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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spring fever

I haven't written in a while, mainly because I am horrible sick. Some throat thing. I don't think it's strep, but I've had an excruciatingly sore throat for going on four days now, plus general utter wretchedness. Most of the school has it, or has recently had it, and Matt came down with it right before me. I went to sleep on Thursday at 3pm and when I woke up, twenty-four hours later, Rostropovich was dead. Also, I missed classes, which is never a good thing this close to the end of semester. Damnit.

Today is so beautiful, though. We're in that three-week window right now when the weather in Pennsylvania has the potential to be perfect. Thinking of blowing off schoolwork and going to Longwood Gardens.

I'm trying to write a mensuration canon with a L'homme Armé cantus firmus as a reaction to Virginia Tech and assorted other events, like the Iraq War. So far, it sounds very depressing.

Writing a blog is useful because I point people to Wikipedia links which end up informing me. I didn't know that Karl Jenkins wrote an Armed Man mass for peace. That's sort of why I'm borrowing L'homme Armé too. Darn. Guess I'll have to check out his work before I go any further.

  • I have a terrible desire to see this awful-looking movie from a few years ago called Equilibrium. It's all very Year Zero (humans forced by despotic regime to take drugs that suppress emotions, etc), but Christian Bale playing at kung fu with guns is fun-looking.

  • Dog Police. I watched this again and again and again.

  • The Revealer: Teenage Holy War. Another good impetus for the L'homme Armé piece.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Purchasing power

Last night, Matt and I went to our local PA Wine and Spirits store to grab some grog. I saw a sign at the cash register announcing that some merlot was half-price at $9.99, "the lowest price in the US!" because of Pennsylvania's bulk "purchasing power." Pennsylvania has some pretty odd alcohol laws in comparison with other states. The state itself purchases all the alcohol that is distributed in Pennsylvania and then sells it at state-owned bottle shops. This enables the state to not only reap some pretty amazing profits, but apparently keep prices low.

Gosh, I thought, as I stared at the sign. That precisely how the Australian prescription drug system works. Wouldn't it be marvelous if we could apply the method of price reduction that Pennsylvania uses in relation to alcohol distribution to bring down the crippling cost of health care?

But, you know, socialized medicine is an impossible concept for America.

Friday, April 20, 2007

School shootings

I was thinking about school shootings today. Has anyone else noticed how there seem to be a disproportionate number of mass shootings in March/April?

My mother is bipolar, and during the 15 years she was on Lithium, she most often had psychotic/manic episodes in September. When we realized there was a definite pattern, we discovered seasonal affective disorder. The changing of the seasons from winter to spring can trigger mania (and accompanying psychosis) in people prone to it.

Of course, spring comes in March and April in the Northern Hemisphere. Here's a list of school shootings. I looked at the last ten years of data, from 1998 to 2007. I removed one incident which was not in the Northern Hemisphere (Argentina). I removed an couple of incidents which were accidental. The list also includes foiled plots that didn't materialize into actual shootings.

63 incidents. 27 were in March and April. Maybe there's not enough data, but that seems to be 42% of the incidents in only 16.6% of the time.

Incidentally, the Argentinian incident was in September.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

How Embarrassment, Or How Matt Met the Swopes

I'm having a stupid, stupid week.

Wait, it's not the week that's stupid, it's me. Lately I can't seem to do anything without screwing it up.

Take last night, for instance. The new music school building was given a gala opening. I thought I got Matt a ticket to attend. What I had actually procured was a ticket for today's repeat performance for the masses. Last night's performance was exclusively for people who had donated at least $10,000 towards the building development fund.

The ticket booth was kind enough to let him in anyway. They gave him a free seat in the second row.

The result of my gaffe was that Matt was the only person not wearing a tuxedo and probably the only person worth less than a million dollars attending a concert graced by the likes of Dick Hyman and Frederica von Stade.

The result of the ticket booth's kindness was that Matt was given a seat amongst the Swope family. I guess the seat was for a Swope who couldn't make it.

