Wednesday, 2 August 2000

Links on Freud

Listening to:

Couperin, Nouveaux concerts.

Freud the pseudo-scientist

Some interesting articles about Freud. I didn’t need very much convincing to decide that the whole area is pseudo-science. Colin McGinn in the NYRB leads off, with a discussion of Freud's theories. This is followed by some responses to his article, and a response of his own. (This is a good feature of the NYRB, controversial articles are usually followed by an Exchange wherein critics get to write extended pieces in reply, but where the original author gets to reply to the reply.)

Then there’s a review of a German book describing how Freud cooked his evidence in the London Review of Books. There were (short) responses to this article and a long reply to these by the original reviewer.

Friday, 4 August 2000

Prom concert review

Listening to:

Schubert, Octet in F, D803.

A promming we will go

I went to my first Prom of the year on Wednesday night. The first piece was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546. This was played on the organ. It was a little strange to be listening to solo music in the Royal Albert Hall. I was in the central arena, “promming”, and most of the people around me were standing, but I couldn’t see much point in standing to watch the distant organist's back. Great music, this. Not necessarily an easy listen; it would be easy to turn off and just wonder at the noise, but a little bit of application allows you to hear the different lines and appreciate just what’s going on.

Next up was Mothers shall not cry by Johnathan Harvey, a world premiere (and BBC commission) with the composer in attendance. I didn’t think much of this. It was trying all too hard to be symbolic, relied on visual cues that were just naff (sword-wielding warrior with bandages on his eyes blessed by bejewelled princess; sheesh), and wasn’t musically coherent. There were lots of interesting musical effects (use of speakers and various electronic effects around the hall included), but nothing really flowed.

I disliked the programming as well; after this 21st century stuff, we had to then throw ourselves back in time to the 19th century to hear Brahms’s double concerto for violin and cello. This was music I knew quite well. I don’t think it’s Brahms's best ever composition, but there were moments in the first and third movements of typical and thrilling Brahmsian intensity; strings rapidly flowing over pulsing rhythms sustained by deep pedal points. I much prefer this to Bruckner’s “loud” passages, which seem too dependent on brass fanfares. I remember one moment of real, rapt beauty from the slow second movement too.

Finally, the concert finished with another Bach prelude and fugue (in E flat, “St. Anne”), but orchestrated by Schoenberg. It was strange hearing familiar music in this unusual setting. Initially, I couldn’t help but smile as the orchestra was doing such neato things. By the time it finished, I was less convinced that the orchestral colour was doing much for the music.

Three professional reviews of the same concert: from the Times, the Telegraph, and the Independent.

Monday, 7 August 2000

Cuba and 19th century England

Listening to:

Eliades Ochoa, Sublime illusion. This is the guy that I liked so much on the Buena Vista Social Club CD and film. I got this album just a little while ago, and though it’s instrumentally less varied than BVSC, it’s very good.

Still reading:

Mitford’s Our village. This one is going to take ages to finish. This is not because I don’t like it, but because it’s difficult to read in big chunks. In turn, this is because there’s no over-arching plot to move you forward. The various stories/vignettes are pretty much unrelated.

This book has emphasised how ignorant I am of botany. What do periwinkles look like? What’s woodbine? Am I even sure what beech trees look like? The book was clearly written in a period where this stuff was common knowledge. It evokes a lost era very effectively; making you think that maybe living in a English village in the early 19th century would be quite nice.

Wednesday, 9 August 2000

Book links

Listening to:

Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.

Book links, and the evil of George Lucas

A couple of book-related links today. First, some comp-sci humour (read the review by John E. Fracisco). The book is one I remember being part of my childhood, but in no very specific way. Perhaps I read it, perhaps it just lay around in the school library so that I could recognise the cover 20 years later.

Secondly, a neat story about compiling a book of 200 great novels written after 1950, by one of the two compilers. The first book mentioned, Plumb, a great New Zealand novel, is one I read and enjoyed since coming to Cambridge.

Finally, a diatribe on the evil that is George Lucas.

Friday, 11 August 2000

Joel on Software

Listening to:

Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248.

