Tuesday, March 31, 2009

3/31/09

Most important thing to post today is birthday greetings to Rob, one of my oldest friends. I think I started playing games with him back in the mid 1980's. People loved his Warp Hill game which managed to combine several genres together successfully. Lots of people tried to pull that off-- doing mish-mash campaigns-- but few did it well. Rob's played in many, many of my games-- but since he's been playing with me so long, he's played in a lot of the earlier really bad ones. I think I've gotten better, but I flinch when I think about the old AD&D and Gurps games I ran. Rob's also run some of the best superhero campaigns for the group and his unfinished HCI campaign had enormous vision and a depth I can only hope to replicate. I borrowed liberally from him in running my Frontline supers campaign and my take on HCI. Thankfully he generously gave me his blessing on both those projects.

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Lil Devilbird took me to see the Kronos Quartet on Friday. They're a linchpin for modern chamber music. Combining an avant garde approach to music with striking popularity they helped cement Nonesuch records as the go to label for interesting modern compositions. I have a number of their disks, and of course they play on my all-time favorite recording, Philip Glass' soundtrack to the film Mishima. Black Angels (in parts), their recording of the Glass String Quartets, the Lutoslawski String Quartet and Pieces of Africa rank among my favorites.

I liked Chamber Music generally-- and my preference of 20th Century Compositions extends there. But I do have to be more in the mood to listen to these works on their own. The Shostakovich, Hindemith, Nyman and Bartok Quartets stand out for me. I like what the Balanascu Quartet, Manhattan String Quartet and Piano Circus have done in the way of interesting chamber pieces. Actually, the Balanascu Quartet did an arrangement of various Kraftwerk songs-- which sounds better than you'd imagine.

That having been said I had a mixed reaction to the thing. Their performance was incredible from a technical standpoint-- amazing varied lighting, brilliant use of tape loops and pieces for some of the works, dynamite timing, and just an unbelievable level of skill. As for the pieces themselves, some I liked-- and I hadn't heard any of them before. (I sound note that when I used to review classical music I actually took notes, but I didn't for this so my report will be sketchy). They opened with "Nomatophobis" by J.G. Thirwell which had all kinds of interesting sounds and dynamics to it. Thirwell actually does musical scoring for the Venture Brothers. The second composition came from John Zorn and was a...very 20th Century f*ck around with the audience piece. Funny, but not really anything great. I enjoyed the next two pieces of the first half-- one for its use of Indian instruments and the raga form and the other for the use of combined tape and playing. Though that last piece did wear out its welcome a little bit-- where my sense was that it took too long to get to its point. Plus it had a brilliant opening that the second half didn't match up to.

After intermission they have the world premiere of a new piece by Terry Riley called "Transylvanian Horn Courtship". Riley's kind of legendary in avant garde music circles, for "In C" among other things (I think Steve Reich's his closest parallel composer and one who they played the following evening). Anyway, the piece is based around what are called Stroh instruments-- strong instruments pared down with an attached metal horn for sound amplification. The effect is to create a dimming of the sound-- a kind of distance. At the loudest parts you get a kind of crackle and it vaguely resembles the sound from an old Edison phonograph.

For most of the performance the players play either all standard or all Stroh instruments. However, the sections don't really echo against one another-- at least to my untrained ear, so there's a break there where it feels like we're hearing to different pieces interspersed with one another. In one section, the second violin does keep the standard instrument (for a time) against the Stroh. I found that the most compelling part and I kept wanting to hear the others switch in and out so I could hear a live comparison and appreciate the interaction of the sound qualities. But that didn't happen. So they piece as a whole felt more like an affectation for new instruments rather than a real look at the dynamics. To a certain degree music should be absolute, but I certainly lost the thread of what this piece was supposed to accomplish.

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Getting close to 100 posts in a row-- minus a few short filler responses. When I hit that number I'm probably going to drop one of the days of posting and go down to six days a week. I have a number of things I'm trying to work on some of which I can't recycle to the blog. I'm also still job hunting which is delightful in this economy. On the table right now, I've got the ongoing campaigns, I'm getting ready for the next Sunday campaign, I'm trying to put together some game rules and setting material as a proposal for someone, I have to do some more script pages, I'm trying to figure out about scheduling for a Saturday campaign-- with the intent of being able to get Dusty down here for some more games, I have to do my taxes which will be a delightful governmental nutshot, I'm trying to put together a set of non-fic pieces, and I started watching that effing anime Bleach on Hulu. I have no self control-- and it has some interesting structural elements I might come back to tomorrow. And I haven't made any real progress on my stack of unread books.