Just to clarify, for those who don't go to West Chester University: both the old and new music buildings are called the Swope School of Music.

I'm lucky Matt's such a charming guy. He chatted gaily with the guy in the seat next to him: Charles Swope, son of Charles Swope, and grandson of Charles Swope. All three are mentioned so often on West Chester businesses, buildings, scholarships, and awards, you feel like you know them, although you have no idea who they are. Hell, I didn't even know that there were three of them, all ridiculously successful.

Of course, Matt now knows who they are. And they know how Matt and I met, and that I am studying composition, and have bright orange hair. And I'm really glad that Matt had a smashing time literally rubbing elbows with the Swope family, but Jesus, can I get anything right this week?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Joshua Bell the busker

Pearls Before Breakfast: Joshua Bell tries his hand as a street musician - with a fucking Strad - and earns about $30 in 45 minutes.

I used to do a lot of busking in Brisbane and Sydney, back when I was eighteen and not really earning enough in regular employment to live by myself in inner-city Sydney. I usually made $35 an hour. If I wasn't making $20 an hour, I'd go home. On good days, I made $50 to $60 an hour. Every now and then I'd have an awesome day and earn even more.

Having busked frequently, I worked out a few rules and guidelines which Joshua Bell might have figured out on his own if he hadn't done it only once, and only for three-quarters of an hour.

  1. Always start with money in your case. Always. Sadly, sympathy is nowhere near as effective as the sheep mentality, which I guess is why more money gets thrown at Paris Hilton than at cancer victims. An interesting trend I noticed while busking is that if I started with larger denomination coins (in Australia, we have gold one-dollar and two-dollar coins) and small bills in my case, I would receive generally the same kind of denominations from passersby - like attracts like, if you like. That's not to say that I would earn overall more money, but at the end of the day, I would have a conveniently small bag full of gold coins and notes, as opposed to a large heavy bag full of five-cent pieces that the bank doesn't want to count.

  2. Location, location, location. If you play somewhere where buskers set up every day, people will take you for granted. Set up somewhere slightly unexpected, and more people will notice you and appreciate you.

  3. The audience doesn't want to hear art, it wants to hear crap. It is a rare beast who will give money to someone playing a gorgeous concerto or sonata. Stick to classical music that everyone knows, like Pachelbel's canon and Eine Kleine, or popular songs from musicals and the like. People want to hear the kind of stuff they will recognize and wander off humming. This is the cruelest truth of being a classically trained street musician. Your audience is made up of Philistines. This is also the number one reason why I can't busk too many days in a row - I become the worst kind of contemptuous misanthropist.

  4. How you dress really matters, especially if you're a girl. Some of this obviously doesn't apply to Mr. Bell, but I'll say it anyway. Wearing a skirt will get you more money than wearing pants. Wearing contacts will get you more money than wearing glasses. Wearing lipstick will, oddly enough, get you less money than going without - you look somehow less approachable, I figure. Wear a short skirt, and you'll see the results in your case. Especially if you wear a green microskirt on St Patrick's Day and play nothing but jigs and reels. Smile. A lot. People will give you money if you can make them smile too.

  5. Make friends with people around you. If you busk near shops, go in and buy something in the shop, and chat to the proprietors. If they become your friend, they'll probably pop out every now and then to give you money.

  6. Make friends with other buskers. This is how I hooked up with a South American folk band and played the Newtown Festival in front of tens of thousands of people.

  7. Play outside pubs or gambling establishments. Once, a guy stepped out of a pub while I was playing some crap and dumped a fifty-dollar note in my case. It was about ten in the morning. I assume he won some money on the poker machines.

Anyway, I haven't busked in years, and I've never done it in the USA, but I assume busking is the same pretty much anywhere. Joshua should have asked me for tips beforehand.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Grindhouse

This weekend, I finally finished grouting and caulking the kitchen tiles, and Matt and I installed our cute-as-a-button 18" dishwasher. It is perfectly functional! It doesn't leak! Clean dishes ahoy!

As a reward for our hard work, we saw Grindhouse today. Beware of spoilers in the coming paragraphs.