Just found an interesting web-log about software. It's called Joel on software, and here's some interesting stuff from it:

Monday, 14 August 2000

Entry #86

Listening to:
The best of Thelonius Monk. I'm usually pretty suspicious of "best of" CDs. However, they do at least serve to introduce a performer/composer if you have no real knowledge of what they're like. On the strength of this CD (published by Capitol Records, using the Blue Note label), I really should get out there and buy more Monk.

On the strength of just one CD of 16 tracks, all recorded by 1952, I'd characterise his stuff as melodically inventive, with a crisp, precise feel to it. There aren't extended solos whereby the original statement of a theme gets distorted and developed over a long period. (I have a Verve CD of this being done by Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie, and it's wonderful; but this is not what these Monk pieces do.) Instead, the music comes to you fully-formed, and quite perfect. These are like musical short stories.

Still reading:
Mitford, Our village. I'm about 60% of the way through this, so I'm not going to be able to write my grand summing up for a while yet. After writing about it last week (see below), I realised that what was for me the effective evocation of a lost era might have struck contemporary readers in just the same way. The early 19th century was a period of quite rapid change in England, and people then probably felt this change to be destroying a long lost world. (In fact, this feeling seems to arise whenever and wherever you look; old fogeys always moan about the good old days.)

There are a few symptoms of this in Our village. At one point, the fact that the boundaries of the nearby town of B--- are steadily approaching those of Mitford's village is remarked on. Mitford says that she expects her village will one day be a part of B--- but that she isn't too bothered because it will surely happen long after her day. She also describes the Macadamisation of the main road through the village at one point. Ah, progress!

Wednesday, 16 August 2000

Entry #87

Listening to:

Rachmaninoff, Vespers.

I saw a delivery van in the street the other day. Across the top of its side were written the words Put yourself in my shoes. Looking closer, I saw that this van belonged to a shoe manufacturer called something like Mr. England Shoes. I smiled at the clever use of the phrase, and thinking about it subsequently, decided that it won, not just because of this cleverness, but because of the way it made you think of the manufacturer as a individual rather than a faceless corporation. The Mr. England helps in this regard as well I expect.

More comp-sci humour.

Friday, 18 August 2000

.NET and software rental

Listening to:

Mozart, concerto for two pianos in E flat major, K365. The final movement of this concerto featured in the film Amadeus. (Just thought you might like to know that.)

Microsoft's .NET thingy is given so much hype in its official “white paper” that it’s near impossible to tell what it’s about. (There’s more information at the MSDN site.) In any case, it seems that one of things made easier in this brave new world will be software rental. And maybe this would be a better model, even if it was Microsoft’s doing. Philip Greenspun makes quite a convincing case anyway.

Monday, 21 August 2000

Show me love

Listening to:

Beethoven, string quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 (Razumovsky).

Still reading:

Mitford, Our village. I didn’t make much progress with this over the weekend because we went to London on Saturday to visit my parents, and on Sunday morning we went swimming.

Sanitised English titles

We went to see the Swedish film Show me love (original title: Fucking Åmål) on Friday night. I thought it a very good film, with a wonderful happy ending and a very affecting story all in all. It apparently did as well in Sweden as Titanic. There are pages of comments on the IMDb page, from people all around the world, and they are almost all very positive. Rightly so, of course.

From someone in Onsala, Sweden:

This was a great movie. But after I saw it I hated life. And found out of meaningless it is. And if Åmål is so boring that they say in the movie. Then they should see Onsala. The most boring town in the world.

Wednesday, 23 August 2000

Chicken Run and international lighting practices

Listening to:

Duke Ellington, Reminiscing in Tempo.

A recent movie:

Chicken run. Writing on Monday, I realised that I’d not mentioned some of my other recent movie experiences. Chicken run is a cute film by the people who did the Wallace and Gromit TV programmes (Nick Park et al.). Even before going to see it, I'd read many people say that CR was OK, but not as good as the three WG programmes (particularly the last two). I’d have to say that I’d just about agree with this. (Phil Agre wouldn’t; in this issue of his Red Rock Eater digest (you'll need to scroll down past a lot of other interesting stuff to get there, or use your find/search option), he says it sucks, which is overly harsh I think, though the general points he makes are quite good.)

