really appreciate it. Guess this means you actually shouldn't read this post then.

This is the original, rather respectable version. Lebowski -- sorry: the Dude shouldn't hang around elderly porn barons.

No, not really. It doesn't seem like he respects the proceedings at all.

Don't get me wrong, this man is dressed as sharp as I ever would hope to be. He mentions Cary Grant regularly, as a shining beacon of impeccable style and manners. But I guess men did wear their pants rather high back then.

This is the house I want to live in, at some point in the future. Maybe I like it even better than the original by Mr. Wright. Is that his last name, by the way? How can you tell when the first names stop and the last name begins?

I somewhere read someone speculating about Leonard's special relation to Vandamme (it was not assumed to be symmetric, though). I didn't agree at first, but now I do.

The magic of Technicolor and early bluescreen techniques. Nature clearly loses in comparison.

It all ends with a tunnel. Just ask Seymour Skinner what his feelings are about those.[2]

The whole thing is pure camp, sure.[3] But it is sort of my personal medicine cabinet of campy edification, and sometimes I'm glad it exists.

* * *

[1] [Edit] I would really like to show you at least this sequence... Let's see, maybe it won't be taken down.

(Me: "There is no copyright violation going on here." *waves hand* Copyright holders, monotonically: "Yes. We can clearly see there is no copyright violation going on here.")

[2] On the cell phone. "Sorry mother, I was driving through a tunnel." - "I don't want you driving through tunnels, you know what that symbolizes." [Season 10, Episode 16]

[3] Ironically, Sontag's Notes on Camp explicitly mention the movie to be an example of something that fails to be camp. I think it's a function of time to some degree, so maybe she was right back then.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Eraserhead conducting Non-Bach

Dramatis personae: A young Daniel Barenboim who looks straight out of a David Lynch movie. A famous cellist, pretty hot, in an Aspergerian sort of way. And I guess there's something like music in it as well (It's kind of loud. And not contrapuntal at all.[1] But pretty okay nonetheless, I admit.)

Here's the rest.
2nd movement
3rd movement
4th movement, part 1
4th movement, part 2

[1] Full disclosure: I actually have no idea what contrapuntal really means. I just know it accurately labels the music I like.