Thursday, January 29, 2009


Next up for your enjoyment, my recording of Candlefire by Michael Nyman.

Yes, it is supposed to be that slow! Slower, actually. It should be one beat per second, but I like it a bit faster. With many Nyman pieces, I have to be very careful to go slow enough at the beginning because he will often double the tempo once or twice before the end. Not this time, though, so I can speed it up a bit.

Nyman is most well-known for his scores for the films of Peter Greenaway, but they had a falling-out. This song was written for a Japanese anime version of the Diary of Anne Frank, called Anne no Nikki.

The bass line is block seventh chords, one per beat, descending stepwise through the F minor scale. The melody is simple, but is made interesting by constantly switching between short notes (written as 4/4) and long notes (in 3/4). There isn't much emphasis on the downbeats, and the right hand often avoids the downbeat, so it doesn't feel like you are switching meters so much as just slowing-down and speeding up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This is a waltz?

Next up for your audio pleasure (?) is my rendition of Philip Glass' Modern Love Waltz.

This brief piece was written for The Waltz Project, a set of short, contemporary piano waltzes by a variety of composers created in 1978. It was made into a ballet in 1981. I saw that performed many years later in Berkeley.

Although the piece is indeed in 3/4 time, Glass makes you struggle to hear that! The basic rhythm is simple, but ambiguous. Then he adds every trick in the book to disguise and distract you from that rhythm.

The left-hand line is a short basso ostinato, repeated constantly throughout. It consists of two measures of six eighth notes, grouped into 4 sets of 3. Already that does not sound like a waltz! It is ambiguously in 3/4 time or 6/8 time, but sounds more like four beats (two per measure). The chord changes from A to B♭ and back again over and over, giving an additional impression of two slow beats.

On top of that, the right hand bounces along trying one rhythm after another. Sometimes reinforcing one of the possible interpretations of the bass rhythm, and other times confounding them. In this two-measure example, the right-hand is playing 4 beats per measure, with each beat divided in three.

Lots of composers have created pieces with much more complicated poly-rhythms or poly-meters. To keep my sanity, I keep my distance! At any given time in a piece by Glass, the tempo ratio between the beats in any two voices is rarely anything other than a simple 1:2, 2:3, or 3:4 ratio. But there can be four or more of those voices and the time signature and the relationships between the tempos of the voices can change suddenly and frequently.

It isn't important for the listener to be aware of all that is going on at each moment. In fact it may be better to just let it wash over you.

This is a pretty early piece for Glass and not one of his best. But it is fun to play, and I hope it isn't too hard to listen to!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Give me my red envelope!

The new year finally begins today. And not a moment too soon!

This is a year of the Ox.

Obama is an Ox.

So lets consider the attributes of an ox:

The Ox is the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work.

Damn, I was hoping it was gonna get easier.

[Photo by Li-Ji.]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dirty old man

The Magus The Magus by John Fowles

Update to my post on the bookshelf meme. I have actually managed to finish "The Magus".

I take back my suggestion that it should be made into a film. Apparently, it already was. Woody Allen is claimed to have said:

If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see The Magus.

Here is my book review.

Audio Torture

I've finally got myself set-up to record songs from my piano to my computer. So you'd better watch out!

To test this out, here is a fairly simple and inoffensive lullaby by Alfredo Casella.

Click to download: Ber├žeuse.

This is from his collection Undici Pezzi Infantili. My Italian is rusty, but I think this translates to "The Idiots Guide to The Toy Piano".

Seriously, this is a set of pieces for "children". Some pieces in this collection actually could be played by children. But, in the world of classical piano music, any piece not intended for a virtuoso is labeled "for children". Quite a few sets of "pieces for children" are near the limits of my abilities.

This piece not only allows, but actively encourages the use of every lazy pianists favorite trick: hold the pedal to the floor. So if it sounds all run-together, that is, in this case, the composer's intent. This lullaby should sound somewhat like a celesta.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I watched a good bit of the innaugural concert yesterday.

HBO really came through for us. They unblocked their channel to let us see this show, and really topped it off for me by pairing it with "I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry".

It was very slickly produced. Almost scary, in a propaganda way. I felt like it was shouting "Hey everybody, try some Kool-Aid!". Pep-rallies of any sort make me feel that way. Since I like Obama, and am hoepful that things will turn out well, I allowed myself to get swept up into it a good bit.

The theme of the show seemed to be "coming together". The performers were paired off into "diverse" groups. Jon Bon Bovi with Bettye Lavette. Sheryl Crow with Will.I.Am. James Taylor with John Legend.

Notice a trend? That's right, they all come from backgrounds in different musical styles. Soul plus Rock. Crap plus Rap. Opera plus military band. Everything the young people will enjoy.

Just about the only combo they didn't have was Free Jazz plus Chinese Opera. (Maybe next time....) [Oh wait! That does exist! I wish I didn't know that.]

They over-did the Copland a bit. "Fanfare for the Common Man" - perfect. "Lincoln Portrait" - too long for this event.

On an unrelated note, does anyone want a used calculator? All the buttons work perfectly, except "equals". (It is the exact opposite of the one in the picture (by OndraSoukup).

Friday, January 16, 2009

You Go Girl!

I just found out today that Bettye Lavette will be performing at the innauguration of Obama this weekend! And supposedly HBO will be unblocked on comcast for the show!

That should be a pretty good show all-around. I did notice that no American Idols were invited to perform. Do they have something against voting?

Anyway, I'm so happy for Bettye!

I went to her show at Yoshi's back in November, and I almost posted about it then. The 8pm show was almost full, but the 10pm show wasn't, so they let me sit through both shows! Which is great, because she didn't do my favorite, "Little Sparrow", until the second set.

She'll be singing "A Change is Gonna Come". I just know she's gonna tear it up!She's had lots of hard times through her long career, which is sad, but maybe that is what lets her get so much emotion into her songs. A great change has come to her career recently, so she should be able to really feel the song.

Another great performance, of a Who classic, is here.

The only thing more I can say is:
You Go Girl!

Monday, January 5, 2009

It hurts already!

I did not want to get up this morning.

I've had 11 glorious days off work for the holidays, but I had to start back again today.

It doesn't matter that I work from home. Getting up that early just ain't right!

After only one day sitting at the computer, I have a back-ache already!

Christmas better come again soon! Hurry Christmas! Don't be late!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year

I hope all are expecting a happy new year.

I don't eat black-eyed peas, or make top-ten lists. I'm incapable of singing Auld Lang Syne. But there is at least one New Year's tradition I can't skip.

In Berkeley, New Year's Day marks the start of the great calendar sale at Pegasus books. The whole town shows up at 10 am sharp to start the brawl.

I managed to find an acceptable calendar fairly quickly, and only had to spend two hours in line. The clerk was shocked to find that I also bought some books at the same time. (Some cheesy-looking 1960's Sci-Fi paperbacks.) I didn't think of it 'till later, but I'll bet I was influenced to buy those because the calendar I picked was of movie posters of old cheesy Sci-Fi movies.

2008 will go down as the year when I finally made a perfect macaroon! I wish I could say I learned how to make a perfect macaroon, but the truth is I still have no clue. It is just hit and miss. These lavender ones were scrumptious, though.

Last year I resolved to finally purchase a cell phone. Didn't happen! So this year, my resolution is this: "I will waste more time on the internet!".