Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The 1000th post!

Need I say more?
Yup, I better.

Getting slowly used to playing the new piano. It's interesting that when I play pieces I've written over the last year, I keep thinking: Hmmm, I probably wouldn't have used that particular chord if I'd written the piece on this piano. There was a certain tone quality to the old one which was quite different to the new one. So, expect any new pieces that get written to have a different feel to them!

So this is the 1000th post on this blog. Interesting achievement, but in fact as far as blog posts go, I passed that number yonks ago. Just a quick tally of the blog posts on Blogger sites I write for, and have written for, comes up to some 1700. And then there are the two blogs on Orble.com. Can't even tell you how many posts there are on those two, but I've been writing on them both since some time in late 2006. The number would certainly be over the 2000 mark in total. (Must see if there's a way to check this out.)
At a probable average of 400 words per post, that would mean I've written something like 800,000 words over the last few years. Quite a sizeable book!

The photo is by Bruno Farias - not sure what the Spanish means, however! Not even sure if it is Spanish...

Body change?

If our entire body is supposed to renew itself every 7 years, if all our blood renews itself every three to four months, and if even our skin renews itself every 28 days, how come I wind up with exactly the same spots, wrinkles, scars and bumps every time?
According to a book by Larry Dossey called Space, Time & Medicine, the body only takes 5 years to renew completely. He says somebody called Aebersold has concluded that 98% of the our 10 to the power of 28 atoms are renewed annually. The same source says the lining of the stomach is replaced every week (so much for cast-iron stomachs); the liver is regenerated every six weeks.
Hmmm. Does this mean that the DNA coding actually changes in accordance with the bumps and bruises we receive through life and keeps track of them? How odd.
Another source claims men take a year longer than women to completely change. I wonder why?
My suspicion is that there may be an element of truth in this body change business, but it’s hard to find a medical fact about it. Most sites that talk about it are promoting beauty products, rather than medical information. Have to keep digging on this one, I think.

Ryan Youens

A few years ago at Dunedin City Baptist (somewhere between 2002 and 2005) a young fellow called Ryan Youens used to play the piano during the worship, on occasions. It was a period when we had a number of fine pianists; there was also another youth who was training to be a doctor.

Ryan's been gone from Dunedin for at least three years, so it was good to catch up with him on Facebook today, and learn something of what he's doing.

He completed his Masters degree in composition early in 2007 at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, working with Jack Body, Michael Norris and John Psathas. (Note that his teachers include one of my favourite composers and one of my not-favourites!)

Ryan had already had a fairly illustrous academic time: he began studying at Auckland University in 2001, moved to Otago University, studied with Anthony Ritchie and graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree with first class honours in 2005. He also received a couple of prizes during his Otago stint.

Ryan’s work has been performed by the Gruppetto Quartet (Greece), Auckland Symphony Orchestra, Southern Sinfonia, Marama Chamber Orchestra, Dunedin Youth Orchestra, Southern Consort of Singers, The Committee and at the 2007 Asian Composers League Festival in Wellington.

He's been a part of the NZSO/TODD Young Composer Awards on three occasions and his piece “Rakaia” was a part of the 2008 NZSO/SOUNZ Readings.

Ryan now lives back in Auckland, his hometown, works as a composer, music copyist and engraver, teaches music, conducts several orchestras and is frequently arranging and orchestrating music which has been performed in New Zealand, Europe, North and South America.

Sounds like Ryan has a busy career ahead of him!

Thanks to the SOUNZ site for some of this info

The Great Unspoken


What's the great unmentionable in human society? Sex, nah. Death, nah. These are both talked about everywhere. We just pretend they're not.
The great unmentionable is defecation, and its companion, urination. Okay, the second of those two occasionally gets a mention in public life, but the first is mostly viewed as something no one actually does.
Why am talking about this then? Because I've just seen a review of a book called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. It's written by Rose George, and was published by Metropolitan Books, back in October this year.
More than 6 billion people have to deal with this (an anagram of shit, did you realise?) day in and day out, and in many parts of the world there just isn't the provision for it, which is why there's a great deal of disease, and so many deaths from diarrhea (I'm using the US spelling because I can never remember the English one.) According to the review (which is based on the book's stats), diarrhea kills a child every 15 seconds. Can this really be true? Perhaps it can, but it's certainly hard to comprehend.
The review, by Bill McKibben, on the Books & Culture site, is well worth reading (only a couple of pages.) It makes a book on a not-so-enticing subject enticing!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who is Fred Blanks?

I mentioned Fred Blanks a couple of posts ago, which made me curious to know who he is/was.

He's an 83-year-old who lives in Sydney. He's a retired scientist with an Honours degree from the University of Sydney, specialising in organic chemistry research and management. But he's also a major music critic and adult education lecturer - a profession that began as a hobby. English is not his first language, in spite of his English-sounding name; he came to Australia as an immigrant.

He's obviously very involved in the music scene in Australia; check him out on Google and you'll only find references to music, not to science.

But there doesn't seem to be any readily available bio of him. Maybe one will turn up somewhere when I'm not looking.

More unearthed treasures

'Treasures' might be a bit of an overstatement, but back in the early 80s sometime, I wrote a 'musical' for my church - the Assembly of God in those days. (It's gone through several changes of name since then; seems to be that the Pentecostals no longer want to stick with their original nomenclatures for some reason. Not trendy enough, perhaps. They've been called Southern Hills, and, Nations, at various times over the last couple of decades.)
Anyway, the musical was fairly short; probably twenty minutes at the most. I scripted it and wrote the music. It was just one of those times when everything comes together without huge effort.
I've had the music to hand pretty much ever since then, because I spent some time at one point putting all my church songs in one manuscript book. But the script had gone missing.
Until today, when it turned up in the stuff that had been in my piano stool. Obviously I haven't been through that stuff for a very long time!
The musical had its roots in the Lost Sheep parable, but that was only part of what went on in it. The only words that I set to music that I didn't write were those for William Blake's poem, Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? This is also the only song that's had a life outside the staging of the musical.
The musical was rather curiously staged: we had people playing the parts, but their songs were sung by other people. Perhaps it was because the singers didn't feel confident acting. And there were dancers involved too, particularly in a song called, There is more rejoicing over one lost sheep (than the ninety-nine who never go astray). At that time in the AOG history, banners and long pieces of material were in, and the dancers often used to use these in the services. So we incorporated some of that in the musical.
We even had a tiny orchestra: yours truly on the piano, along with a flute, a violin and some other things which I can no longer recall.
Anyway, it was a great effort and came off pretty well, all things considered.

The human smile

I was looking for photos on prayer on Flickr.com this afternoon, for a project I'm doing at work, and came across the marvellous photo below. (Praying and praying mantis got bundled together.)
It's by J Star, and it may be a self-portrait. It's one of a series of photos of girls with bugs on their faces. Most of them seem to be coping perfectly well.
Anyway, what I most loved about it was the enormous smile, that amazing delight that in spite of having something rather creepy on her face, she can't help grinning. And isn't the human smile just a wonderful thing?

8 posts to go....

