Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

April 8, 2002 (link)

4:35 PM

And now for the fifth entry in my Deep Chill Network review project:

  • "Slumber": I quite like this one. Major and minor ninth chords drift in and out, one at a time, played with a warm and slightly chorused patch. Again I find myself making an SNES allusion; I'm reminded a bit of the ill-fated Tolkien games -- how many of those came out? just the one? -- that, though they were nearly unplayable, had a great, slightly spooky feeling of spaciousness and slow-time. This piece has that same quality, which -- as should be obvious by now -- is one of my biggest musical preoccupations, both as a music-maker and as a listener. I like the choice of harmonies (being a Debussy fan, stacks of parallel 9th chords are right up my alley), and I like the fact that the piece feels harmonically aware -- the motion is simple, and very limited, but it's motion nonetheless. There's a little bit of a voice-stealing problem (notes cut off prematurely when new ones come in), which fortunately isn't too bothersome; the ending also feels very abrupt, though the track isn't labelled as an edit.
  • "Silence Rendered": Timbrally, the patch used for this song is pretty similar to "Slumber". Instead of chords, though, we

    (Comments for April 8, 2002)

    April 7, 2002 (link)

    11:32 PM

    Someone got here searching for the chords to "Roygbiv". Reckoning two beats per chord, I think they're something like F#7sus4, F#7sus4, A7sus4, D, A, G/A (G/D the second time), Bm9, Bm9, but there's plenty of room for argument there. The piano part is actually relatively simple -- A, B, G, D, A, G, D, D -- but becomes harmonically complex thanks to what's going on around it, all of which shades it in a totally different way. It's actually a hell of well-put-together song, when you think about it; I'm glad this "question" gave me the pretext to give it a couple listens. I'm not as much of a Boards of Canada fan as I used to think I was going to be, but I still have a great deal of respect for the intelligence -- musical and otherwise -- with which they approach their work.

    Current music: Oregon - Distant Hills

    (Comments for April 7, 2002)

    April 6, 2002 (link)

    9:23 PM

    Last night I saw the New Zealand movie Rain, featured as part of this year's Philadelphia Film Festival. If you have any plans to see it, be warned that I'll mention a few spoilers below, though I should add that it's not really a movie "about" plot -- the review I read in the Philadelphia Weekly pretty much gave everything away, and I don't think I missed out on much by reading it. Actually, I probably wouldn't even have known it was playing (let alone gone to see it) if I hadn't read the review, which was extremely positive.

    Overall I thought it was a very appealing film, with strong performances, gorgeous cinematography and a courageous approach to plot and pacing -- but also found that it suffered from one or two weak scenes, an unconvincing performance by the protagonist's mother, and above all, a disappointing ending which felt far too pat and contrived. The central character is a 12-year-old girl, Janey, whose situation is almost impossible to describe without lapsing into cliché -- basically, her parents are alcoholics, her little brother is insufferably but genuinely cute, and Janey herself is just "coming into bloom", as it were, and is beginning to explore the ways in which her sexuality can give her power over the people around her. The part is played just about perfectly by Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, who manages to convey just the right mix of sensuality, pubescent narcissism, and awkwardness -- indeed, she makes Dominique Swain (Lolita) seem like quite the hack by comparison. Her mother meets Cady (played well by Marton Csokas, who bears a strong resemblance to Russell Crowe), a roguish fellow who lives in a boat and likes to take pictures, and the two of them become involved. Janey accidentally witnesses them in the act on more than one occasion, unbeknownst to them, and this sets off a complex series of interactions and tensions between Janey, her mother, her father, and Cady; most immediately, Janey openly becomes quite hostile to her mother, both for the infidelity and for her more-or-less constant drinking. Unfortunately, Sarah Peirse's portrayal of Kate, the mother, struck me as very one-note, and failed to present a character who would've made a convincing romantic interest for the younger and relatively handsome Cady. This didn't undermine the movie terribly much, but frequently made her character's motivation seem far too opaque -- she often seemed like little more than a collection of theatrical gestures and quasi-elegances, in the midst of which she would mysteriously bake a cake.

    On the other hand, she did manage to convey something of the self-defeating, avoidant behavior characteristic of so many alcoholics. This is one of the strongest aspects of the movie -- without resorting to histrionics or caricature, it brilliantly depicts the effects of alcoholism on a family. This isn't beat-your-kids, vomit-on-the-couch alcoholism; Janey's parents simply love to drink and to be drunk, and both of them clearly use alcohol as a means of dealing with conflict or frustration -- or, in the case of Janey's father, the pain of knowing that his wife is cheating on him. Alistair Browning turns in an excellent (and well-directed) performance as Ed, Janey's father; though he has perhaps the fewest lines of any of the movie's major characters, he manages to convey a nuanced and complex range of emotions without saying a word. He shows Ed to be a kind, sensitive and gentle man, but also one with a bit of a weak character -- unable to confront his wife or Cady about their infidelity, his initial reaction is to engage in various forms of denial, whether it's anesthetizing himself with alcohol or otherwise running away from the problem. I particularly remember the scene where he first realizes that his wife is interested in Cady -- as I recall, she leans towards him for a kiss, only to shy away again and move towards Cady. It's obvious that he loves her deeply, and is bewildered and wounded by her betrayal; the pain in his eyes is quite moving.

