Saturday, February 07, 2004

Search request of the day

He is a great guy. You should give him lots of money and promise him your firstborn daughters immediately.

Friday, February 06, 2004


A couple of weeks ago, I was in a bus going over the Battersea bridge over the Thames. The Battersea Bridge is a series of stone arches. To the north of the Battersea Bridge is the Albert Bridge, which is a 19th century cable stayed bridge, but which has a look unlike modern cable stayed bridges due to being constructed with chains rather than cables. (I think this may make it a "chain stayed bridge". Not sure about that. However, it has a substantial structure above the deck, and it is lit up at night and is quite pretty.

To the east of the Albert Bridge is the Chelsea Bridge, which is a more classic chain suspension bridge. It is also very nice when lit up in the evening.

However, the Battersea bridge is just a series of stone arches, and there is nothing in particular to light up at night. In fact, if you attempt to photograph it at night, you see essentially nothing at all.

In any event, I was going over the Battersea Bridge on a bus. Two of the other passengers on the bus were a mother and a little girl of about six or seven. The little girl looked east at the two beautiful lit up bridges, and asked "Why do those bridges have so many lights and this one doesn't?"

The mother paused for a few seconds and then answered.

"Because this is Battersea and that is Chelsea".

Entirely untrue, but a terribly fine explanation.
Search request time

I suppose some sardonic comment about what the Germans are interested in would be called for here.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

From bad to worse

Around the middle of last year, the level of spam I received rose from bad to truly ridiculous. Like everybody else, I reached a situation where the spam messages were massively outnumbering ordinary e-mail, and I started to think (as I still do) that the usefulness of e-mail as a tool was in decline. Not only is it easy to lose useful e-mail amongst the spam, but spam filters are becoming steadily more vicious, and useful e-mail is sometimes getting deleted even before it gets to you. (I have found that I am using instant messaging rather than e-mail more and more to contact friends and family members. I do not know of this is a consequence, but it may be. Certainly I have had the option of using instant messaging for well over a decade, but until now I have generally not used it). However, as I now know things could have been worse.

For now a lot of my e-mail is both spam and virus infected. Simultaneously.
Slightly less lost in translation

In an earlier post, I expressed an opinion that it would be interesting to see the whiskey commercial filming scene of Lost in Translation with a Japanese audience, given that the scene is written in such a way that the viewer is not intended to be able to understand what is being said in Japanese, and that it is clear that the translation is, shall we say, incomplete. Here we have a translation of the Japanese. I would still be interested to see how a Japanese audience reacts to this. I suppose whether they find it funny depends on whether Coppola's screenplay has the Japanese cultural factors behind what is being said right. And that depends on who actually wrote the Japanese dialogue. Did that actor ad lib after being told the general idea? I don't know, but I will have to find out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Very quick post: I have had a hard day which has not finished yet, and I am just doing a tiny post about why using an MP3 player is similar to composing film music.

Brian Micklethwait posted on how film music is an echo of Classical music, in that "serious" music in the 20th century has shrunk to something steadily less accessible to most people being listened to by smaller and smaller groups of people. And yet, at the same time, huge numbers of people are listening to quite accessible orchestral music in the form of film soundtracks.

Alan Little follows up with the following

Here's a half-formed Big Thought: film music is a return to musical normality. Throughout most of human history in most societies (including our own), music has mainly been a mood-altering adjunct to other activities, generally religious ceremonies and/or dancing. (Religious ceremonies and dancing having also been much the same thing throughout most of human history). What western classical music has tried to do in the last two hundred years is take music out of the temple, off of the dancefloor and make listening an end in itself, a quasi-religious act in its own right. An interesting experiment that, in the long run, didn't work.

Alan also goes on to say that most of his favourite film music is actually derived from American folk music rather than from classical music.

And these reasons are, I think, why I am so interested in film music when I am rather less interested in music on its own. There is a great art to getting the music of a film right in order ti emphasize the acting, the mood, and every other aspect of the film. The music is almost as important as the acting and the visuals. Get it wrong, and you get the whole film wrong.

The other thing that is interesting is just so completely how film music lacks what may be described as genre snobbery. It is possible to construct a film soundtrack entirely out of classical music. It is also possible to construct a film soundtrack entirely out of rap songs. It is also possible to construct a film soundtrack out of all sorts of intriguing combinations of different genres. None of these ways is considered artistically superior to the others. It's all about getting the movie right.

And, oddly, I have discovered another newer way in which the point of music is to be a background to other activities. I have ripped my entire CD collection onto my hard disc. I also have an MP3 player. Before I go out in the morning, I have to decide what music I am going to listen to that day. Therefore I have to come up with a paylist that fits my basic mood, the places I am going to, the weather and various other factors. There is an art to this. I suspect it is almost like putting a film soundtrack together. Of course, I don't know how my day is going to turn out, but in many cases I suspect a film composer doesn't know how the film is going to turn out when he is writing the music for a film.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The trends that shape our lives

Germans are drinking less beer. I have no problem with that. On the other hand, if the Germans were making less beer, then I might. Certainly Britain is importing more German (and Belgian, and Czech) beer. I think this may be a consequence of discount airlines, at least partly. British people are travelling more to the rest of Europe, thinking "Mmmm. This is good. Why can't I have this at home instead of Carling?" and are then actually seeking it out. The glories of capitalism are then providing it).