...before I reach the magic 1000th post. Well, I've given myself till the 31st to achieve this, so here's one more step on the way.
The piano arrived this morning, rather later than expected because when the guys went to collect it they found they'd left some vital tools behind. I heard this from the former owner, when I finally rang her to see if they'd actually left her house yet.
I'd been told that these guys - or rather this company - had experience at shifting grand pianos, and maybe they have, but I'm not sure that the entire team that arrived had all had the experience claimed. Well, they got it to my house in several pieces (that's the way grand pianos travel) and put it back together without too much difficulty, so there must have been some experience there.
I gave them the option of taking it in the front door or in the back, and they decided on the back even though there are four steps up into the house at that point. (There are two at the front, but there's also very little turning room, as we've often found when we've taken something large into the house.) Getting the main part of the piano up the fours steps was a bit of an issue: one guy was doing all the hoisting up, it seemed, (puffing and blowing) while the other three did....something else. They were on hand, but you got the impression that they weren't always putting full muscle into it.
Suffice to say, they hoisted it into the house, swung it round through the kitchen, along the hall and with ease into the lounge. And, as I said, put it together.
And I played it. It's very bright sounding, which will take a bit of getting used to, and it needs a bit more effort from my fingers to move at speed on certain passages. It's not sluggish, just a bit tighter than my other piano.
We're going to have to reconsider where we put it. The current spot isn't quite roomy enough for me and the piano, and at the moment I'm the one who's getting the short end of the space. My wife and I will do some rethinking tonight, and see how we get on. I'm most concerned not to have it against an outside wall, as I've been told more than once that this isn't good for pianos.
Neither is sticking them up against a heater, or a heating vent, as Teachers' College, where we hold our church services, used to do to the very nice baby grand they had. I played it a lot, but gave up in the end when the other musicians could never get in tune with it. Now it's stuck out in a kind of sunroom area where the temperatures are alternatively very hot or very cold. Someone needs to have their head read - it's likely the piano will become irrepairable - or irreparable, depending on how you want to spell it.

Couple of finds

While waiting for the new piano to arrive, I've been trying to sort through the piles of sheet music that were in my piano stool. Remind me next time I clear out a folder of single pages to keep them in some sort of order, please. Almost every song has every other page reversed, and some songs are mixed in with other songs and pages are missing, and I'm seriously inclined to throw the lot in the recycling bin and be done with it.
However, I have found two things that I'm happy about: the words of the carol, Said the Cat to the Mouse, which my wife loves, but can't remember the words to, and, a photocopy of an article that appeared in a Sydney paper quite a few years ago. It's by Fred Blanks (can that be a real name?) and it lists the famous composers, how many years they lived, and how productive they were per annum. I first saw it on the wall of a music teacher's rooms, and was intrigued by it then. Not sure how I managed to get a copy, but I'd like to put it on a spreadsheet and do some extrapolating beyond what Fred himself does.
Just had a look on the Net - Fred Blanks is a real name. He's written a lot on music, apparently.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A different Top Ten

A few posts past I wrote about the Top Ten search queries that bring up my site according to HitTail.
Curiously enough, the Top Ten on Google Analytics vary somewhat from this.
1. The Great Divorce notes makes it to the top.
2. Athlete's hand comes in second. No great surprises so far.
3. Here Lies Eric Ambler comes in third. It doesn't even appear in the other top ten, though it does turn up further down the list of queries.
4. Karl Maugham - the misspelt version gets to number 4.
5. The Great Divorce chapter summaries comes in at 5. But why? I don't think I've ever written about anything like this. Must be just another version of The Great Divorce.
6. Brent Stavig Starbucks is next. Not sure what Starbucks has to do with it, but there you go, our old friend Brent makes this list too.
7. Diana Crowl music. You won't find any reference to Diana Crowl in my blog. I have no idea who she is, but she keeps causing searchers to find me. Well, she's now in a post, so we'll see how popular we get from that!
8 & 9 are both covered by Nintendo jewellery, but with the two different spellings of the second word.
And lastly at
10 is 'new home ministries' - a total left-field one.

Murder in the Dark

Finished another Kerry Greenwood mystery last night: Murder in the Dark. It stars Greenwood’s high-class amateur sleuth, Phryne Fisher.
I’m sure I started this novel a couple of years ago, but not a thing about it was familiar, so perhaps I never got past the first couple of pages.
Anyway, it has the usual host of Greenwood characters, well-delineated, so that you don’t get confused (though it helps to have read another one in the series recently), and it has the usual ambience, and mise-en-scene, and wide range of strange people (stranger than usual in this one). It’s set in a country mansion that exists in reality half-an-hour from Melbourne, but Greenwood has taken some liberties with the place.
The story is about a major party (The Last Best Party) which is spread over several days one Christmas, and involves endless amounts of food, heaps of guests, musicians, and other sundries. It also includes some pretty strange goings-on, which Phryne, being the lady she is, indulges in pretty fully. A brother and a sister, constantly referred to as ‘gods’ because of their singular beauty, have put the party on, and they’re attended on by a bunch of male and female acolytes, some of whom get in on the action. There’s a very odd little boy by the name of Tarquin, a missing little girl called Marigold, and a jazz singer called Nerine – who’s so short-sighted she has to be prevented from slipping off the edge of the stage. And then there’s Nicholas, who’s obviously more than he seems, but what is that ‘more’?
Greenwood has a knack of drawing her characters clearly, and only very occasionally did I mistake one name for another. She delights in detailing how food is made and eaten, what clothes look best (especially on Phryne, who is compared the film star Louise Brooks at one point), what the surroundings contain and so on. The book is a trifle overlong, but it’s not because Greenwood is ever a dull writer; perhaps there’s just too much information. And it’s certainly a more compact mystery than the other Phryne Fisher I read not long ago.

Spider and the Fly


A day of new experiences.
I've never been bitten by a spider before, that I know of, and I'm not even sure that I was today. But it seems likely.
I went out into our laundry this morning before work, and noticed a fly buzzing its little heart out because it was caught up in some fluffy spiderweb that was all over the upper area of the window. I don't know when the web had been put there, but I don't think it was longstanding.
Anyway, I grabbed the broom and swept over the window and the web, clearing it all away. Then I went outside, brushed the still buzzing fly off the web, and then carried on clearing away the web from the broom head. And something bit me!
I thought it might have been something sharp amongst the bristles but I've just had another look and it's just bristles - and none of them are sharp pointed. So I can only conclude that it was the spider, which, caught up in my sweeping of the window, was taking its wrath out on me.
My finger didn't balloon up, so obviously the bite wasn't particularly severe, but it stung for a while.

The photo was taken by momboleum. It's her bathroom window, not my laundry...

Jesus still loves me...

This version of “Jesus Loves Me” is from Margaret Wood, and turned up in the Rumors newsletter. It's for those oldies out there who think their time has come!

Jesus loves me, this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow.
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.
(CHORUS)
Yes, Jesus loves me (3X)
The Bible tells me so.

Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I'll go.
On through life, let come what may,
He'll be there to lead the way.
(CHORUS)

Though I am no longer young,
I have much which He's begun.
Let me serve Christ with a smile,
Let me go the extra mile.
(CHORUS)

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song.
Telling me in words so clear,
'Have no fear, for I am near.'
(CHORUS)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

franchises

Ever been tempted to go for one of those retail franchises, where you buy into a company and set up your own version of it locally? KFC and McDonald's are of course, prime examples, but I was interested to see what else I could take up a franchise on if I were of a mind.
The Physicians' Weight Loss program, for starters, or Return a Pet. I could become a Cartridge Depot, or offer a Space Walk to kids on their birthdays and other fun times. How about setting up a Flip Flop Shop? Good grief. How many customers would I need to make money out of selling nothing but flip flops?
Sports Clips is a men's and boys' haircutting franchise, where the them is sports. Embroidme speaks for itself. Interestingly enough, that's the name of a shop here in town, which, as far as I'm aware, isn't a franchise.
What about Speaking Roses, where you print a message on the flower? Doesn't that rather defeat the purpose?
The list goes on and on (and probably on, if the truth be told). My suspicion is that the only person making real money out of all this is the one who came up with the idea in the first place. Having at least ten percent of your income going straight out the door to the franchise owner always seemed to me to be a bit of a non-starter. Okay, you get the 'name' and backing, and the 'look' of the franchise. But regrettably, you still have to do all the hard work.

Open-air sheet music

Couldn't resist putting this photo on here, after my comments about sheet music in the last post.


It looks like something that's been photoshopped, but apparently it's for real. (It was taken by 'Tape') It's in Minneapolis, on the former Schmitt Music Building. Another Flickr.com photographer (I think they go under the pseudonym of O So Lazy Susan) has a heap of pictures of it from different angles. This photographer notes:
This musical mural is believed to be sheet music from a portion of Maurice Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. I heard there was some major copyright issues once upon a time, but that is just a rumour. Schmitt Music used to be housed in the building. The music store is gone, but the mural remains.

I'm glad people are photographing this, because it's just the sort of thing some demolition person would come along and destroy in a matter of moments.

With the new piano coming, there's a new piano stool coming as well. In fact, it's already here, as we picked it up when we paid for the piano today.
That meant clearing out the old piano stool of its accumulated stuff. I was going to say rubbish, but that would be unfair to a great deal of the stuff I sifted through this afternoon.
Stuff like: the judge's notes for two of my kids when they were doing singing competitions (and the little gold medal one of them received). Or the magazine containing one of my published articles - on men's liberation.
Or the pocket score of containing three of Mozart's string quartets. Or pages and pages of music, mostly photocopied. Yes, I'm sure that's illegal, but many of these songs are no longer in print, and how else is the pianist expected to play the accompaniments if he doesn't have a copy?
Or notes on when I was working as manager of the bookstore; these included goals, strengths, weaknesses, competition, progress and so on. All printed out on an old dot matrix printer.
Or various books for teaching children the piano. Some of these must go way back, as I haven't taught the piano since the seventies. And some clarinet music, and some brass band solo music, which somehow has wound up left in my care.
All I've done so far is sort it into rough groups (and tossed some, of course). The real sorting out will have to take place on a rainy day when I'm in the mood. Today's been one of the hottest days of the year....

Photo courtesy of 'Now I'm Always Smiling' on Flickr.com

The baby grand

I've now paid for Broadwood baby grand number 263124, (a five-footer) which, according to the numbering system, means it was made in 1960 sometime. It'll be delivered on Tuesday morning., and hopefully we won't have nearly as much trouble getting this fellow in the house as we had with the previous fellow.
We've shifted things around in our lounge, to accommodate the new inmate, but I doubt if we've struck the right arrangement yet. Still, as long as we get it in the room, we can work from there.
This 'new' piano is nearly 50 years old; the old one was closer to ninety.
It'll be interesting to see how it sounds in a different environment. The room it's been in is quite bright, acoustically (good for teaching music in), but our lounge is fairly quiet by comparison, having more soft furnishings and carpet. (Not that you'd have necessarily noticed when I was playing on the previous piano, which had plenty of life in its sound.)
Roll on Tuesday.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Updating the HitTail Top Ten

18 more posts to go before I hit the big 1000. The aim, as I said in an earlier post, is to do this before the end of 2008. I guess I could write a lot of idiotic, meaningless posts - one-liner posts, even - but I'm going to play fair and aim to keep up the extraordinarily high quality of my posts. (Did I hear someone say, Phooey?)
Anyway, it's a while since I checked out HitTail. For various reasons it's gone on the backburner in the last month, along with a few other things. (Partly because I've been more busy musically than I have through most of the year, and partly because of the prostate stuff which I've discussed in several posts on Workreport.net.)
I thought I'd see if there's been any change in the top ten search items that pick up on my site. And nope! They're pretty much the same as they've been in a long while. Here they are again:
1. Athlete's hand - the all time favourite; currently running at over 152 searches, but if we count all the variations on the theme, there'll be far more than that.
2. Mike Crowl. Well, there's a turn up for the books.
3. James Berardinelli. This film critic has been amongst the top for some time. Don't ask me why: I don't talk about him that much.
4. Brent Stavig. Another top name on the list. Extraordinary.
5. The Great Divorce notes. I have never listed any notes about C S Lewis' The Great Divorce. It's only the combination of having mentioned the book and having 'notes' in the title of my blog that brings this one up so regularly. Other books get the same treatment, but obviously not as often.
6. Shrinking shirts. Another one of those items that got mentioned in a post once and have kept this blog in the public eye ever since.
7. Nintendo jewellery. I sometimes suspect that I'm the only blogger to have ever mentioned Nintendo jewellery. I still have no idea what it is.
8. Karl Maugham. Due to my inability to spell Mr Maughan's name correctly, anyone else who spells it incorrectly finds my site.
9. Athlete's fingers. One of the other variations on number one in the list.
10. Chrissy Popadics. I mentioned Chrissy once many moons again - maybe mentioned her again briefly in a later post, and ever since then she's turned up trumps. Wierd.

Comparing this list with the previous one I did in August, there's only one change: The Great Divorce Notes don't appear there. Instead, my name comes up twice, the second time as Michael Crowl. Scary.

Short Circuit 2

Finally turned up Short Circuit 2 on DVD, and surprisingly, it stands up better than the first in the series. Fisher Stevens gets to play the main role, which is a good thing, and with the support of Michael McKean (an actor who doesn't apparently age - he looks as young/old here as he does in those later mockumentaries he's well known for).
But the star of the show is still Johnny 5. Here he steals every scene he's in with ease, and gets away with incredible feats and stunts. So what, he's a star. Once again he's voiced by Tim Blaney, who seems to have spent most of his screen career being heard and not seen. Blaney has the character down pat, in every detail. Without this particular voice, there's no doubt Johnny would be an altogether different robot.
The plot is no big deal; the movie's about Johnny 5 rather than anything more complicated. And it's a lot of fun. Catching up with both Johnny and and Fisher Stevens's malapropisms again makes it well worth watching more than once.

