Musings @musicandmeaning.com

I'm dreaming still of who we were.
"He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood." – E. M. Forster

Archive for the 'Musings & everything else' category


Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Thanks Dad, for my first tape recorder

I just posted about the Ask MeFi thread — I actually read it a while back, but wanted to post it today, before this entry. Oddly enough, the MeFi thread got me thinking about today, and about music and audio.

Today is my father’s birthday — he would have turned 66. Aside from other cool fatherly things, such as taking the family on trips and teaching his kids how to ride a bicycle, he provided an extremely rich musical background. There was always music on in the house, or in the car. As a kid, I listened to Tchaikovsky and Chopin; Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole; Verdi and Bizet; the Platters and Marty Robbins; Neil Diamond and the Kingston Trio…and lots and lots of other folk music, children’s songs, and Disney movie music, courtesy of those orange Disney cassettes for kids, and albums by the Chipmunks and the Smurfs.

My father gave me my first tape recorder when I was in the first grade. It was a new red Panasonic model, shaped like a cube, with a telescoping antenna and a headphone jack. I could listen to AM/FM and play my cassettes, but I remember being more excited to be able to record sounds and music. Most often, I used it to dub favorite songs from the radio. (One of the first tunes I taped: "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John.)

Once, I tried to record the theme to The Smurfs by placing the recorder up to the TV speaker, and trying to shush anyone who made noise around me. I think I was disappointed by the results of the recording — since the Panasonic had an omnidirectional microphone, it picked up a lot of the ambient sounds.

Sometimes I’d record myself playing piano or singing. I remember the first time I listened to my voice on playback — speaking and singing — and being shocked by how I sounded nothing like what I’d thought (aren’t we all?). I also quickly discovered that if I set the recorder a few feet away from the piano (rather than right on top of — or too close to — the instrument), the recording sounded better.

I was terribly shy as a child, and never let anyone else listen to the tapes of me playing or singing; they were just for my ears. Once on a road trip somewhere, I started singing along to whatever was playing on the car stereo — I don’t remember what it was. Except I just sort of sang it quietly, under my breath. My aunt noticed, and she smiled and told me to sing louder. Frightened and flustered, I just clammed up. And one time at home, my dad found an unlabeled tape and played it — it was me singing along to either a Phil Collins or Genesis song. I was embarrassed beyond all doubt (embarrassed by my singing, not by the song…or maybe both ;) ). I may have grabbed the tape and run away, red-faced.

In fourth grade, my class got split into groups that had to write and produce original plays. There were two phone calls scripted in my group’s play, and I used the red Panasonic cube to record the ringing of the phone at home. I recall putting the recorder near the phone in the living room, and waiting for a call to come in. I didn’t have anyone call purposely — I just waited for someone to ring. Back then, we had rotary phones — you know, with actual dials (I know, the stone age!) — and the ringer was a real analog bell that clanged. Phones don’t sound like that anymore. Anyway, so I got home from school, and set it all up, and waited for the phone to ring…and waited…and in the evening, it finally did. I ran to the phone in the living room while saying, "Don’t answer it!" and then hit the play and record buttons (a blue arrow and a red circle) to start taping. And I let the phone ring…and ring…and ring. I finally picked up on the fourth one, I think. I waited for another call, for safety, or at least to get another take (of course, back then I just thought, "Just in case"). I ended up using those rings for the play.

Years later in high school, I was the assistant sound designer for the school production of Our Town, and did sound tech throughout high school and, even later, in college.

As a kid, I never dreamed of being a musician, or that I’d write and perform songs and put them on a CD for other people to hear. And yet, here I am, doing exactly that. It’s still hard for me to believe.

My dad bought me my first guitar when I was a junior in high school. It turned out to be his last Christmas gift to me. He never got to witness my playing ability progress, or hear any of my songs, or see me break out of my apprehensiveness about singing.

I still listen to Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole, and Marty Robbins and the Platters, and Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and Verdi and Bizet…

I still have that old Panasonic tape recorder. And it still works.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Posted at 1:33 am | Filed under Favorite posts, Musings & everything else |  

Seedlings

Last month on Ask MetaFilter, jeremias asked:

Life-altering experiences. Can you point to a single experience in your life, as a child, which you can define as having contributed to the person you are today?