    Another very strong point of the movie is the evenhanded way it treats its characters, neither letting them off the hook, nor demonizing them, nor flattening them into caricature or sainthood. If it's true -- and I believe it is -- that there is a legitimate complaint about the lack of nuance and depth in the portrayal of women by mainstream male directors, then I think it's also equally true that many films directed by women (as Rain is), or centered around female characters or "women's issues", tend to suffer from the opposite problem: depending on the movie's ideology, the men are knights, rapists, capitalists, cowboys, cads, chauvinist pigs, and so forth. Thankfully, Rain suffers from nothing of the sort; it doesn't, for instance, feel the need to turn Ed into a dolt or a brute in order to justify Kate's infidelity, as so many movies do. Spoiler alert: Janey eventually decides to essentially seduce Cady -- perhaps as a calculated way of dealing with the entire situation, or out of an adolescent crush, or out of sheer curiosity, or some combination thereof. It would be very easy for the movie to cast him as a rotter, just as it would have earlier when he accepts Kate's romantic overtures. But it didn't then, and it doesn't when Janey seduces him, either; he behaves neither as a saint nor as a predator, but in an entirely human way. (True, he willingly participated in an infidelity, and is able to look the cuckolded husband in the eye when they meet -- but he doesn't seem to regard Kate as a conquest or anything like that, either. His sexuality is not depicted as an expression of dominance, but simply of desire.)

    Unfortunately, when Janey does sleep with him, the movie gives in to exactly the thing it needed to resist: predictably, something horrible immediately happens as a semi-direct consequence of their liaison, and a movie which had been so honest and non-judgmental up to that point suddenly morphs into a morality play. Since an innocent suffers on account of Janey's actions, she's left with a burden of guilt that can never be extirpated -- if she had suffered directly, then her guilt could be redeemed through her punishment. After an hour of lucid and courageous filmmaking, to have the director suddenly invoke the "young girl having sex = fall from grace" clause just seems terribly heavy-handed. It comes dangerously close to lapsing into parody at one point: as she stumbles through the forest, freaked out and confused after her first sexual experience (presumably the loss of her virginity -- although even that seems a bit inconsistent with the character of Cady, who neither seems stupid enough nor enough of a cad to take the virginity of a 12-year-old), the soundtrack gives us some mawkish piece of work with lyrics that sound like leftovers from the Guess Who's "Undun" -- "oh no, what has she done, she's gone too far, it was a mistake", that sort of thing. It feels dishonest and manipulative, and turns the movie's lead character -- who is otherwise vivid and utterly believable -- into little more than a metaphor. (Why would a movie like this need to crib from the playbook of slasher movies -- that most conservative of genres in which every sex act is immediately, inevitably followed by an untimely death?) Perhaps it would have been more effective if it had been a genuine surprise, but the movie more than foreshadows the plot point, it practically telegraphs it.

    When we went to see this movie, the ushers handed us each a slip of paper with five boxes on it -- Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor -- and asked that we rate the movie and return the slips after we'd seen it. I marked the "Very Good" box, which I think is fair: despite my dissatisfaction with the ending and with Sarah Peirse's performance, I enjoyed Rain very much, and would recommend it. Its strengths certainly dovetail neatly with the things I look for in a movie, and perhaps those people for whom "quiet" and "slow" aren't usually positive adjectives when applied to a movie won't find Rain as appealing as I did. Still, its flaws notwithstanding, I found it to be a fundamentally good movie, full of great (even brilliant) performances, beautiful cinematography, and honest, sensitive direction. It's definitely worth seeing on the big screen if you get the chance -- the colors and landscapes were incredibly rich and detailed, and I suspect that, visually speaking, it'll lose a lot on the small screen.

    Current music: Seclusion - Yukigafuru

    (Comments for April 6, 2002)

    April 4, 2002 (link)

    8:25 PM

    It was completely predictable -- but still a little embarrassing -- that, after making my "daily update" pronouncement, I would immediately miss a day. I was working on, of all things, a Shooby Taylor transcription ("Stout-Hearted Men", naturally), but got busy with other endeavors and didn't make enough headway to put it up.

    Speaking of Shooby Taylor, the more I listen to him, the more I like him. One of the differences between him and typical "outsider art" is that he's actually got real musical talent, unlike most of them. You can certainly sense a musical intelligence in there, albeit a distorted one...and if that really is him accompanying himself on the organ, he does have some keyboard skills, far from polished though they may be. And what he does vocally is hard to do -- a good Shooby Taylor imitation is surprisingly tough to pull off: though it sounds effortless when he does it, those sequences of bizarre syllables are tough to say, let alone to sing at high speed. They're also, of course, what pushes his music well past the point of eccentricity and over the edge into Incorrect Music territory. I still don't understand the force that would make someone think that the likes of "plav" and "shra" are effective scat syllables; it's hard to tell from the music whether his intent is to fit in with the extant jazz tradition, or to lay the foundation for something entirely new.