(Link via Instapundit).
Annoying things

I have run out of lengthy almost written posts that I have in reserve and can finish and publish in a short time. Anything more will have to actually be written now. (I also think I have just about got all the blogging I am going to get out of the trip to Barcelona). I'm busy right now, so things may be brief. (Or they may not, admittedly).
Movies on TV

I caught the end of Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day on television last night, and I was struck once again by how good it is and also just how good Bill Murray is in the lead role. The fact is that Bill Murray has a large body of work which has never before been appreciated come awards time, and the best way for him to campaign for him to win the Best Actor oscar for Lost in Translation would be for as many voters as possible to watch a few of his old films in the next couple of weeks, because it is a really good body of work. There are at least a couple of performances that should have been nominated for awards but weren't in there.

Another slightly odd thing about Murray's awards chances is that I read a comment in one of the film industry trade papers suggesting that Murray's acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards might affect his oscar chances, and which implied that it was a graceless speech. However, when I look for other reports, I find that it is just about everywhere described as the best speech all night, due to being quite funny. I guess it depends on whether oscar voters have senses of humour. I can't say I'm too confident in that case.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Cyberpunk sightseeing in Barcelona

In Count Zero, the first sequel to William Gibson's iconic cyberpunk science fiction novel Neuromancer, set at some indeterminate time a few decades in the future, a young Parisian art dealer named Marly Krushkova, who has recently become disgraced due to vouching for some artwork that she thought was a "box" created by Joseph Cornell but wasn't, is called in for a job interview for some unexplained reason by a man named Joseph Virek, who is one of the richest men in the world and who is a sort of media/industrial mogul figure. She goes to Brussels for the interview, and discovers that Mr Virek is not actually there but is going to meet her in a virtual reality simulation instead. She then finds herself in a simulated version of Parc Guell in Barcelona, where she is told that Virek is in fact very sick, that his body is in a sort of suspension in a vat of yeast that is keeping him alive in an industrial suburb of Stockholm and he communicates with the world via system of virtual reality. The fake Cornell boxes somehow appear to have come from the same source as other technological developments that might provide a cure for his illness, and that he therefore wants Marly to search for the source of them.

This sounds completely ludicrous, but it works in the context of Gibson's style. And, I think that in a way it did capture the essential weirdness of the future that was coming, the merging between technology and art and design, the way in which what is made and designed and grown are merging together, and I suppose the medical developments that are taking us towards something - I know know what. Immortality? Post-Humanity? Singularity?

This meeting occurs in a virtual Parc Guell, the original of which is in Barcelona. I am not sure when I first read the book - it was published in 1986 - but it was early 1990s somehow. In particular I am not sure whether I first read it before or after I visited Barcelona for the first time in 1993. Probably before, but I couldn't say for sure. If I read it before, I wasn't at the time familiar with the qualities of Gaudi's architecture. Gaudi's park is an extraordinary mix of turrets and viaducts and marble and ceramic mother of pearl, and strange angles and all kinds of things.

But within this it is a scruffy environment on the top of a rather rugged hill. The feeling that it is something both grown and manufactured and designed as a work of art all at the same time is apparent there, too. So it is in keeping with the Cornell Boxes, and with the strange artwork in the middle of a technological future in the book. The park was created as a playground for the rich, but ultimately the money ran out and it became ultimately a public park, and ultimately it came to be considered one of the glories of Barcelona (and it is listed as a world heritage site).

But in the Gibson book, the scene set there evolves.

She knew this place She was in the Guell Park, Antonio Gaudi's tatty fairyland, on its barren rise behind the center of the city. To her left, a giant lizard of crazy-quilt ceramic was frozen in midslide down a ramp of rough stone. Its fountain-grin watered a bed of tired flowers.

And so it goes on, and Virek makes his strange request in this strange environment. Eventually, Marly has a Hemingway moment.

And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.

And there we are. The whole scene needs to be read in one go to really get Gibson's rendering of the place right. That is what I like about Gibson's writing in general: the sense of place. You can feel the location where something is set all around youand it sort of seeps through. In Europe over the last couple of years I have been to a lot of places where his books are set and felt it. But the Parc Guell sequence in Count Zero I missed the first time. I read the book and found it an effective sequence without knowing the place, and I sort of got the hang of Gaudi without going to Parc Guell on the first trip to Barcelona, but I never put the two together, until now.

And part of the reason I went to Barcelona recently was to put them together, which I have now done. And although the scene was effective already, it is more effective with a knowledge of the place.

However, I was struck by one further thought, which is that when Kerry Packer is running Channel 9 in Australia from a vat of yeast in a ghastly industrial suburb of Stockholm, his virtual reality simulation is going to be much less classy and rather lower brow than this.
Michael Jennings quote of the day.

Life is unfair. Kill yourself or get over it.

-- Black Box Recorder, from the song Child Psychology on the album England Made Me.
Heavily armed globalist illuminati such as myself are powerful people

Actually, not really. (Except for Glenn). I think the moral of this story may be that there are a great many people in the blogosphere whose lives really sucked when they were fourteen and at high school. None the less, I am getting the impression that Cecile is looking at the front page of her blog, seeing "Comments (148)" and is shaking her head in amazement. (Actually, I know Cecile personally and we have been exchanging e-mail about it, so yes, I know she is amazed. Not so sure about the shaking of the head).

Sunday, February 01, 2004

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