The result: one of the most engaging and interesting pages I’ve read on the Web. It’s quite a long thread, so don’t expect to digest it all at once…but it’s worth the read.

I don’t normally read Ask MeFi — I usually just skim through the MetaFilter XML feed. I happened to visit MeFi’s front page a few weeks ago; it had a link to the thread above (it still does). I happened to click on it, and I’m glad I did.

Posted at 12:43 am | Filed under Musings & everything else |  

Friday, 11 February 2005

London calling

Think you know your accents? The BBC has a nifty language lab where you can listen to people’s speech and try to identify their regional accents or the language they’re speaking. (This being the Beeb, "regional" refers to the UK.)

In three attempts (ten questions each), I scored 70%, 80%, and 70%. I apparently have an ear for the Swansea accent, since I got it right both times it came up (and I’ve not been to Wales). Actually, I’d never heard a lot of accents that came up as a choice…e.g. I’d never heard a Bradford accent before (not that I know of, anyway), so I missed that one. And, like The Fat Man of Criticise.me (from whom I found out about this quiz — cheers), I apparently found it difficult to identify Turkish.

I love British accents, and always enjoy learning more of their characteristics. So it was a treat listening to the sound clips and answering the questions. It was also cool listening to people speak in Irish (Gaeilge) and Welsh. One of the choices I saw was Gaelic (which I’m guessing was Scottish Gaelic). I was curious to see how I might do if it came up as a sound clip (I’m more familiar with the Irish Gaelic)…alas, it didn’t.

On a side note, it was also interesting to listen to the content of the speeches. My favorite one was a boy discussing poetry (I won’t mention his accent, in case you take the quiz and get the same sound clip).

Posted at 1:18 am | Filed under Musings & everything else |  

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

Happy birthday, Morgan

Happy new year! And a belated birthday wish to my literary hero E. M. Forster, who was born on the 1st January 1879. I hope he won’t mind me calling him Morgan. In any case, I was looking through the stats for musicandmeaning.com (this will become evident in a forthcoming entry), and I found out that The Writer’s Almanac (public radio’s daily humanities blurb hosted by Garrison Keillor), mentioned Forster’s birthday and linked to my Forster site on its Web and e-mail editions for December 27, 2004 to January 2, 2005 (scroll down to January 1, or search in-browser for "Forster"). Very cool. In terms of the Almanac‘s blurb about Forster, I’m not sure where the quote comes from — it would have been nice to see a source. I’ll try looking it up, or maybe I could e-mail and ask the Almanac writers. I also noticed that Howards End is spelled with the dreaded apostrophe… <grin>

I haven’t heard The Writer’s Almanac on the radio in a while — I can’t remember when the last time was. I heard it regularly about ten years ago, when I was in high school. In the evenings I’d work on an article for the high school newspaper; I’d have my portable radio tuned to a public station (I’m guessing it must have been KUSC — I don’t remember KCRW or KPCC airing Writer’s Almanac on weekday evenings).


Monday, 25 October 2004

A consensual hallucination

Very cool: I just found out that the writer William Gibson linked to Only Connect (my E. M. Forster site) in his blog entry on Thursday. He talked about Forster and a way Forster has influenced his own writing. "In Forster’s sense of things," Gibson wrote, "I have always tried very hard to not be a ‘political’ novelist." Then he continued to discuss the politics of today. Thanks, Mr. Gibson, for the link.

Of all the sites I’ve ever done (not counting the sites I’ve created for work), Only Connect is by far the most visited and referenced. Prior to that it was my X-Files reviews, but never mind. (Connection alert: For non-X-Philes, Gibson co-wrote the X-Files episodes "Kill Switch" and "First Person Shooter." Hmm.)