Heintzman piano

Today we say goodbye to my upright piano. It's served me well for probably twenty years - maybe longer.
When we tried to move it into the house, it proved to be too large to get round front porch, and finally the movers had to shift it over the little balcony at the front of the house and bring it in through the French windows. The French windows have been long gone, replaced by aluminium windows in what was a kind of sun verandah, now incorporated into the larger lounge. Which meant that this piano was never going to get out of the house again in one piece, because not only was it unmanoeverable through the main door of the house, it couldn't be pushed through the lounge door, which by dint of circumstances, is narrower than your average door.
So we've spent the afternoon breaking the piano down into its component parts, a task that's proved to be verging on the superhuman. This piano was never meant to fade away without a fight. It's solid through and through, and everything is screwed down as if to withstand a hurricane.
Regrettably, the musical side of the piano, as opposed to its chassis, hasn't withstood the test of time. It won't stay in tune any more, and even an overhaul a couple of years ago didn't do it much good.
So sadly, it's had to go.
My wife and I have spent the afternoon trying to get it down into a small enough state to actually move it out of the house. The piano has resisted mightily, but finally the deed is done, and parts of the piano are scattered around the place, some of the wood being stored in case it's useful, the copper strings being collected for recycling, and various other component parts thrown ignominously on the rubbish heap. As of now, my youngest son is sawing away at the back of the piano, which was seemingly made as solid as a house.
It was only when we opened it up that we found it was a Heintzman and Co product. Number 64835, which probably means it was made in the 1920s. It's Canadian by birth, and my understanding of its history is that it was once a player piano, which is why it was deeper from front to back than most uprights.
It has the Agraffe Bridge Patd March 10th, 1896 marking on the metalwork, and somebody has initialled a piece of the woodwork: AL. You'll be pleased to know, AL, that your piano has given me years of pleasure.
Heintzman and Co were highly respected Canadian piano makers for well over a hundred years.
Helmut Kallmann and Patricia Wardrop have a very good article about the company on the Canadian Encyclopedia website.
The photo is of a Heinztman piano - not ours, however.

Friday, December 26, 2008

World's Fastest Indian

Just watched this movie again - last saw it at the cinema when it was first released.
It disappoints. I can't say I enjoyed it much the first time round, but a second viewing only goes to prove that my first instincts were right. The thing is fairly lifeless: there's only one character in it and he's irritating; there's no action, no forward movement apart from the expected beating of the world record at the end - and we know how that's going to come out - and the American characters in the Bonneville sequence are nothing more than cyphers, feeding Anthony Hopkins a bunch of lines so he can explain for the dumbbells in the audience what's going on.
Everyone's too nice. Apart from a couple of slightly gruff coppers, and two officials who are turned from their anti-Burt Munro stance within a scene, everyone else seems to take Munro as he is and find him delightful.
Hopkins works hard to produce a credible Invercargill accent, he works hard to make Burt interesting, and to keep the thing moving, but he's fighting an uphill battle. The script is as dull as ditchwater, and the frequent repetition of lines because Munro is supposed to be slightly deaf doesn't work for the audience. You just wish they'd get on and say something interesting.
Munro must have been a true eccentric, a man driven by a certain passion. That's evident enough, and yet somehow we don't get enthused by his passion. And he's given some of the most trite dialogue yet to grace a movie, stuff that's intended to be philosophical but sounds more like the sort of thing the old neighbour over the road spouts year in and year out and which never enlightened you much in the first place.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New music

Christmas was a bit early round our house this year: because so many of our kids and their spouses and families are going to in-laws for Christmas Day, we had our family get-together tonight, with the present opening included.
One of my daughters had been selected to buy for me (we each only buy for one other person) and she gave me three of the Rattle company’s CDs, which had been on special for December. So now I have Michael Houstoun award-winning two CD album of NZ piano music, Inland; the John Psathas collection, View from Olympus (which also has Houstoun in it); and Pasthas’ Rhythm Spike, which features Dan Poynton, Houstoun again, the NZ String Quartet and Diedre Irons.
The only one of these I’ve heard before much is View from Olympus, which I’ve had out from the library more than once. I love the energy in it – Houstoun barely stops playing throughout, and at speed.
So lots of NZ music-listening over the next few days/weeks. And I got a free t-shirt to boot.

Michael Houstoun's sister used to come into my bookshop quite a bit at one time, which is why I'm always aware that his name is spelt rather oddly (!)

Mike Gray

Michael Gray, whom I accompanied only three weekends ago, has won himself the New Zealand Opera Society 2009 opera grant. It's going to help fund a trip to the Cactus Language School in Bologna in June next year.
Mike's been a busy singing boy over the last few years, and as well in the last twelve months he was encouraged to switch from baritone to tenor (something another Dunedin singer, Simon O'Neill, did a few years back). He's moving up the scale, but of course it's a process, and he has a bit of a way to go to be entirely comfortable up there. He'll make it. He's a great musician, and performs well.

A new baby

For some time now my old piano has been running not at 100%. We spent quite a bit of money on it a couple of years ago to little avail. Even after the last tuning, a couple of notes almost immediately went back to their untuned sound, which means probably that more actual repair work is needed.
So my wife and I have been considering getting a new piano for a while, and I went to a music shop recently to suss out the prices: uprights were coming in at a minimum of $12,000NZ, and were fairly unsubstantial creatures even at that. Plus they seem to place the keyboard too low these days. I have a friend who has a relatively new piano that gives me a back ache because I’m having to lean down towards it all the time.
One of the patients at the health centre where my wife works is a now retired piano tuner. He happened to mention that someone we knew was selling her baby grand – he’d been asked to price it for her, but isn’t really into pricing pianos. My wife expressed interest, and last night we went and visited the aforementioned baby.
A nice Broadwood, good and solid, a bit bright in the upper register (particularly one key – might have been the E two above middle C), and a little heavier in the action than my current piano. Of course, my current piano has been worked at until it plays without thinking (including the two or three dud sounding notes). The Broadwood would require me to work a little harder, but that’s no great problem. The bass has a nice clean sound to it, whereas my piano’s overtones seem to run into each other. And the soft pedal actually produces a softness.
I played through a couple of my recent compositions on it, since I knew well how they feel on the home piano. And then we asked the price. $6,500. Wow. A steal, even allowing for transporting it to my place.
So I will soon own a baby grand. It’s not the first grand to live at our house. Years ago, when we attended the AOG church, they let us look after their baby grand while a new church was being built. I think it was a bigger beast, as I recall it taking up quite a bit of room. (This baby has been on a bit of a diet pill regime by contrast!)
My current piano is a bit of a monster too, even though it’s an upright. It was formerly a player-piano, but before I got it, the player action was removed. Consequently, it stands solid on the ground.
Roll on Tuesday, when we welcome the new baby into the family.

The picture is of a Broadwood similar to the one I'm getting. The image is from a site called The Rooms Above

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 'Yes' of Christmas

Interesting opinion piece in the Herald (and ODT) this morning from Colin James, entitled (in the ODT) Small Civilising Acts of Goodness.
Here's a quote:

The message of Christmas is often a "no", a Christianity of what must not be done, the wrongness of humanness. And there is much that is wrong.

The good news of Christmas is a "yes", a Christianity of what can humanly be done, the rightness of humanness. There is much that is right.

The wrong is so big that it questions the very notion of "civilisation".

Greens are mistaken to insist we must act now to save the planet. The planet will be here long after humans have run our ephemeral course. The right green message is to act to save humans from our uncivil instincts.

You can read the whole article on the NZ Herald online site.

Slowness of Discovery

It has taken me an entire year to realise that the 'lock' on the door to the disability toilet in our office doesn't lock anything. Turns out that the real lock is further down the door. What I thought was the lock has something to do with a pin pad outside the door, which is presumably there if somebody wanted to make it really difficult to get into the toilet. Not what a person with a disability needs.

