Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Music Notes – Pianoscapes and Wind & Whispers

The past few days have been stressful and difficult. Some changes have come to the Morris household, and while most of these will be positive, they have not been without their growing pains. Such is life. Stagnant we suffer. Changing we stretch to what we think may well beyond our capacity. Either way, we hurt.
During this time, I have been listening to Michael Jones’ two disc Pianoscapes, as well as the album Wind and Whispers, particularly during my time working at the computer. Originally released as a single disc set, this deluxe version of Pianoscapes includes the full recorded output of the one-take project as well as unreleased versions of tunes from the pianist’s Sunscapes album.
These albums have been well received by my flitting and frantic mind. I suppose they fit in the archaic “New Age” category, but most music so labeled bores me, puts me to sleep. These improvised piano solos do neither. They do not engage me intellectually as my favorite pianists do, but that may be the point. They are stimulating and beautiful without being distracting. These pieces seem to be about being part of the environment where one lives rather than the focal point of that environment, perhaps helping to bring balance or harmony to those overwhelmed by the stress brought to and invading the room. Such seems to be intent of most so-called “new age” music, but these pieces actually achieve the goal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Publication Notes – July 2010

Yesterday, the first edition of Rubber Lemon appeared online and it contains my story “Promise” (page 21). This is something I composed many years ago, and while time usually cools any positive thoughts I have about my work, this is one story I’ve always been a bit proud of. It seems to have found a proper and interesting home.
A couple of my haiku of found places in Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku (Issue 5, page 49) and Trapeze Magazine.
The Insomnia War” has been published in Flutter (Volume 5, Issue 6).
That appears to be all for now, but I find I send out something or another every week or so, and though I’ve been very busy this summer, I have found time to actually write and not just write about writing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Music Notes – Ambient Collection (The Art of Noise)

I've heard tunes by The Art of Noise off and on for years, but never listened to a whole album. I don't know how representative this little disc is, but I did find it pleasant and intriguing. The group is probably not for everybody, and as someone who does not listen to a lot of electronica, I don't have much to compare it to.
That said, I know what I enjoy, and I found this enjoyable, especially in the car. Probably my favorite cuts are "Crusoe," “Island,” "Eye of the Needle," and "Robinson Crusoe." "Ode to Don Jose" is quaint, but ultimately annoying. The disc closer "Art of Love" had my toes tapping and my head nodding.
This isn't what I usually listen to, but it is a welcome deviation.

Movie Notes – Crime and Punishment

I have start this little rant by mentioning that Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is one of my favorite novels. If I had a top five, it would be there. But I also believe that a movie doesn’t have to be exactly like the book that serves as its source. I won’t go into that too much except that it is often not practical and to do so would deny the artistic vision of many people. Deviations don’t bother me all that much, unless of course they make for a bad movie and that is the case here.
Some of the story is intact. Raskolnikov kills an old pawnbroker and then her sister, is haunted by guilt he won’t acknowledge and hunted by the detective Porfiry Petrovich, opposes his sister’s engagement to the slimy Luzhin, is moved at the same time he argues with the religious prostitute Sonia, and eventually confesses his crime and is sent to Siberia for punishment.
But truly unnecessary plot changes merely make the story more confusing instead of help to make clear what is going on. For example, Luzhin pays for Sonia’s services and though he is supposed to marry Raskolnikov’s sister, has no problem with the future brother-in-law knowing. Razhumikin’s friendship, which is invaluable not only to Raskolnikov but to holding together important plot points, is barely acknowledged. The romantic relationship between Sonia and Raskolnikov appears out of the blue, though it really developed (and made more sense because of it) over a great deal of time. Perhaps most egregious of all is Porfiry’s voice over at the end of Raskolnikov’s trial and incarceration. Lines are added to show Raskolnikov was given a lighter sentence due to “temporary insanity.”
Religion should be considered a main character of the novel because it informs the actions of many of the other characters and of the world in which Raskolnikov wrestles with what he has done. He refuses to accept, for most of the novel, the humanity of the people he has killed. Sonia, though a prostitute, has a deep faith that not only sustains her, but affects those she comes in contact with. But religion is thrown into the movie like an afterthought and Dostoevsky's story of hard redemption is lost. In the novel, Raskolnikov takes Sonia’s cross and confesses in public before going to the police. In the movie, there is no such public confession.
All that might not be a big deal to some if Menahem Golan had make a good movie despite the significant differences. He did not.
The setting is just, well, stupid and confusing. The color and the autos make me think this is set in the 1970s Moscow instead of 19th century St. Petersburg. Yet in one scene, Raskolnikov finds Sophia in a club and a band is playing something between grunge and heavy metal. The film appears to have the coloring of a 70s print. There is a bright sun throughout the movie despite the dark themes and the dank atmosphere of the story. Rooms where people in abject poverty seem fairly well, if sometimes modestly furnished and very well lit.
The acting is quite terrible. Even the great John Hurt can’t save this, though he does a credible Porfiry. It is no small wonder he is listed in front of the other actors though he does not play the main character: he is the only actor is isn’t downright rotten. Vanessa Redgrave and Margot Kidder are two other knows actresses and they over act wildly. To their defense, their lines are often so bad, I’m not sure who could have made them work. Crispin Glover, as Raskolnikov, does about as poor a job as I’ve ever seen on film. When Raskolnikov has a monologue, Glover looks like an excited high school kid doing a play. Throughout the movie, and at some of the most inopportune moments (as when expressing rage) Glover has this creepy grin that never seems to go away, as if he’s stuck that way.
The music is insufferable. Strings seem to whine and wheeze and often the music is dramatic at the wrong time looping strains like a dentist’s drill. Sometimes the score seems to overpower the dialogue, as if trying to add importance to banal scenes. But it is mostly distracting throughout.
This is the kind of movie that lazy students find to watch instead of reading the classic book. If that becomes the case, they’ll fail not only because they have the wrong content, but because they may not be able sit through the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bookmarks – Tremendous Trifles

