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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

December 26th, 2012 The Les Mis Movie

Saw the Les Mis movie last night – Anne Hathaway is devastating in this. Her performance alone is worth the ticket price. Most of the cast is good, but Russell Crowe’s performance was incredibly disappointing. The first 30 minutes was borderline unwatchable (bad) – but Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dreamed” set the mood and the movie was enjoyable from there.

In general, I liked how they took liberties to insert moments that cannot be conveyed on stage – meaningful glances between Valjean and Javert, etc. The overall effect is that the story line and character development came into sharper focus than on stage , but at the expense of a theatrical urgency that pervades the stage version.

Musically, I would say that this was a contemporary take on a 25 year old score. The orchestration was tweaked to evoke a typical 21st-century film score: I could hear war drums, fast and percussive arpeggiations on the string, and a generally warm sound. (Compare that to the bright and grandiose orchestral sound on the 25th anniversary concert, for example). The recitatives were performed in a slow and pensive manner, which on-stage may have come off as unexciting, but works to give it a more “filmic” character on screen. However, having heard Les Mis performed so many times for the stage, I did miss the bombastic excitement and drama in the music. The film version does bring out more subtlety.

I think the film was successful in this sense: I found myself relating to the story and characters much more than the stage version (maybe I was too busy enjoying the music in the stage version?). When Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream”, I heard and felt that moment in the story much more deeply than I had ever before. Her singing and acting in this number is truly one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. Aaron Tveit’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is also stunning (although to a lesser extent than Anne Hathaway’s performance).

Also, one more thing. I was incredibly disappointed that my favorite line in the whole musical was sung an octave-lower. I can’t believe they did that! Listen to the way it’s supposed to be sung at 1 minute and 37 seconds:

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October 3rd, 2009 Dream Theater's "Black Clouds and Silver Linings"

So I’ve been listening to Dream Theater’s latest album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” for about a month now. I fully expected to hate it, especially after the debacle that was their previous album, “Systematic Chaos”, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Usually with Dream Theater albums, I go through the following stages: 1. I am absolutely in love with the album at first. 2. The songs on the album start sounding less and less good over time. 3. I have spurts of renewed interest in an album, where for a short period of time, the songs will sound amazing again. (Depending on how good the album is, these spurts occur more or less frequently).

With Black Clouds and Silver Linings, I can say that, so far after a month, I have not entered stage 2 yet. And I am pretty sure that, even after I start disliking the songs, the “spurts” will occur more frequently.

It seems that, by switching to the new label (from Elektra to RoadRunner Records), they have performed a reboot on their musical style. This newest album is very similar to DT’s second album, “Images and Words”. One word sums up both of these albums: atmospheric. Of course, John Petrucci’s big work in this album “Count of Tuscany” is incredibly atmospheric and also cathartic (as was expected). But Mike Portnoy’s songs are on the atmospheric side as well. His song “The Best of Times” is a tribute to his father, who passed away from cancer during the recording of this album. The song resorts to some cheesy string effects, and while it sounds amazing on first listen, it falls flat pretty quickly on repeated listenings.

But, the rest of this album is a gem. My favorite work on this album is the aforementioned “The Count of Tuscany”. It is an orgasmic mix of the older atmospheric style of Dream Theater with the newer, more aggressive sound DT has espoused since Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I can tell that John Petrucci tried to consciously move away from the old DT-foruma: come up with a few great motives and develop these ideas multiple times through the piece. Instead, “The Count of Tuscany” introduces tantalizing new themes that never come back later in the song. This teasing aspect to the song makes it fresh and new for Dream Theater.

“Wither” is a surprisingly catchy and fun ballad tune, and it excellent to rock out to. “The Shattered Fortress”, while a somewhat disappointing end to Mike Portnoy’s 5-part suite, is an excellent heavy song to head-bang to by itself. “A Rite of Passage” is perhaps the weakest song on the whole album, but surprisingly it sounds much better without the vocals! (The instrumental versions of the songs were released on their special edition).

I would like to offer a conspiracy theory (of sorts): DT’s final album with Elektra, “Octavarium” ended with the words “We move in circles”. The album art had Newton’s Balls and Mobius strips. I think DT is deliberately starting a new cycle with their albums from the new label. Their first album with the new label, “Systematic Chaos”, had some similarities to DT’s first ever album , “When Dream and Day Unite.” And now this second album with RoadRunner Records has many similarities to “Images and Words”. Furthermore, both album titles have the word “AND” in it. (“Images and Words” and “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”). “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” is at once invokes an Image, yet are a set of Words that are uttered often. One exciting prospect is that “Images and Words” contained “Metropolis, Pt.1″, which was later expounded upon in their concept album “Metropolis, Pt. 2″. There are many tantalizing possibilities for writing out a concept album based on one of the songs on “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”. If this theory is correct, then their next album will be somewhat heavier and less melodic, much like “Awake” was.

