Monday, September 25, 2006

Day at a time

God damn, it feels good to look back on something you've been practicing for a while and coming to the conclusion that you have actually improved since you started it. In this instance I'm thinking of keyboard-playing. I was practicing Joe Hisaishi's "The Summer" (from the soundtrack to Kikujiro's Summer) the other day when my brother commented that I've actually learnt to play a bit.

It's like a natural high when you notice improvement; you can't really see it while you're in the midst of practicing, but when you finally notice and start to think how it was in the beginning and see how far you've come, it's a damn good feeling. On a related note, this is also how most games work: when you level up, or get that new weapon, you experience a similar rush.

I practiced "The Summer" a bit on a piano at school, and was once again shocked at the difference between a real piano and the plastic-y MIDI keyboard I currently use (M-Audio Keystation 49). Not to mention that the 49 keys of my keyboard is getting a bit constrictive. Ideally I'd be using a full 88-key hammer-action keyboard like the Keystation Pro 88.But those are like 500€! With that I'd rather get a decent synthesizer for possible performances in a band-environment, like the Roland Juno-D.Roland have gotten some flack for the Juno-D since it's quite different from the previous incarnations in the Juno-line (to the point where some would probably say that it isn't even decent); but what it does seem to be is an affordable entry-level synthesizer. Yeah, it's only got 61 keys, but above that seems to be a completely different price-range for synthesizers.

Returning from gear-obsessing to the original topic, I've also noticed how my compositions seem to be getting better over time. This becomes especially obvious when I take a look at some of my earliest "musical note-pads" (I use these for just playing around in Garageband, if I come across something cool I can then quickly record it). The earlier ones really sound incredibly boring...

Going back to gear-obsessing for a while: Garageband only records in 44.1 kHz, 16-bit, which, while being CD-quality, isn't preferrable to mix in. So the plan is, that when I eventually get the Firewire Solo (which I have decided to get instead of the Behringer FCA-202 Firewire interface, due to a couple of reasons*), all the real instrument recordings will be done in Logic Express (which I have acquired), Apple's budget-version of the Logic audio sequenser. The incredible advantage of Logic over other audio sequensers (for me) is that it is able to directly open Garageband project files; this means I can use Garageband to make a "rough sketch" of the song, and when I want to take it to the next step, recording vocals or guitar, I can just pop the file into Logic Express.

* As for the reasons for me choosing the Firewire Solo over the FCA-202: the FW Solo has built-in pre-amps, meaning I'd have to buy separate pre-amps if I got the FCA-202; I've heard some reports of very high latency when recording and high processor-usage even when idle for the FCA-202; and finally, I guess Behringers reputation for sub-standard gear also had its fair share in the decision.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Movies

It's not often that I actually watch movies nowadays, but the last couple of days has seen me taking the time to watch a couple.

On Saturday I watched The Warrior and the Empress by Tom Tykwer. I had previously seen his Run Lola Run and after seeing a documentary about him I wanted to see something more. Quite a different film from Run Lola, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Later that evening I watched Rules of Attraction, which went between "quite fascinating" and "waste of time". It was hard to know what to make of it. (I watched it mainly because I knew that one of the characters was the brother of Patrick Bateman, the main character from American Psycho, which I though was quite good.) While it had some funny scenes in it, it sure wasn't a straight-up comedy, it was all presented in a far too dark tone for that. I guess it was hard to make up my mind since it dealt the cards so honestly, but so differently from how films usually do it. For one, it was edited in a way that put the ending first, sort of how Fight Club did, but the difference being that there was no more turning points after that. And the unsuspecting movie-goer, always expecting a happy ending, left with no resolve or closure.

Sunday I half-watched Freaky Friday, dropping away for only the most cringe-worthy scenes. At first I thought it was just a common Lohan-vehicle, but I was pleasantly surprised.

This evening I watched Run Lola Run again after having "acquired" a DVD-quality copy. I could have watched it tomorrow instead when it's on TV from SVT2, but seeing as it was completed already and I had nothing better to do...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Endings

Yesterday I was to the dentist, where they filled up a mysterious hole and scraped off some tartar (another word for it is "calculus" if you can believe that; strange that one name of it also means a member of a Mongolian tribe and another is about maths). It's always a bit creepy when they scrape around in the mouth and when they go right up to the gums it often starts to bleed. I remember the previous time when it was done at the dental hygienist, it looked like I had bitten the head of an animal or something. Though I guess it goes pretty well with my fangs.