I only discovered all this the other day when someone else tried to come into the toilet while I was there.

Seems I have a talent for slowness of discovery...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Patek Philippe - Who?


How is it I’ve lived for over sixty years and have never heard of a Patek Philippe watch?
The company has been in existence for nearly 170 years, and produced the first crown wound pocket watch in 1839. (Crown winding, I presume, is where you wind the watch with a little round knob, rather than the old way of winding it with a key.)
They made the first wrist watch in 1868, and the first wrist watch with a perpetual calendar in 1925.
Wouldn’t you think their name would be more well-known?
Maybe it is in Europe, but even given that, you’d think that the words Patek Philippe would have somehow trickled into my consciousness through some movie, or novel.
Apparently not.
The Patek Philippe company sounds similar to the Steinway company in their heyday. There’s an element of the handcraftness about their approach. According to some information about them, each single automatic movement manufactured by the company is put through approximately 600 hours of quality control. Assembled watches are severely tested for up to a month (severely, note!) and they’re also observed. Severely tested and observed – it’s a wonder the watches don’t have complexes!

The little beauty in the picture is Patek Philippe Annual calendar watch. It'll set you back a mere $42,000 or so. US dollars, of course!

Tarantella

Well, I won’t be getting to my target of a thousand posts by the end of the year at this rate! Due to the fun I’ve been having as an aftermath of my recent prostate biopsy, things like blogging have taken a bit of a back seat. Even though I’ve recovered from the infection I got after the biopsy, I’m still feeling as though I tire more easily than usual. Maybe just the underlying tension of the whole business, and what the next couple of months hold. Maybe just end of the year weariness. Maybe I’m sick of blogging! (That such things could be – or could even be suggested!)
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that today I finished yet another piano piece – that makes five for this year (along with all the other composing I’ve been doing). This one swung along without great effort on my part. I woke up one morning well over a month ago with a tune in my head, went and scribbled it down (all two bars of it) and then decided it wasn’t that exciting, and left it.
Over the last few days I’ve come back to it, and the two bars have expanded into seven pages of a Tarantella-type piece. It’s currently called A Cowboy Learns the Tarantella, because there’s a slow melody in the middle of it with a running bass that’s reminiscent of cowboy film music. But I don’t think I’ll stick to that title. Seems a bit twee, really.
The downside – if that’s what it is, really – is that once again I’ve written something that I’ll have to actually practice in order to play it properly. Can’t seem to write something straightforward enough to just play!
Apropos of nothing at all above, doesn’t the ‘fatburner’ called Anoretix seem rather inappropriately named? For me, it’s too close to the word ‘anorexic.’ Maybe this is intentional. Maybe it’s some marketing person not really thinking through the issues involved, as some marketing person didn’t think through the naming of Anusol.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Full on day

Can I reach 1000 posts on this blog before the end of the year? Sounds possible. Will they be worth reading? Time will tell.

At the moment I'm up to 970 posts on here, a figure that's taken me a few years to reach. I guess if I was blogging day and night (as I almost was at one point, when I was unemployed at the end of 2006) I might have long since passed the magic millennial number, but since I also have a life (of sorts) outside cyberspace, it's probably good that I haven't blogged constantly on here. Admittedly there are at least two other places where I blog regularly, and at least four (or is it five?) other blogs that I blog spasmodically on. Oh, dear. Maybe I don't have a life outside cyberspace. At least I'm not living in whatever that other world is that quite a few people inhabit: Second Life. I imagine that it could get pretty addictive in there, and could be dangerous to your sanity. Can't be far away now before someone makes a movie about it, I imagine.

Well, if this is the standard of the posts that will appear before the end of the year, maybe trying to achieve that particular goal isn't a good idea!

So, to speak about something a bit more interesting. Yesterday was hectic, even though it was a Sunday. In the morning we had a barbeque at church, which I partly helped at but didn't really do my usual full amount of input. Anyone who's read my Workreport.net of late will know that I had a prostate biopsy the Thursday before last, and while it went okay, there have been a few issues since, such as a urinary tract infection, which has left me not full of energy.

I've recovered from the infection, but still don't feel quite my usual self. So I opted out of the barbeque mostly. I had to accompany ten or so singers (twice each) in the afternoon at a singing teacher's concert (she's an old friend of mine) and so I needed to save some energy for that. And then in the evening my wife and I and some others were acting as the caterering staff for another one of the innumerable weddings we seem to be having at our church lately. I was so bushed after three hours of being at that, that I had to come home. My wife didn't arrive home another two....

Anyway, one nice thing at the concert: my dear friend the singing teacher gave a little speech at the end in which she proclaimed me a 'National Treasure' - wow. That she then amended this to a 'Local Treasure, at least' didn't faze me one bit. Any sort of treasure will do at the moment. I can always do with a bit of promotion, even if it's only on promotional items!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Late blooming and looking blooming good!

Jurgen Wolff alerted me to an interesting article in the New Yorker, by Malcolm Gladwell, (the author of The Tipping Point).
It's about late bloomers, people who have creative talent, but for various reasons such as lack of experience, lack of facility with the artistic material they use, lack of means or whatever, take a long time to flower. Cezanne is one example, but Gladwell focuses a lot more on, a writer who took more than a decade of full-time writing to really get off the ground. And even then it was only because he had a wife who gave him the opportunity to work at his craft while she brought home the bacon.
There are also some interesting stats the defy the idea that genius is also found in the young. Some people, like Picasso, just get up and go. Many famous authors, artists, creative people, took a lot longer to reveal the talent they had; they were people who had to kind of search for what they needed to say/paint/whatever. Young geniuses tend to just go for it, and the material opens up before them. Picasso and Mozart are prime examples.
All of this is interesting in the light of the post I wrote on Elliot Carter the other day: he's increasingly blooming, producing works in his 7th, 8th, 9th decades with a facility born of long hard work.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One old, one relatively new

Watched The Music Man yesterday for the first time since it came out in the early sixties. I have an impression in my head that I didn’t much enjoy it at the time, but I was a teenager then, so that might explain it.
After nearly fifty years it stands up very well. It’s not the greatest story, but it has a very solid great character in Professor Harold Hill, and the songs he sings in particular are very well constructed. The film is fairly stagey – maybe not surprising since Morton DaCosta directed the original Broadway version as well – but this doesn’t actually detract from it. The thing needs room to breathe and between the wide wide screen and the spacious sets, there’s plenty of room. Even the library scene, which at first looks cramped, manages to have room enough for a nifty lot of dancing.
And the dancing is always given full visibility. None of your quick cutting stuff. Here you can see the dancers dancing. There are cuts, but they fit to the beat and the steps rather than cutting across them. And do they dance: even Robert Preston and Shirley Jones do some pretty quick capering in the Shipoopi, though neither of them were dancers – nor was Buddy Hackett, but he still gets a few nifty steps in. Apparently each dance sequence was given three weeks full rehearsal (the whole period of filming was nine months), and the quality of work shows.
Meredith Willson will probably be remembered for little besides this musical, which was certainly his masterpiece. But he wrote a bunch of other more serious works, including symphonies. His skill as a composer with more breadth than your average musical composer shows: he writes gentle love songs, but also the incredibly complex Hill set pieces (Trouble in River City, to name but one); there are barbershop quartets by the handful, and a bunch of zany things like the duet over a piano lesson, the gossip song, Pick a Little, Talk a Little (which goes at a rate of knots) and the opening number sung by the salesmen on the train that fits neatly to the rhythms of the steam engine.
I think what strikes you about the movie is the sheer energy of it all. Preston is supreme in this, but no one else falls flat. Even young Ron Howard is fully present.
The cast has two wonderful comics in it: Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold. Both use their lines with such elegance and force, and make such fun of the malapropisms and misunderstandings, that they almost carry the film away whenever they appear. Ford was the ill-benighted suitor Horace Vandergelder in The Matchmaker, from which Hello, Dolly was eventually formed. His role is similar here, but that’s probably because he makes it so much his own.
Sadly, the brilliant dancer, Timmy Everett, who was only 23 when he appeared in this movie, and who doesn’t seem to have danced in anything else, died only 16 years after the film was made.