Having read a few online reviews of Show me love on Monday, I was struck by how many American reviewers commented on how lousy they thought the lighting in the film was. This wasn’t something I noticed at all. My reaction tended to be understanding and sympathetic, along the lines of What is it with these whingers?, but it is definitely true that different countries use quite different lighting conventions in at least their TV programmes. It’s usually pretty easy to place a programme that you don’t recognise that’s running behind a shop window, say, just by something about the light.

Superficially, I’d say that American TV seems to generally be quite brightly lit, and that Australian TV is even more so, but I think there’s probably more to it that my perception is aware of, but which I can’t express.

Friday, 25 August 2000

Planescape: Torment and others

Listening to:

Chopin, Ballade No. 4 in F minor, op. 52. Beautiful, soft music; rhythmically fascinating.

We have been playing a lot of Planescape: Torment recently. This is a so-called role-playing game. What this really means is that it’s an adventure game (complete with exploration, puzzles and the like) combined with a real-time strategy aspect when your party of characters gets into a scrap. Here the mix is very good; there’s not too much combat, but there’s enough to make things tense as we sneak around the world looking for clues to explain our situation. At the moment, we’re learning stuff at a gratifying rate, and the world really does seem to be opening up in front of us.

Compare this with Riven, which has no combat at all, and much less internal state. Riven is very good, and we enjoyed it a great deal, but its strength has a lot to do with the beautiful screen-shots and the elaborate nature of the puzzles. I’d much rather play either of these games than Diablo II, which gets reviews (for example, at Games Domain) suggesting that it’s completely mindless. Give me plot any day of the week!

Tuesday, 29 August 2000

Entry #92

Listening to:
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Classic jazz. This recently gained a position in a best 100 albums of all time type survey sponsored by some newspaper or other. The top album was Revolver by the Beatles, and two of the next three were also by the Beatles, but Miles Davis was well up there (maybe about position 17).
Still reading:
Mitford. Our village. Just six stories and fifty pages to go. Should have this finished for next week.
The entry is today and not yesterday because yesterday was a public holiday in England (a "Bank Holiday Monday").

Wednesday, 30 August 2000


Listening to:

Fauré, piano quartet no. 1 in C minor, Op. 15. This is a traversal CD, so you can see that I'm now up to F, having made it all the way through Elgar, Ellington and Dvorak recently. I have only two pieces of music by Fauré in my collection; this and a recording of his famous requiem. Both are quite restrained pieces; emotional and heart-felt without being over-the-top melodramas.

A recent movie:

Timecode, directed by Mike Figgis, with a cast including Holly Hunter and Kyle MacLachlan. I saw this last Friday night, and thought it was technically successful but otherwise quite undistinguished. The big selling point of this film is that it was filmed with four cameras, and the audience sees the output of all of these cameras at once on the screen. There are no cuts on any of the cameras, so they just keep rolling. The only directorial editing after the filming was to alter the sound levels to focus the audience's attention on particular views.

The plot and characters in the film are both quite uninteresting and unsympathetic. The story is set in a Hollywood studio, and apart from some successful send-ups of the self-absorbed nature of the business (including a hilarious film auteur/rapper duo), there's really nothing very engaging about the film.

The IMDb page has some good long user comments. The Man who viewed too much dismisses the film in a brief, amusing paragraph.

Thursday, 31 August 2000

Birthday loot, cricket

Listening to:

The Paul Simon anthology. Mainly good stuff, though I’m not very keen on René and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war, which is what’s on right now. Cool title, but boring music.

I’ve just had my birthday, so I have accumulated a number of new books for the List. I got the first two books in the series of naval novels by Patrick O’Brian (loads of people have reviewed these positively; even Christopher Hitchins in the NYRB), The wealth and poverty of nations by David Landes, Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, and The code book by Simon Singh. Expect reviews in about 18 months (!). (I have finished Mitford now, so progress is being made, honest.)

I also got an Oscar Peterson CD, Oscar Peterson's finest hour, published by Verve. This I can review already; it’s very good.

I’m writing today rather than tomorrow because I’m going to go to London tomorrow to watch England play the West Indies at cricket. The “Windies” are 2-1 down in the series, so England only need a draw in this match to win a series against them for the first time since 1969.