***
I finished watching the Gokusen drama the other day, continuing my tradition of watching the last two episodes of a drama in one sitting. My final verdict: 3 of 5. Quite funny, but it got pretty predictable. It's not something I'd recommend, but if you don't have anything better to do...

Another thing I'm about to finish is Yukio Mishima's Spring Snow (finally). Just a couple of chapters left now, and after that I'm planning on getting ahold of some of the required reading for the spring literary course.

***
Looks like Blogger finally has gotten the labels activated for all beta blogs!
When you're writing a post, you'll have a space at the bottom of the form marked "Labels for this post." Enter whatever labels you like, separating them with commas. You can also click the "show all" link to display a list of labels you've used previously. Then just click on the labels to add them.
I've planned to go through my old posts and label them according to what areas they touch on.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Alanis Morisette - Forgiven

Originally by Terry Lin, dragged out from the other side:
OH MY FUCKING GOD This song is pure brilliance. Pure brilliance. Well, at least from a technical standpoint... this song has a progression I have NEVER seen before. What is totally incredible is that from a passing guess, it's a minor key and there are lots of minor chords. Actually, this song has practically major chords EVERYWHERE. There is NO key for this song. It just goes all over the place. Okay, let's break it down:

Verse "[F#min/A]You know how us cath[F#sus4]olic girls can be"

Now I know I'm always suspect when I see an intro that complicated but believe me, that's what the intro is. If you play A,E in the bass and then jam the F#min chord on the right hand you'll nail the first one. The second one play F#,C# in the bass and jam a Bsus2 on your right (which effectively gives you a F#sus4). This intro is nice and colorful but you ain't see nothing yet.

"a [Emaj] little too late"

This is very jarring if you play it on the piano - you can't just play this by itself it will sound odd. But I guarantee you that's what the chord is, and it's only when you play the stuff before does this chord makes sense (ie in context). And then the fun starts.

"I [Emaj/B]never, for[Eaug/C]got Con[C#min/C#]fused as it [Emaj7/D]was"

OMFG. I can feel into the mind of the composer. He just wants to get a chormatically rising bassline, and he puts all these crazy ass chords to do so. Even as I'm looking at that, I can't beleive I got this. One year ago, this song would have been impossible unless I used transcribe, and even then I probably would've misread the song because it contains so much distortion.

"[Gbmaj]I may as [Amin]well have..."

Another huge modulation. This song is throwing chords from like a billion keys. And now the chorous, which was actually the easiest to figure out, even though by most standards, it has a very unusual progresion.

"We all [Dmaj] had our rea[Dbmaj]sons to be [Dmaj]there, we all, had a [Dbmaj]thing or two.... We [Dmaj] all needed some[Dbmaj]thing to cling [Bmaj]too, so we [Dbmaj]did"

This is HUGE modulation - a total smackering of 100% major chords from various keys. But I have seen something like this before, with spanish music. If you jam Emaj, Fmaj, Gmaj it sounds very spanish. And then the big-ass bridge or whatever you call it.

"[Dmaj] What I learned I reje [Emaj] cted, but I believe in God [Dmaj], I will suffer the [Dbmin] conseuqnece, of this inqusition[Dmaj]. If I jump this foun[Emaj]tain, will I be forgiv[Gbsus4]en.......... [Gbmaj]"

The chords are big-time major, big-time modulated, and then go up and down and up. Take heed of the awesome build up as it goes Dmaj, Emaj, and then Gbmaj for the big finale chord - I caught the sus at the last moment. I still cannot find words to express the shock and awe I am at this song. For a progression so unusual, so exotic, the song manages to sound close and familiar without alientating the audience. That is no trivial matter, I tell you. And once again I feel like I'm reached a new plateau in terms of music understanding. It's like, after this half a year of non stop composing, I can see songs in a wonderful light - it's truly a magnificent feeeling.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Tempest

Today has been incredibly windy. Luckily the morning was pretty calm, except for a brief, but intensive, rain that ocurred while we were in class, so I managed to avoid travelling in the worst of it.

