Sunday, December 18, 2011

Story Time

Dear Readers,

It has been too long since I have posted an original story on any of my blogs.
This story will be about film music. It will be entitled “The First Listen”. It is, like most of the other stories I put on blogs, a stream of consciousness, first draft. Enjoy...
The windowless media room was darkened in silent anticipation for the ceremony of the first listen. Every time Paul purchased a CD, he would retreat to his man-cave, a specially designed audio chamber which cost the equivalent of a small mansion in France. He would carefully release the disc from its shrink wrap, scalpel away the security label (if present) and with gloved hands remove the CD from the jewel case. The next part of the ritual is most critical, when the disc is at its most vulnerable. Any slight jostling could end up marring the disc and terminating the whole ceremony in an agonizing instant.
He removed the Logitech universal remote control from its place of honor and switched on the audio mecca. “One remote to rule them all”, as Paul was fond of saying. He had thrown out all the remotes for his many devices, for he hated clutter as much as he hated scratching his discs.
Portly Paul gingerly placed the disc into the high end stereo system. He removed the gloves and placed them back into their dust-free, anti-static container. His throne awaited. It was custom made for a neutral acoustic qualities. Food and drink were strictly prohibited from the score cave, with the notable exception of Paul's favorite snack food, Milk Duds.
With the Duds and universal remote control in hand, Paul eased into his leathery throne. The ceremonial first listen was mere seconds away.
Paul collected film scores for nearly the entirety of his four decades on earth. The collection contained mostly compact discs, but also had room for records, cassette tapes, eight tracks, reel-to-reels and even some optical prints. The current purchase and focus of the ceremonial first listen could find a place among the greatest film scores ever written, or end up in “the pile”, a purgatory of a plastic bin for film music not worthy of the shelves. Thus far, only three scores had ever ended up in the black bin, along with the extra remote controls.
Paul cracked open the Milk Duds and sampled some before pressing the play button on the remote control. Nothing happened. He set the snack aside and trudged on over to the receiver. He turned up the volume and heard nothing from the large speakers or the woofers. Paul checked the speaker selection switch. He realized he had accidentally switched the “A” set of speakers to off; a simple fix and short delay to the ceremony.
He pressed the button to turn on the set of “A” speakers. The speakers' diaphragms convulsed at the bursts of hideous sound. The surrounds shredded away from the frames. The voice coils exploded, shooting shrapnel throughout the room. Poor Paul had forgotten to turn the volume down on his receiver before pressing the “A” button.
Paul stopped the disc, took it out of his ruined player, and tossed the score into the dreaded black bin.
Paul cursed under his breath, “Yet another damned Remote Control.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Writers, Composers, Artists: How to Write, Read and Listen

One piece of advice which seems to be offered many times to many an aspiring author is this: read a lot. This is a good piece of advice, but it can be expanded to this: read, write and listen.

Some of the best writers who ever lived read the works of other writers. The library, whether at home or in a public setting, offer the modern writer a vast array of ideas. To study great works is to understand them better. This type of study can fortify the aspiring wordsmith's own creations, by the examples set by others in the field.

Authors, artists and musicians used to learn how to draw, paint or write stories or music through the study and copying of the works of the great masters. J.S. Bach learned many a musical theory by copying manuscripts by hand. Many of his personal copies of manuscripts survive today, and have been used by students throughout the centuries for study.

If using the hand was good enough for Bach, then it should be acceptable for the current student to do the same. Sadly, it seems that the concept of copying by hand has gone out of favor. Thinks are often done solely on the computer. There is no interaction of hand and paper with a keyboard and mouse.

Writing and reading are two clear ways to strengthen the creative output. Listening is the third in this little trinity of good art. The concert hall is still the ideal method of enjoying music. There are some things that a disc or audio file can never recreate; the live, human element. To see people come together and make music as a unified group is an amazing thing to see and hear. This applies to all groups, small or large, or even soloists.

Bernard Herrmann listened to the works of Charles Ives in concert, and was inspired by Ives use of modern musical techniques; polytonality, microtones, tone clusters and more. (Chaerles Ives is a very interesting fellow. He made money at composing and at the insurance industry. Ives would be an interesting topic for later posts.)

In order to write a good story, compose a great piece or paint a masterpiece, by all means read, write and listen. Don't forget to enjoy it all along the way.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Listening to the Doctor

I saw the doctor the other day, and was rather pleased with what I found.

I decided to see the doctor again. And again.

Who is this Doctor of which I write?

Who indeed.

The British science fiction show Doctor Who has always been somewhat of a mystery. It was never embraced in the house of my youth. It was written off as some bizarre concoction of those crazy limeys across the pond.

What captured a spark of interest in the program recently can be attributed somewhat to Murray Gold's work on the new series. His episodic music seemed to capture every right nuance of the show's smart and quirky dialogue. Gold's arrangement of the Doctor Who Theme, written by Ron Grainer, was well worth purchasing the compilation disc released by Silva.

There is an ample amount of music on the album. The disc covers portions of season one and two of the reformed show. Also included are two source songs sung by Divine Comedy front man Neil Hannon. The music itself is a mixture of styles, performed by a combination of acoustic and synthetic instruments.

The listening experience is varied, since this is a compilation album. There are some genuinely interesting tracks scattered throughout. "Cassandra's Waltz" is an off-kilter number for piano and synthesizers. "Madame de Pompadour" evokes a more somber atmosphere, with its simple, music box like melody over strings.

A solo, wordless voice (Melanie Pappenheim) sings over electronic bass accompaniment and strings in "Doomsday", the longest track of the album. This opening section leads into a restatement of the theme with greater accompaniment; drum kit and guitar kick up the piece rhythmically speaking. The whole piece is dominated by the harmony for the theme, such as when the cello (electrically modified?) takes over briefly as the soloist.

Like the show, the album is worth looking into. Murray Gold's soundscape for the show has enhanced the entertainment value of the Doctor's exploits for the entirety of the relaunch, and this disc exemplifies well why and how.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Score One for Randomness

It is sometimes difficult to pick a score or two to take for the road. I still use CDs as MP3 players lack a certain personal aesthetic value.

I gaze at my meager collection of 500 and wonder "what shall I listen to today?"

Things were much simpler back in the early days of my hobby. I can recall owning only a handful of scores, playing them over and over. Those were the days when the public library had more film music in their catalogs than I owned. I would occasionally borrow a disc or two, though their copies were soiled and scratched beyond belief.

Today, I look at composers first, then type of film score. There are times I end up not choosing anything. This seems to be the case more and more. Paralysis by analysis as they say...

So I decided a score at random the other day. I ended up with Shirley Walker's "Memoirs of and Invisible Man".

I had not listened to "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" for years; I could not even remember it's sound. Regardless, I hoped it would be a suitable distraction from the daily commute.

As I listened to this score in the car, I began to wonder about the composer, her life and works. The score, in part, recalled Walker's work with "Batman", which I chose for the next day's ride. These two scores have sparked a certain level of interest in Shirley Walker, to uncover some more of her works.

Sometimes, I pick a good listening experience with careful consideration. This random selection, though, afforded me a good, reflective listening experience.