One of the first books I’ve read since getting a Nook has been this delightful collection of essays by G.K. Chesterton.
I am not sure these are the kind of essays I should have students read as examples of good writing because Chesterton often starts with one subject and associates it with another, and yet he is so masterful at this, that I sit reading in awe. He seems to be writing off the cuff, but the connections are often deep and profound. They clearly come from a deep well of reading and rumination.
Chesterton has a wonderfully warm sense of humor, but I fear that many readers won’t get all the jokes, particularly since some of them seem to require a knowledge of Art, Literature, and Philosophy, as well as what were current events in England during the author’s life. But readers shouldn’t be lost through most of the book, and Chesterton’s references rarely get in the way of the main ideas. His defense of Christianity is more subtle than his contemporaries, and that may be why it is appealing. He can be direct without banging one with a frying pan.
Chesterton is better known for his Father Brown stories, but as a journalist, he also excelled. These 39 witty gems serve as fine examples. “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder,” he wrote. This little book brings back for me the sense of awe and wonder in creation at the same time it reasons with (and against) some of the best minds of Chesterton’s day. Don’t take that to mean he is dated. His thoughts stand up with anything the so-called modern world dishes out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Notes – Fast Lane, The Grenadines, Blaze of Glory at The Harbor

Fast Lane (June 24) – I’ve thought of the Eagles as a rather laid back group, but this tribute band seemed at times to be laying down. I didn’t mind that they leaned mostly toward the country side of The Eagles’ repertoire, but that most every song was played and sung lethargically, as if the group was just going through the motions. And the fact that none of the singers sounded like any of the Eagles would not have bothered me if they had not drawn attention to “featured” players only when that person was going to sing lead. (Last I noticed, The Eagles has some good musicians.) The group mulled around so much between numbers, they could have easily fit two or three more songs into the set.
When Fast Lane played something more upbeat, the substituted volume for energy.  Really! They just played louder.
Otherwise, the group played credible versions of Eagles hits and songs from the solo efforts of Don Henley and Joe Walsh (sorry, no Glenn Frey). The crowd liked them a bit more than I did, and called them back for an encore.
A band that really earned their encore was The Grenadines who played the Harbor on July 1. As they say on their website: they play a mixture of “the best blues, classic & contemporary rock.” I was impressed by the sound. Almost all the songs went together as if written for this band and the energy stayed high through the set. They were professional, but never lost their rock and roll edge. I’d say that so far this summer, this is one of the best bands the City of Rockwall has brought out. I very much hope to see them again.
When one goes to see a Bon Jovi tribute band, one does run the risk of hearing a lot of Bon Jovi songs. I am not a fan, but I went to see Blaze of Glory with people who are, and I would have to say that most of the crowd at the Harbor on July 15 were also fans. I don’t think they were disappointed. The group played all the hits and fan favorites, doing the rock star poses and performing as if they were the actual group. The lead singer, in fact, called the guitar player Richie Sambora more often than he referred to the guy’s real name (Roy Lee Nelson).Photo0397
As I said, I’m not a fan, so some of this “experience,” was a bit painful for me. However, the crowd ate it up, and why not? These guys are pretty good. There may have been a thousand females, aged between 12 and 50, who were singing along and hoisting beers and dancing. I suspect a danger in working as a tribute band is that if you miss the mark, you might get booed off the  stage. There was no danger of that happening here. Solid energy and sound made it worthwhile, even for guys like me.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bookmarks – The Practice of the Presence of God

There are many books on the subject of prayer. Outside the Bible itself, few are indispensable: This one is, by far, the best book on the subject I have ever come across. It is simple and insightful. Any spiritual person, no matter where she or he is in the walk of faith, can be edified by The Practice of the Presence of God, if by nothing other than Brother Lawrence's own devotion to God.
The slim book is divided into two main sections. The first is a series of items learned from the monk during several conversations. In the first of these we read of the Nicolas Hermann (Brother Lawrence’s given name) had when he was eighteen and which began his journey which “set him loose from the world, and kindled in him…a love for GOD.” We also read of his belief that all should be given over to love and service of God, and that prayer is not merely a matter of saying things at certain times of the day, but of establishing in oneself the fact that God is present everywhere at all times, and thus all acts should be as prayer and devotion to God.
The second section of the book contains letters that Brother Lawrence wrote on various spiritual matters. He informs a superior in one letter that he can be asked to participate in the various prayers or exercises set aside for monks, but that these, for him, are only extensions of what he does with the whole of his days. He writes to others on the subject of suffering that it is not only something to be embraced, but something that demonstrates the love of God. In one letter, he writes to someone who has been ill a long time and has not gotten better: “it is my opinion that you should leave off human remedies, and resign yourself entirely to the providence of GOD” and “He [God] sometimes permits bodily diseases to cure the distempers of the soul.” That part, admittedly, is tough to understand, and very hard to take in, but I also must admit to being a novice as far as the subject of suffering. I only know that when I read it, I believe it.
I try to re-read this book every couple of years. Each time it is new, challenging, and refreshing.