Today was actually pretty good. I got quite a lot of sleep for once, which left me feeling better than usual during the lesson. I got to bed before 12 o'clock, which is somewhat incredible for me. (I wonder a bit how long it's been since I went to bed at that kind of time.)

***
I've been watching another Japanese drama-series lately, called Gokusen. I don't remember exactly where I heard of it, but I felt like watching a new drama and I happened to come across it. I had originally intended watching it unsubbed, but it turns out that finding raws for stuff that's readily translated is pretty difficult (since everyone's uploading the translated version instead).

In any case, it's a fairly straight-forward school drama in the vein of Great Teacher Onizuka. While not as good or engaging as GTO, it's alright if you don't mind overlooking some of its weirdness (like how the main character is the granddaughter of a yakuza-boss getting into teaching).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I noticed yesterday that I was unable to comment my brother’s blog. I figured it was because he has switched to blogger beta. I’s be hatin’ on beta!
-the bro
That is probably so. It goes both ways, by the way, so I can't comment on non-beta blogs. (Though you can still use the "other" or "anonymous" options to comment here.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Musical punch

Seeing that Terry Lin's blogger had been wiped made me sad since he had lots of interesting stuff there. But instead of bitching about it, I just went ahead and dug up some of the most interesting stuff from the various caches you can find on the web, and will now blatantly infringe on his copyright by reproducing some of it here. (Since the text came as one huge block from the cache, I took the liberty to segment it off in paragraphs. Some small stuff was also altered.)
There's a little term I'd like to discuss with my readers today. It's called Musical Punch.

When it comes to Musical Taste, I'm afraid I'm pretty below average. I have no idea what it is to have Musical Taste. I still listen to Mandy Moore from time to time. But when it comes to recognizing Musical Punch, I'm always on the money. I guess you could say my girlfriend has good Musical Taste because she enjoys listening to semi-fringe artists like Björk and despises just about anything mainstream. But her Musical Punch radar is totally off. Sorry, I haven't even come up with a definition of Musical Punch. The best way I can describe it is by using associative words. On the positive side, we have mainstream, catchy, powerful. On the negative side, we have cliched, unoriginal, commercialized. There are certain artists which I will always associate with Musical Punch. I'll give you what I think are the 3 biggest representives from the 3 countries that I listen to music from: US - Britney Spears, JPN - Utada Hikaru, TWN - Jay Chou. What these artists all have in common is that their music is produced with only one thing in mind, to appeal to as many people as possible. "Expression" is just an afterthought. To that end, they have big budget studios equipped with the fanciest gear and have the most wiley audio engineers working for them.

You cannot appreciate how difficult it is to get a sound that punchy until you try making music for yourself. It's not easy. The mixing technique is impeccable. The snares have crazy bite. The bass has definition and presence. The vocals are superbly enhanced with all kinds of choruses. The riffs are catchy and jump out at you. This is not something that happens with coincidence, they have experienced engineers working for many hours long after the artist has finished the recording session, tweaking this, tweaking that, until they have filled the entire stereo audio spectrum with just as much stuff as they can possibly stuff. And no, it's not as simple as adding a Aural Exciter into a mix and watch as dust turns into gold. I've tried those BBE Sonic Maximizers, all they do is tire your ears out. These engineers are the real magicians, the real alchemists. They can turn dust into gold, with their secretive voodoo techniques. The final result is similiar to McDonalds food. It has superb mass appeal and you cannot deny that at some primal level, it is extremely gratifying to consume. On a higher intellectual level, you may reject it on the basis of "it's junk", but you cannot deny the primal satisfaction. The popularity speaks for itself.

I say I don't have Musical Taste because to me, Musical Taste is so goddamn pretentious. It's like fashion trends. There's no sound basis for liking this style over the over, it's just... whatever's hip at the time. I bet all those people who knock Britney Spears would be praising her if she wasn't as popular and Pop music was considered "Alternative". However, Musical Punch has a deep and serious foundation in both musical theory and audio engineering. You can appreciate that like you can appreicate a well-made car. It's something that only trained professionals can produce. It can even be measured with a sonic analysis tool, with criteria such as Average RMS power.