September 8th, 2007 rest in peace

Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

I am sad to see Pavarotti go. Perhaps this performance of Una Furtiva Lagrima will help all of us remember his incredible voice:

April 17th, 2007 funky baroque music

I am playing the harpsichord in a baroque trio this semester, and we are currently working on a cello sonata by Bononcini. Of course, this is the first time that I have even heard of this composer. But I am growing to love the music more and more. Some parts are very Vivaldi-like, riffing repeated sixteenth note arpeggios. I love these parts because I can really rock-and-roll on the harpsichord. But other parts are just really funky in a way that only Baroque music can get away with! Of course, this is why I love barouqe music in the first place: the music sometimes tends to do really unexpected and even modern-sounding things.

But there is one measure in the opening Adagio movement that is perhaps the funkiest I’ve heard. The cello line does an unexpected turn into a chord that no body expects to be there. The overall effect is very emotional and jazzy. Maybe this is why Bononcini never got famous in his day, but it is totally awesome by today’s aesthetic tastes! In some sense, the piece is very progressive rock. At the end of the piece, the cello and the harpsichord cadences together, than the cello does two bars of solo arpeggios. It sounded so out of place that the cello player thought she was a measure behind the first time we played through it!

Playing this piece got me thinking about our conceptions of period music in general. Both in repertoire and studying music history, we tend to focus on the famous composers. And that surely has an effect on our perception of a period or a genre. The most obvious effect is that we tend to think all of classical music is expertly-crafted and masterful. But without the filter of history, there must have been more crappy music than good music, just like today. And the crappy composers probably wrote music that sound wildly different from what we consider to be “normal” classical music from a certain period. More uncommon is like with Bononcini, where the style of a relativiely unknown composer may sound totally awesome by today’s standards. I just wonder how much good music we are all missing out on?

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April 15th, 2007 rhapsody of fire

Rhapsody of Fire is one of my favorite Power/Progressive/Symphonic Metal bands. Their epic sound is unmatched by any other band. One might say their style is corny and cliched taken to the nth degree. But it’s all done sort-of tongue-in-cheek. You only have to watch this one video to appreciate the awesomeness of this band:

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April 14th, 2007 pitch recognition

I found this wonderful flash applet that tests your pitch perception abilities:

http://tonometric.com/adaptivepitch/

The test will gradually increase the difficulty depending on how well you are doing. It gets really tricky towards the end. I took the test twice, and both times it told me I could recognize as low as 1.8 Hz difference for pitches around 500 Hz. Since 30 Hz is a semitone at this range, this means I should be able to tune instruments with no problem. Of course, instruments have harmonics and timbre that make it harder or easier, depending on the situation.

I was learning how to tune a harpsichord from my teacher last week, I found it to be considerably difficult at the higher registers. One technique I was taught was to listen for the beats and make them go away. But at higher pitches, it was difficult to tell between beats or just harmonics. On the other hand, I found it to be incredibly satisfying when I turn the hammer just the right amount and the sound just “clicks in”. I think tuning is really hard to do well. I know many musicians say they can tune, but I’ve found most of them to be highly subjective in the matter. They will say something is in tune when it is not, and will insist that it is not in tune when in fact, its pretty close. Plus, the strings you tune later on tend to be less accurate due to fatigue. While tuning is an important skill for a musician, and many can do it ok, actually being very systematic and scientific about tuning is a very difficult thing to do.

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April 12th, 2007 maxxworld commences

Hi everyone. I guess I’m in the blogosphere now. I read somewhere that over a million blogs are created everyday. So I guess this is one of them. I hope to share my thoughts and frustrations on this blog in the future.

So I will begin by introducing myself. I am currently a sophomore at Swarthmore College. I recently declared a major in Mathematical Physics. In addition, I am planning on a music minor. My interests in math include Foundations, Axiomatic Set Theory, Point-Set Topology, and Geometry (Differential). My interests in physics include General Relativity, Newtonian Mechanics, Maxwell’s Eqations, and philosophy. In terms of music, my favorite genres are the Baroque and Progressive Metal.

I recently discovered a great artist, called Neal Morse. He is a prog-rock composer, and his concept album “?” (yes, its called question mark) is one of the greatest albums I have heard in a long time. It’s not prog-rock per se, but it uses alot of mannerisms of that genre without the heavy guitar riffs. I have been listening to it constantly. It’s quite catchy, but it a good way. Now it is a Chrisitian album, which turned me off from it a little bit. Some parts do get preachy. But then I remind myself that most of Bach’s wonderful choral music are also religious in theme!