In any case, I’m at the point where it’s no longer surprising to see traffic for Only Connect coming in via English departments’ pages, sites for book groups, blogs of people who reference the quote "Only connect" with my site, or sites of fellow Forster fans. A few years ago the site had one of its biggest surges in traffic when The Guardian published an interview with V. S. Naipaul and included a link to Only Connect. Aside from his very homophobic remarks, VSN disparaged A Passage to India and attacked the character of not only Forster but John Maynard Keynes. (I refrain from linking to the interview, but if you really want to read it, a copy is easily found via Google or the Guardian.) I wonder what readers of the article thought, after reading such harsh criticism and then clicking on the link to find my low-key, quiet site on Forster.

If the only thing I accomplish in this life is successfully encouraging people to read more Forster — and having them appreciate and be moved by his work — it’s not a bad accomplishment.


Thursday, 30 September 2004

Forster immortalized in pop culture

Well, it’s true. I’m still shocked to say the least, but within a five-day span there were two major references to E. M. Forster‘s work on prime time television — and on two shows I actually watch (and like). First, on the season premiere of Joan of Arcadia (24 Sept. 2004), there was a scene pretty much devoted to Howards End (the book) and "Only connect…" When I heard Joan identify the book and she and God kept talking about it, you could have put a mirror up to my face and it wouldn’t have fogged up. I’m still shaking my head and grinning over that one. Then later I found out that the name of the episode is none other than "Only Connect." I’m being a tad nitpicky and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it would have been so nice to have heard Forster’s name. Oh, and I almost forgot to say: God recommends Howards End! :-)

Then on the second episode of Gilmore Girls (28 Sept. 2004), the hour was almost up, when who should show up in the last scene? Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte (okay, Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith) looking out their pensione room window in A Room with a View (the film) as Rory and Lorelai watch the DVD. I was especially surprised that it was a serious moment; I would think Lorelai would make fun of a Merchant/Ivory film, but maybe not. The movie or its title or cast (or original writer or adapter) was not referenced at all. Merchant/Ivory is mentioned quite often in pop culture, so this one was not too much of a surprise, but the Joan of Arcadia bit on the actual novel of Howards End just threw me for a loop.

I need to get going, but I’ll write more about this later.

Posted at 1:11 pm | Filed under Musings & everything else |  

Friday, 6 August 2004

A new DIY CD package

Just spotted this the other day: Jewelboxing, an interesting take on the do-it-yourself CD/DVD packaging solution.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been researching all sorts of CD packaging info and DIY-CD and CD-R options for my music projects; the Jewelboxing idea looks pretty streamlined and convenient for people with decent printers. I have never been a fan of CD labels, though; I’d rather skip the adhesive labels and go for direct-CD printing if possible. Supposedly these jewel boxes are tougher than the standard nickel variety. I’d love to see a sample up close.

Maybe one day I’ll try them out if I get a chance. They certainly seem like a cool solution for those single or short-run custom CD projects.

Posted at 7:11 pm | Filed under Musings & everything else |  

Thursday, 22 January 2004

Various tidbits

Just a number of random and not-so-random thoughts.

Over the holidays, I missed a bunch of Charlie Rose shows that I wanted to watch. So far, I’ve listened to the 8 Kbps Real(bad)Audio streams of his interviews with Cate Blanchett (30 Dec. 2003) and Naomi Watts (19 Nov. 2003) in the show audio archives. If you’re a Blanchett fan, I highly recommend catching this latest interview with her. Not that I’ve seen/heard many, but it’s by far the best Cate Blanchett interview I’ve heard, including the one on Fresh Air. And of the ones I’ve witnessed, I think it’s one of the best interviews that Rose has conducted, with an actor or not. I hope it airs on television again soon. The one with Watts isn’t bad, but I don’t know if I’d listen to it again at 8 kbps… Another decent Rose interview is of Nicole Kidman on 27 Dec. 2002 (also in the audio archives), when she was doing press for The Hours. Hmm. I just noticed that I’ve mentioned only Australian actresses in this paragraph…

I can’t believe we’re already in an election year. The presidential candidates seem to be cancelling each other out. Who’s it going to be? It’s still early to tell, despite what polls say. Please, please, vote this year. If you think your vote doesn’t make a difference, let me say two words: Florida, 2000.