I’ve now watched The Incredibles several times since it was shown on TV a couple of weeks ago, as my young grandson has taken a liking to it, and he lives here with us. I don’t remember enjoying it particularly at the movies either, which is very odd, as it’s well-constructed, has a superlative sense of humour, and is aimed at adults as much as kids. I know my brother-in-law went to sleep during it. But then he went to sleep during the third Bourne movie as well, something that must be quite an achievement.
The vocal casting is great: Holly Hunter adds a kind of oddball lisp to her lines; Craig T Nelson – one of those actors you recognise when you see him, but whose name you never seem to know – does a wonderful Mr Incredible (aided enormously by the visual character), and Brad Bird himself plays the wonderfully crazy designer, Edna ‘E’ Mode. Samuel L Jackson turns up skinny, which is rather fun, and the sultry-voiced Mirage is played by 44-year-old Elizabeth Peña, another actress whose name means nothing to me, but who’s always visible in something or other.
The visuals are great, from the design of the ‘sets’ to the look of the characters, including the many smaller parts. The policemen all have a slightly cross-eyed look, and the guards on the island (whose relatives are the clones in Star Wars) have cheesy good-looking but somewhat uninformed countenances. Some characters are extreme caricatures, particularly the nasty little boss, (played by Wallace Shawn and here even smaller than he usually is), and the permanently-boyish baddie, Buddy Pine, played by Jason Lee.
Great fun all round.

Elliot Carter: still composing at 100

Don't that just inspire ya!

While I write this, I'm listening to a Concert Programme interview on Eda Radich's midday programme, Upbeat, in which she's talking about Elliot Carter, who's still writing prolifically in his golden years. The NZ person who's being interviewed, James Gardner, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Carter and is the sort of person who inspires you to go out and start listening to Carter's music. Unfortunately it looks as though our local library doesn't have a single CD of Carter's music.
I must say that he's not a composer I've known anything about, even though he's touted as the USA's greatest composer. (John Adams, move over, apparently!) What Gardner is offering is an explanation of the way Carter has been working for the last sixty or so years: the way he allows for shifts in rhythmic structure, while still managing to combine various rhythms without making things sound as though they're falling apart, and the way in which Carter uses tonality in his own (unique) way by focusing on intervals rather than straight chords. It's something to know, but not necessarily so easy to hear, especially in the few brief excerpts we had played.

Footnote: Eva Radich interviews a great bunch of people on her programme (which I seldom hear when they're first broadcast these days because I don't get the chance to listen at work the way I used to) but sometimes she says the oddest things. Occasionally she seems almost to put her foot in it in her enthusiasm to get a comment in, and other times she comes up with a comment that's almost at odds with where the interview is going. She's always very knowledgeable and up with the play (after having been a producer of this programme for several years, she obviously now has someone equally efficient on the job) but just sometimes you think: Why on earth did you say that!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Call + Response

The following is from the website for the new documentary, Call + Response, a movie that deals with the fact that in the world there are now more slaves than ever, in spite of slavery being illegal in most countries.

There is a sea of change happening in human rights activism. The world’s issues cannot be solved alone by governments and non-profits, but require community-based participation. As a feature film, CALL+RESPONSE has the unique position of being not only a ground-breaking genre-bending film, but due to the fact that this project was funded completely through donations, it operates as a powerful movement with 100% of profits going to fund global field projects on the front lines of this issue.

CALL+RESPONSE is creating interactive field projects for each aspect of human slavery: sex slavery, labor slavery, child soldiers and child slavery. All profits from the use of the film, dvd, soundtrack, itunes downloads will be directed, by the viewers, to these projects with clear start and finish points (ie a landrover for a child soldier rehab camp, sewing machines for a after-care training facility). Our goal is to fund and celebrate completed projects together in community. We are closing the loop by allowing viewers to become participants in the solution.

I'll be writing more on this in later posts.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Swamped by music

For most of the year I’ve hardly played at a concert or anything else musical. Now, suddenly at the end of the year, I’m loaded up to the gunnels. Last Sunday there was a charity concert to raise funds for a local rest home. It was combined with an end of the year performance by several of my old friend Arnold Bachop’s pupils. I didn’t play for any of the singers, but did manage to give a rather under-par performance of the four piano pieces I wrote this year.

Partly the problem was the piano: it’s an upright, set up high on four castors. In order for the pianist to reach the pedals, a small wooden block is set under them on which the pianist rests his or her feet. However, this block is not attached in any way to the floor, and has the tendency to slide gradually away from where it needs to be. Furthermore, the pianist’s bottom is perched on a smallish piano stool (small in terms of seating area proportionate to the pianist’s rear end) and this gives little leverage when you’re playing at either of the extremes of the keyboard. Which is what happens in my four piano pieces on more than one occasion.

But even blaming the piano won’t compensate for the fact that I just botched up things that I shouldn’t have botched up, and wouldn’t normally have botched up. Just one of those days. You think: I’ve played in public for more than 55 years. I won’t get nervous. I got nervous.

However, there was an up side to all this: I passed over the eight Peter Olds songs to a potential performer of them, and she didn’t faint with horror or regard them with any obvious distaste. And I caught up with several of Arnold’s pupils whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time. (We went out for a meal together after the concert.)

Next weekend I have to play for Michael Gray at some afternoon thingee in Port Chalmers. Michael used to be in Opera Alive, when I first met him. He was pretty young then, certainly at the low end of the starting age limit. But he was always very confident and competent. A great asset to the group. He’s currently moving upwards from being a baritone to a tenor. Interesting, because he often used to sing the tenor parts in the Opera Alive shows – mainly because tenors were always in short supply.

And that same Sunday morning I’m playing carols at my boss’s church. And the following weekend, another singing teacher, an old friend of mine, is putting on her end-of-year concert. And I’m accompanying everybody – except her husband and myself, when we sing Brush up your Shakespeare.

That doesn’t sound like much to do, really, but there are rehearsals all over, and, it being the time of year it is, there are various end-of-the-year dinners amongst this lot (at least three of them) and the possibility of having to play for the St Francis Xavier school musical – at very short notice. It’s all a bit much.

On top of all this, I got asked to go and have a biopsy in relation to my prostate – tomorrow. Someone else had cancelled out. (I’m not surprised, if they were having one of these biopsies. The process don’t sound comfortable! I might need some baby bedding just in order to lie down...)