I daresay Grindhouse is the best thing I've seen in a long time. You know, I never used to like Tarentino all that much. Pulp Fiction was a good movie, but the way everyone in my generation seemed to go apeshit over it was too much for me. Maybe I heard the soundtrack a little too often. Also, I fell asleep in the cinema during Jackie Brown. However, the Kill Bill movies and now this have given me a very deep-seated fondness for Tarentino.

I probably wouldn't have seen Grindhouse at the cinema if I hadn't seen the trailer featuring Rose McGowan in Planet Terror with an amputated limb and a giant fuck-off machine gun screwed into the stump. All the same, I sort of wish I hadn't seen the trailer, so the machine-gun-leg would have been a surprise. Oh, it was wonderful nevertheless. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. I suspended my disbelief with glee (she walks on a "prosthetic" a mere hours after having her leg bitten off; the gun in her leg appears to be triggered by telepathy; later, a Gatling installed in her leg fails to knock her off a horse). And there were enough surprises to keep me entertained, including Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas, who loses her brain, snigger. And there were lots of zombies. I loved it. "If anyone comes to the door, I want you to shoot them. Just like in your video games."

A lot of people online are complaining about all the dialogue in Deathproof. They're dumb. The dialogue was (a) good, and (b) riddled with in-jokes, which makes it even better. For instance, in one scene, four girls in the movie business are gossiping about who fucked whom on a set. They mention a stand-in for Darryl Hannah who fucked a director on his girlfriend's birthday. One of the actors in the first half of the film was Darryl Hannah's stand-in in the Kill Bill movies. I can't help but wonder if she fucked a director on his girlfriend's birthday, and how much more of the dialogue was an allusion.

There was something kind of heartwarming about seeing Zoe Bell kick arse. Something about the way she went after Kurt Russell with an iron pipe, hollering, "Where the fuck do you think you're going?" was so ... Australasian. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but there's something in Australian/New Zealand culture that causes people to react in just this way to certain situations. I was reminded of the time Jason and I were nearly mugged on New Year's Eve years ago. When a group of guys surrounded us and one of them snatched my bag, my first instinct wasn't, "Oh, shit, help!" but "Give me back my fucking bag," which I hollered at the would-be mugger while rushing at him, ready and willing to physically harm him, though he probably would have beat the shit out of me in a fight. He was surprised enough to throw the purse to another guy, who dropped it, and I snatched it back.

Also spotted: a XXXX beer neon sign. There was a thank-you to XXXX beer and VB in the credits. Weird.

CONCLUSION: This movie does not deserve to bomb. Go see it. It's awesome. I will probably even buy it on DVD.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Alarm Will Sound

Here I am playing the theremin. This was taken the night I finished it, so I don't really have a technique yet. In the days since, I've started playing it in a manner vaguely similar to the way Lydia Kavina plays it. Here also is a picture of Matt demonstrating the controversial "angling" technique, which he figured out on his own in about five minutes.

Yes, making a theremin turns your house into a mess.

Over the weekend, I went to an Alarm Will Sound concert. They are amazing. Amazing. I want to shun all worldly concerns and devote my life to writing a piece of music good enough for them to play. They play arrangements of Aphex Twin and Autechre tracks. They make chaos sound tight. They perform - and you can't help but love every sound they make when you watch them.

Joining the ensemble for this and another concert on the 24th was a friend from high school, extraordinary clarinettist Eileen Mack. It has been twelve years since we were in high school together. Now we're in the same part of the United States, and she's playing with Alarm Will Sound, with whom I'm newly obsessed. Wacky. We got drunk together at an AWS house party afterwards. Well, I got drunk. Eileen held her liquor. I am a Cadbury.

I also smoked too many cigarettes, causing the high Bb I tried to hit for my choir audition (solo for upcoming concert) to sound ... interesting. Also, I lost the ability to trill. Nevermind; I didn't really expect or want to be given a solo - there is a soprano at West Chester who also auditioned with a voice so perfect it makes me want to believe in God again.