There are some artists that sort of sit in between Musical Punch and Musical Taste. Like for instance, Radiohead's OK Computer. I think that's really catchy and punchy, and all those jaded music reviewers think so too. Red Hot Chili Peppers also falls into this category. Whenever you hear one of their tracks used on TV, it's a GUARANTEE that it particuarily excels in Musical Punch. Then there are some artists which are pretty much all Musical Taste and zero Musical Punch. I don't really know any artists off the top of my head, because I can't stand that kind of music. But any of the following characterists would pretty much qualify: 1. Retarded lyrics that make no sense or try to make the listener feel uncomfortable 2. Constant screaming, long durations of acapella singing. 3. Overuse of dissonant chords, unconventional chord progressions, unusual scales etc. etc. 4. Purposely not filling the entire audio spectrum when it should, leaving the listener with a strange uncomfortable feeling 5. Overuse of strange sounds that do not elicit any feelings of familiarity from the listener 6. Overuse of strange effect boxes Generally, not following the conventions of popular music pretty much qualifies. I much liken it to covering a canvas in red paint, giving it a fancy title, and then calling it "art".
Disclaimer: the opinions of Terry Lin do not necessarily reflect my own.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Art

I was looking in awe today at some stuff by British graffiti artist Banksy when my brother asked me if I had thought about becoming a painter. Well, no, I haven't.

The main problem as I see it is that I don't feel I have anything of such importance to say. Or maybe that I'm too comfortable, living in my little shell, not letting anything in, not letting anything out. (I guess being bad at drawing also has something to do with it; I couldn't draw even a roundish circle even if my life depended on it.)

Anyway, I came across Banksy seeing a headline in my BBC news-feed about him "remixing" Paris Hilton's CD. Now that's something I'd like to hear! (Anyone got a torrent, btw?)

Back to my artistic inabilities, now: it seems to me as if the greatest creators often are deeply disturbed, insane, alcoholic, or bearing whatever deamons they have. I went through a couple of really rough years way back when, but I've been slowly recovering form that since after the age of 16 now and starting to feel alright (a couple of lapses into depression, but nothing serious). I think a couple of years out in the real world, making it on my own, would probably give me some hardship to think about. But sadly, man strives for comfort. And it's always difficult to give up a comfort you have ('net access, TV, CD, DVD).

Furthermore, I think that in this stage I'm more concerned with social acceptance, which is probably one of the underlying reasons as to why I'm so obsessed/envious of pop-tunes (that they are japanese pop-tunes at the moment is irrelevant, I think).
Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Fame is a by-product of doing something else. You don't go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.
-Banksy, in Wall and Piece
I just realised that the title of that book is a reference to War and Peace. Clever.Continuing on the suffering artist theme, I've been listening to Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill (only 10 years after everyone else! w00t!).
In New York City, Morissette landed a spot on Star Search, a popular American talent competition. She used her stage name, Alanis Nadine. Morissette flew to Los Angeles to appear on the show, but lost after one round.

It is known that during that time Morissette [...] suffered from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, catalysed by professional pressure and manager demandings.
-Wikipedia, Alanis Morissette

Friday, September 01, 2006

Variousity

Yesterday morning was pretty awful. As usual I had slept badly, but that's to be expected. What was worse was that when I woke up and looked out the window all I saw was pea-soup. A thick fog had settled upon the village, decreasing the visibility drastically. (Perhaps ~100m or so.) This made it a bit of a gamble every time you were to turn into a bigger road, since you couldn't see if anyone was coming that you had to yield to. I actually drove out in front of a big truck, but fortunately there was a bus-stop next to the intersection so I could stop and let him pass.

***
I switched to the new Blogger beta. I you have problems commenting, just drop a comment saying so. Ha! Seriously though, there shouldn't be any problems since those issues are mostly related to the new templates. Though I have been thinking of switching the template over to the new style too to take advantage of the new labeling feature. So if suddenly there's something completely fudged up here, you'll know what's up.

They're going to switch everyone over sooner or later, so I figured I might as well take the leap. You'll be needing a Google ID if you want to switch your own profile over. If you want to know more, head over to the Help section.