Photo courtesy of Pa1nt, flick.com

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Men and Women

Wonderful exploration of men's and women's brains by Mark Gungor, and an enthusiastic audience.




Reading the audience's faces is as much fun as watching Gungor. Some of them seem unwilling to let themselves go and laugh at what is plainly just fun, some of them are checking out their spouses to see whether they 'approve' and some are just having a ball.

Thanks to Blair for alerting me to this video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Secret Life of Bees

I read Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees last year while my wife and I were in England. I'd heard about it over the years, because Kidd's name was well known to me from when I managed a bookstore, but I'd never read it. (I'd enjoyed an earlier book, When the Heart Waits a lot, but found the following book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter too feminist for my tastes at the time.)
Anyway, The Secret Life of Bees has hit the big screen now, and Dakota Fanning is the star. Fanning is one of those extraordinary child actors who seems to be able to take on any role and invest it with an intensity that's beyond the ordinary. She's been in movies (or TV) most of her life; in fact, they've been her life. How's she as down to earth as she seems is quite a miracle. She has the ability to be very ordinary, and yet continue to move us. She even managed to make the nasty movie, Hide and Seek, watchable.
I'm not sure that I'll go and see The Secret Life of Bees. Even though it wasn't one of my favourite books, it left memories behind that I don't particularly want overlaid by a movie version. This has happened a few times, with The Shipping News, The Horse Whisperer, and, worst of all, the TV version of Middlemarch, in which the main role was miscast - at least as far as my reading of the book was concerned. (The main role of the TV version of Bleak House was similarly miscast, but it's all a matter of perception - these actors weren't the way I'd imagined the characters, and they spoilt my imaginative version.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The people you meet at barbecues

I went to a barbecue the other night - men from our church were getting together for the last night of a series of evenings they'd had in which the Book of James was discussed. I haven't been to this group, as it happens, but I thought I'd put in an appearance for the last night, as I've had an interest in men's groups for many years - and in fact, was involved in two or three earlier versions of men's groups in our church back in the 90s and early noughties.
Someone remarked that I only appeared when there was food - I then remembered that I'd also been to the original breakfast meeting of this latest group. Hmm, that could be the case!
Anyway, I mostly knew all the guys there, and pricked my ears up at one point when I heard one of them say he has a blog. We then discussed what we both wrote about - quite different subject matter for the most part.
Anyway, let me recommend True Paradigm to you. It covers more than one field: I note on the page that's current there are posts on NZ Politics, Calvinist views of predestination, atheists, physics, and various other topics that require you to use your brain more than you'll need to on this site (!)

Kiss Me Kate

A friend and I are doing the song, Brush up your Shakespeare, from Kiss Me Kate, at a fun concert in December, and I thought I'd better check up on how it's performed in the movie, to get some ideas. I found a copy of the DVD on zillion.co.nz and checked out the song. The two actors, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore aren't your usual song and dance men, and it shows. Admittedly they're supposed to be slightly off-centre gangsters out to get the money back from an IOU, but a perusal of the entire movie shows that someone, whether it was the director or the actors, decided that their parts should be played in such a way that they both looked spaced out all the time. They're distinctly unfunny, which is surprising, because both of them were excellent actors. Here they just look embarrassed about the whole thing, particularly Whitmore.
I suspect the direction is at fault in a good deal of the movie. George Sidney directed dozens of film musicals, many of them successfully, but something's lacking in Kiss Me Kate. Maybe it's the source material (a stage show) that's been hacked around for the movie (checking out the layout of the original stage version this seems likely). Whatever it is, it only occasionally lights up. Ann Miller does a frenetic tap dance in the opening sequence, but has to do it in a room in an apartment where there's very little space. She winds up dancing on the furniture just to give herself some variety. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson sing their opening duet as a squabble rather than a love duet, while Cole Porter - played by Ron Randall - appears in this scene and then is never heard from again.
Perhaps the problem was that the film was made in 3-D and opportunities to throw things at the camera were taken so often that other things suffer. Grayson sings all fourteen verses of I Hate Men (fourteen, or maybe twenty), and does the same thing with it each time - until she throws the metal tankard she's been thumping on the table at the camera. Wunderbar is performed in a cramped dressing room in a theatre that apparently has a stage the size of a stadium - sometimes. And people talking backstage all shout at the top of their voices, as though the audience couldn't possibly hear them.
The camera dolly has a distinct wobble on it, andthere are several shots in which the camera moves are quite juddery. Then there are the costumes for the 'play' they're doing. Someone decided that all the men should be dressed in clothes that reveal pretty much everything. Walter Plunkett, who was one of Hollywood's top designers, didn't usually make such a botch-up as this; was it all part of something not quite going right during production? Who knows.
So what did I like about the movie? The dancing is just superb. Miller's table-top tapping is top-notch, but the best dancing takes place in two major scenes, and both of them have Tommy Rall in them. In the first, he and Miller perform: Why Can't You Behave? Rall doesn't sing in this one, but he does some whizz-bang acrobatic dancing. (Miller isn't too bad, either!). In the second scene, just before the finale, Rall and Miller, Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne perform an extended piece to From This Moment On (sung in the stage show by totally different characters). Between the acrobatic dancing of the men, and wonderful energy of the women, this is a show-stopper and a half. Everything about this scene is right (except again for that blasted camera dolly) and it deserves to be in the top ten of Hollywood musical dance sequences.
Kiss Me Kate isn't unenjoyable; just a bit flawed. The great advantage of the DVD version is that you can leave out the bits you don't like...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Black Narcissus

61 years old.
It ought to creak with age. Certainly David Farrar plays the bad boy Englishman with the typical stiffness of English male actors of the time, but that can't be held against him: it's the way the did things then, and he's almost the only actor in the movie to play in that cinema-theatrical way. Kathleen Byron as the mentally intense Sister Ruth has a few similar scenes, but they work because of who she is and because of the super-charged atmosphere. But the other nuns, and the rest of the characters, come across as up-to-date as most of those in movies these days. Deborah Kerr is superb, her face constantly showing depths behind the spoken words.
But the thing that continues to stand out is the cinemaphotography (Jack Cardiff) and art work, all of it done in England, most of it done in the studio. You know you're not up in the mountains as you watch it, but your eye struggles to tell you the truth of what you're seeing. Furthermore, shot after shot is a work of art, the colour wonderfully balanced, and contributing to the intensity of the drama. This film is a pleasure to watch quite apart from its story.

Made in 1947 in vibrant Technicolor, Black Narcissus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful films ever made. The fact that all but a few scenes were shot on sets, with matte paintings used for the backdrops, makes it all the more remarkable.

Hot Fudge?