Music still helps keep me sane. I think taping Anne Litt‘s show is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. These days she’s pretty good about playing Alison Krauss (and she played the Sting song from Cold Mountain…and I still think that "The Scarlet Tide" is a better song), and Norah Jones‘ new song "Sunrise" as well as Clem Snide.

A few weeks ago, I watched Howards End for the first time in at least four years, and was amazed by how much it still moves me, and how beautiful and lonely and powerful it is. It must have been my ninth or tenth time watching the movie, but I still noticed new things. They really don’t make movies like it anymore, and it was made in 1991. I picked up E. M. Forster‘s novel and read bits and pieces. I have a terrible memory when it comes to books, ironically, and so even if I’ve read and studied a book intensely, a year or two later I will have forgotten much of it. So I will re-read, and I will remember some things, but I will rediscover, as "new" many more things. Howards End is an excellent book, and still my favorite. It’s interesting that something I loved as a teenager, I still love so strongly — I guess some things don’t change.


Thursday, 8 January 2004

Bonum annum ingrediaris

I resolve that this year, I will devote more time and energy into completing my music and writings, and that I will be more practical and organized and helpful to and for my family. I’m not really one to make new year’s resolutions: I try to see each day as a new opportunity to be productive and/or creative, and get things done gradually but steadily.

I do hope that, eventually, I will accomplish (or at least step closer to accomplishing) the above resolutions, and some of what I’ve already mentioned in months past — some dreams and some letters to write.

As for being more practical, I’ve finally set up a system to record Weekend Becomes Eclectic. Unfortunately, it’s still not on a timer but at least I can archive them on my own, and listen to Anne Litt‘s playlist during the week if I’ve missed a set or song here and there or can’t listen to the radio for much time during Saturdays and Sundays. Last weekend she played Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee (a version of "Why Don’t You Do Right" I hadn’t heard before), and even Tammy Wynette, amongst songs from Travis, Ryuichi Sakamoto + Morelenbaums, Ryan Adams, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Radiohead, Goldfrapp and many others.

More practical stuff: I’ve cut back on TV (it wasn’t hard, since this season has been so awful), and when I do watch, it’s usually on tape so I can fast forward through the adverts. And/or I will watch and work out at the same time. I’m trying to read more, including books I read before but have since forgotten. Same goes for music: I’ve drastically cut back on buying CDs, and if I do, I tend to buy used. I really dislike paying current new prices (typically $13-17) unless I’m buying directly from the artist. I’m listening more and more to the CDs I already have — old favorites I haven’t heard in a while, as well as discs I hardly ever listened to, for whatever reason. It’s always odd and interesting to read something and notice something new, or listen to a CD that I thought I didn’t like and end up changing my mind.


Tuesday, 2 December 2003

‘To do’ list

This sort of ties in to my Dreams/Wishes List from a few weeks ago. Here’s a list of things I’ve wanted to do for ever so long but still haven’t gotten around to yet (I’ll probably keep adding items as I think of more):

  • Write a letter to James Ivory
  • Write a letter to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  • Write a letter to Ismail Merchant (see a pattern?)
  • Write a letter to my high school freshman English teacher
  • Write a letter to Anne Litt
  • Write a letter to Gordon Korman

Yeah, yeah. They’re all about writing letters so far. I’d be sending them out too. Too bad I can’t send one to E. M. Forster.

Posted at 9:05 pm | Filed under Favorite posts, Musings & everything else |  

Thursday, 27 November 2003

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a great holiday. This has become my favorite U.S. holiday (or holiday in general, for that matter) aside from Christmas. From Thanksgiving’s proclamation in 1863 to now, I’m sure the holiday’s meaning has changed for many people — I wonder what Abraham Lincoln might have thought of his declared holiday being called "Turkey Day" — but I still believe in the importance of Thanksgiving, whether there’s turkey or not.

(And speaking of this holiday and its traditions: did I miss something, or did NPR not give Susan Stamberg a segment to present her cranberry relish recipe this year?)

Posted at 2:38 pm | Filed under Musings & everything else |