    Regardless, his syllables, his outbursts, his bebop runs punctuated with "peepy poppy peepy poppy" -- all of these things help to create what amounts to a complete and self-consistent soundworld, which in my experience tends to make for the best "outsider music" listening. What I mean by that: the page I linked a few entries back had (in addition to the tracks I mentioned by Y. Bhekhirst and so forth) a bunch of MP3 files of things like junior high school jazz bands. In small doses, that can be amusing, but recordings that are in essence nothing more than conventional music played badly don't tend to sustain my interest for very long, though a few minutes of them can be hilarious: I'm as amused by bad violin playing as anybody, and I've attended more than one concert where I had to practically bury my face in my coat -- or think very dour thoughts -- to keep from falling on the floor in hysterics. But listening to someone like Shooby Taylor (or Wesley Willis, etc.), the phenomenon becomes more one of being drawn into someone else's completely fucked-up, but intelligible, musical universe. Wesley Willis is practically a whole genre unto himself, if an unusually limited one. (Even song-poems, as you listen to more and more of them, begin to manifest certain signifiers -- like the spoken-word interlude or the artifically peppy female background vocals or the Bernie Worrell-ish fake strings -- that begin to make song-poem-ness seem like a unified universe, albeit one whose rules defy both good taste and intuition.)

    Anyway, I'm not describing this as well as I'd hoped, but I think my point is relatively clear. I think being unintentionally funny, by the way, is a key part of this equation for me -- which is probably why I haven't been too taken with the stuff I've heard by Jandek. And I've talked before about whether the humor is an expression of contempt, which I don't think it needs to be. For me, listening to Shooby Taylor is like hearing someone take the most extreme and absurd part of my high school jazz band experiences and distill them into something altogether new, in which something that would normally be considered undesirable -- syllables like "lo ku pah" -- becomes a signifier.

    (Comments for April 4, 2002)

    April 2, 2002 (link)

    6:20 PM

    Glancing over it now, it looks like, after 25. Rxf7 Kxf7 26. Qd7+ Be7 27. Rf1+, 27...Kg8, followed by Rc6-c7, may in fact draw. In any event, it looks to me like 27...Kg6? was a mistake; after that move, my computer favors White in all of the lines I've checked so far, though it looks like Black can escape mate. So the sacrifice may not be correct after all -- but it sure was fun to play.

    5:51 PM

    Many thanks to Alex, who spotted a couple of nasty typos (which I've now corrected) in the game score I gave below. That's what I get for bashing out an entry while scrambling to catch a train! I had to type in the moves manually because I don't like the way that FICS formats its game scores (or, more accurately, I've been too lazy to investigate the possibility of customizing it to my liking), and in the rush I forgot to double-check my work. Anyway, FICS is a great server, and that's where I play, using the excellent Fixation client for Macintosh. Alex, I'll drop you an email with my handle on FICS -- I'd love to have a few blitz games sometime.

    I'm going to start trying to update daily, at least during April. I don't know if it will happen, but I think that kind of structure will do both me and the site good.

    Current music: The Residents - Commercial Album

    (Comments for April 2, 2002)

    April 1, 2002 (link)

    6:00 PM

    I just played the kind of sacrifice one gets to play but rarely, and at first glance it seems to very possibly be sound (though I haven't analyzed it thoroughly yet):

    A diagram depicting move 25 in a chess game, with White to move.  White has pawns on a2, b2, c2, g4, and h2, knights on h5 and b3, rooks on d1 and f1, a queen on d3, and a king on b1.  Black has pawns on a5, b4, b5, e6, f7, g7, h6, a bishop on g5, rooks on c6 and c8, a queen on b6, and a king on g8.

    I had the White pieces. Admittedly, I'm up a piece for a pawn, and probably should win easily, so flashy play is unnecessary...but, since it was a blitz game, how could I resist 25. Rxf7! There followed 25...Kxf7 26. Qd7+ Be7 27. Rf1+ Kg6 28. Qd3+ Kg5 29. h4+ Kxh4

    A diagram depicting move 30 in a chess game, with White to move.  White has pawns on a2, b2, c2, and g4, knights on h5 and b3, a rook on f1, a queen on d3, and a king on b1.  Black has pawns on a5, b4, b5, e6, g7, h6, a bishop on e7, rooks on c6 and c8, a queen on b6, and a king on h4.

    30. Qg3+ Kg5 31. Qe5+ Kxg4 32. Rf4+ Kh3 33. Rf3+ Kg4 34. Rg3+ Kh4 35. Qf4+ Kxh5 36. Qg4 mate -- with 19 seconds left on the clock for me, no less. There are alternatives for Black, of course, and I don't know yet whether White wins in all variations -- I'll have to check it out, and would love to see any readers' analyses if anyone feels so inclined. But what a pleasure to play a move like that!

    Current music: John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band

    (Comments for April 1, 2002) (2 comments so far)


current reading:

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

The Once and Future King, T.H. White

The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester

just finished:

Richard II, Shakespeare



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