I've been away on a retreat for the most of this last week, so I've got a bit of catching up to do, not least from the notes I made (on paper) while I was away, but which I've managed to leave at work.
Saw a couple of movies while on Retreat. One was The Gospel, which I'd watched several months ago and enjoyed mostly for its music. The story and acting are a bit weak, but the music keeps the thing alive.
Also saw Hot Fuzz, which I'd heard about from my brother-in-law in England. He and his wife had walked out of it (!) I didn't walk out, but I must say that the last twenty minutes of so are just so frenetic that all the subtle humour that's gone before is outweighed by noise and chaos and a try-hard approach that doesn't quite work. Simon Pegg does a great job in the main role, and he's surrounded by a bunch of well-known British actors, several of whom come to very unpleasant ends. In fact, the black humour is too grisly for my taste. The scene where the reporter has a piece of the church tower fall on his head is sickening rather than funny in any way.
But I think the piece falls over by trying to make itself into some clever murder mystery, when it's really a spoof for the first hour or more. And it's not helped by schoolboy use of dirty words; these just take away from the real humour.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oneillrentals

I mentioned the Go Dunedin website some time ago, in particular the way it always looks to me like God Dunedin.
While sitting behind a van today, waiting for the lights to change, I noticed that it was called O'Neill Rentals. Down the bottom of the back door was the website: oneillrentals.co.nz.
Because of the spelling of O'Neill, my eye read this as: one ill rentals. A fellow traveller in the car said: this rental has a leaky valve, this one has no exhaust pipe, and so on. I'm sure O'Neill Rentals are fine....don't be put off by my misreading of their website name in any way whatsoever!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Bucket List

Watched The Bucket List tonight (the list you make before you kick the bucket, that is). Without Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman it would probably have been pretty low-key. There are some good lines, and the lines that aren’t so hot still get quality treatment because these two guys know how to put across anything and everything. And it's good to see Nicholson doing some dead-pan comedy again.
The story’s not exactly suspense-filled, but it’s enjoyable enough to watch. Two veteran actors of this calibre are always worth watching. They give life to anything.
Spoiler: It’s a bit odd that Morgan Freeman tells the story, since he dies before Nicholson, and yet tells us about the latter’s death. Writer’s license maybe, but not one that stands up to too much scrutiny.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Postmodern means....?

At work I often read The Tall Skinny Kiwi blog, and recently he referred back to an older post from Dec 5th, 2003 (which is practically in the primeval times of blogging) in which he looked at the word/idea/concept of 'postmodernism' with The Princess Bride in mind.

It begins like this:

Postmodernism. I do not think it means what people think it means. This is the topic of Brian MacLaren's response to Charles Colson's latest attempt to dismiss the word "postmodern".

His response is gentle and polite. One might have expected more reaction. There could have been the swishing of swords or, at the very least, a strong cautionary warning like, “I would not say such things if I were you”. Or, even harsher, “You killed my favourite word. Prepare to dialogue.”

The rest is here.

So much for 'Bright'


In the March 2008 Investigate magazine, Ian Wishart reviews a book called, The Irrational Atheist, by Vox Day, a Mensa member and columnist for WorldNetDaily (not a site I'm familiar with, and one that seems to have its fair share of ranters).

Anyway, Vox Day (a bloke, for those who didn't guess) has written a searing indictment of the New Atheists, particularly Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris. Perhaps the most interesting comment quoted in the review is this:


There is even evidence to suggest that in some cases...atheism may be little more than a mental disorder taking the form of a literal autism. On one of the more popular atheist internet sites, the average self-reported result on an Asperger Quotient test was 27.9. The threshold for this syndrome, described as 'autistic psychopathy' by its discoverer, Dr Hans Asperger, is 32, whereas the average normal individual scores 16.5.

Wishart comments that: Sam Harris doesn't make it out of the book alive, Dawkins is touch and go and Hitchens is left reeling by the end.

And in case you think Wishart is a bit of a ranter himself (as he can be), check out the New Oxford Review on the book: ...columnist Vox Day uses logic and facts (not theology) to refute the "unholy trinity" of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.
and
Perhaps the most engaging chapters in this book are those about war. The high-church atheists assert that religion causes war, but Day proves otherwise. He shows that over the past 232 years, 671,070 American soldiers have died in 17 wars, of which only one-half of one percent can reasonably be attributed to religion. This amounts to the deaths of 14 soldiers per year. Turning next to the Encyclopedia of Wars compiled by C. Phillips and A. Axelrod, Day examines 1,763 wars fought from 2325 B.C. to modern times. Of these wars, only 123 can reasonably be attributed to religion -- 6.92 percent of those recorded. Since half of these religious wars were waged by Muslims, this means that, apart from Islam, the world's religions are responsible for only 3.35 percent of all wars. "The historical evidence is conclusive," Day concludes. "Religion is not a primary cause of war."

There's a good deal more, but it's better to read the lengthy review for yourself. It's by
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Murder on a Midsummer Night

This book is a Phryne Fisher mystery, written by Kerry Greenwood

I began to read an earlier Phryne Fisher mystery a few years ago, but between dealing with the main character’s name and an atmosphere that reeked of the knowing the right thing to eat and the right thing to drink, I didn’t get very far.

However, Phryne Fisher is more charming than her name (though no easier to spell than Dalgliesh), her taste in everything that smacks of money is up with the best, and her creator has a nice line in wit and humour. This last undercuts the otherwise hothouse atmosphere of a world in which nearly everyone has plenty of money, and those that don’t speak funny. So I gave her a second try.

In this, Fisher’s 17th outing, she solves two mysteries at once, one to do with a ‘lost’ child, and the other the murder of a young antique dealer. Neither mystery is quite up to the mark of an Agatha Christie, but the details are interesting enough, and the journey towards solving them has plenty of curiosities and side-turns along the way.

If you like mysteries that don’t tax the brain too much, this will do nicely.

The Private Patient


Just finished reading The Private Patient (an Adam Dalgliesh mystery) by P D James.

The pervading tone of this latest James’ mystery is Gloom. It’s a while since I read any of her other books (The Murder Room was the last, I think), but I can’t recall there being previously quite such a bleak atmosphere. It’s as if with her exalted age (going on 90) she feels that not only is everything going to the dogs (as one of her characters also feels) but that there isn’t much that’s good in the world. We’re constantly reminded, for instance, whilst in the beautiful Dorset countryside, that small animals are being killed by larger.

Dalgliesh(he of the easily misspelt name) eventually gets married in this one, but there’s little sense of joy about the approaching marriage. Or rather, though James tells us that he experiences joy, as a reader I didn’t feel he did.

And there’s virtually no humour to leaven the gloom; the characters almost all have a kind of dourness about them, or an ugliness. Even the attractive young man, Robin Boyton, is regarded by his friend, Rhoda Gradwyn, as typical of people on whom beauty is wasted, because, in her experience, such people are often mundane, ignorant or stupid. He isn’t, but James gives the impression that he might as well be.

For some reason, James gives us Gradwyn's 'exit signs' in the first paragraph - we know she's going to be the murder victim from the outset, which seems to undermine any suspense.

The plot is convoluted in a typical Jamesian way, almost to the extent that I gave up trying to figure out who did what (let alone whodunit). By the time I’d finished I was still rather puzzled about the murderer’s motives, and what half the other people had to do with it all.

James is a stylish writer, but few of the characters in this book seem to breathe real life. Two or three of those in minor roles briefly give things a lift, (particularly Mrs Skeffington) but the bulk of the main characters talk in such well-ordered language that you strain to think of any real person who’s quite so articulate. (The supposedly 'comic' character, Mogworthy - "Nobody can be called Mogworthy" complains Gradwyn - is as dull as ditchwater.)

Along with Dalgliesh and his bride, another couple gets married at the end. This couple ties the knot without having given the slightest hint throughout the rest of the book of being in the least bit interested in each other.

I know how they felt.