Sunday, 6 September, 2009

I recently came across a famous violin concerto of Beethoven while browsing idly, titled - The Kreutzer sonata. I hadnt heard this one before and so, did what every self-respecting net user does. Ask Google.

This led me to a youtube video. Was reading an ebook while waiting for it to buffer.

After a wait for 15 minutes, the chordal opening of the piece fill the silence, as if shaking me awake from a lull i would rather not submit myself to. The sweet notes of the violin then give way to the piano, and then the harmony begins, with the violin leading the way, the chords of the piano following suit. I relax as the introduction pans out, building up slowly, in pace and vigour.

The wikipedia article quotes a nice anecdote about this piece. Initially, Beethoven had written this piece at the behest of the English violinist - George Bridgetower. The 2 played this at a premier together, and Beethoven was so taken by Bridgetower's playing that he ran from the piano, while the concerto was in progress, to hug him in elation. He dedicated the piece to Bridgewater, after the recital. Howere, there was an unfortunate turn of events, as Bridgetower, under the influence of alcohol passed some disparaging remarks about a women whom Beethoven held in high regard. And as goes the pop culture saying ( aka. Vivek's dialog as he lies abandoned at the foot of a lorry, with Madhavan rushing off to court reema sen), dear old Ludwig von blew his top and withdrew the dedication. Instead, he dedicated the piece to Rudolphe Kreutzer, a violin virtuoso. Ironically, Kreutzer never performed this. On receipt of the manuscript, he declared it unplayable. However, to save face, Beethoven let the dedication stay in place, and to this day, we know Violin Sonata no. 9 as the Kreutzer sonata.

While I type this,the A major opening is slowly turning into a darker minor, with the piano leading the way at a teasing pace. What follows is a fiery A-minor duet, with notes rendered in staccato bursts. The pace eases out and there is a sharp contrast in the tone of the piece, as we progress to an F - minor melody section.

My favorite part, however, is the piano tarantella section, which crashes in on the calmness of the previous section, getting the listner to sit up and watch, reminiscent of the old tom and jerry cartoons. After flitting back and forth between major and minor, the piece moves into it's finale, ending with a rush of notes streaming from the violin, and chords rendered violently on the piano.

This is a wonderful video, with Nathan Milstein on the Violin and Georges Pludermacher on the piano. An extremely well rendered version of what is considered by many to be one of the toughest violin pieces to play.

If you havent listened to this piece yet, I recommend that you do, even though you have no taste in classical music. It will be truly worth your while.

Monday, 17 August, 2009

Swine flu over the cuckoo's nest:

No I didnt think of the title. Credit to my good friend Rohit.

Porky Pig, spelling the world's doom

I just got back from a trip to bangalore. Apart from the usual sights and sounds of the city, if you know what I mean, there was a very striking feature all around me. At first, I thought that it had something to do with my blocked nose, as I was deemed incapable of sensation through my olfactory sensors. But then, it was obvious that there was something more repulsive than the usual stench of the railway tracks.

It was kind of amusing, for a while, to watch people using all forms of flimsy clothing, to cover their faces, and hurry along carrying their luggage in one hand, whilst the other was employed in adjusting the material that was covering their face. Then realisation dawned. It was the swine flu scare that was driving people to such extremes! I couldnt help laughing.

Kerchiefs, duppatas, pallu of sarees, hand towels and surgical masks seemed to be the weapons of choice, as humans attempted to defy the H1N1 virus, which was creating bigger waves than Rakhi Sawant ki swayamwar ( and that, in itself, is saying something! ) . I guess they had forgotten that itsy-bitsy piece of information which they learnt in 6th grade biology, which said “Viruses are the smallest known biological beings ( I am taking care to not declare them to be Living beings, so that I wont be crucified by my core-biology friends) , measuring only a few milli microns” . For those of you not familiar with the metric system, that means viruses are smaller than the smallest thing you can imagine, way way smaller.

Well, that was the part where they lost me. I mean, you can actually see the holes in your handkerchief when you hold it up against the light. That's gonna keep a virus out? Lol. Or does it give the wearer a false sense of security? It would be appropriate, at this point, to explore the actual effectiveness of a mask. The N95, is said to be the standard mask which doctors recommend, for people displaying symptoms of swine flu. Dig? The mask is actually supposed to be worn by folks who are entertaining the virus in their biological system. Those masks come equipped with filters to prevent the infection from spreading. And these flimsy pieces of clothing, and surgical masks, wont even keep the wearer's bad breath off! I fail to see the logic behind such efforts. But hey, am not complaining. I had a lot of fun while waiting at the railway station.

And umm, though the H1N1 virus sounds very threatening and all, the chances of mortality by a road accident, is far far far far greater than the probability of you being the next casuality of swine flu! Hell, there's a greater chance of being struck by lightning than getting swine flu! But then, you know that if you stay on the footpath, the chance of you being run over by a 'National permit lorry' is very low, but the swine flu seems to be all pervading, and has indeed taken the world by storm ( forgive the inappropriate usage of the expression. But couldn't resist) . You actually don't have to do anything to get it. Maybe it's the fear of the unknown that drives people to take precautions against the invisible enemy. And this is where terrorism scores. You never know where they are going to strike, until it actually happens.

The landmark quiz (held on independence day) turned out to be a huge canvas, where the creativity of the quizzers there, manifested itself in the form of superb puns and jibes at prospective pandemic. I would like to close this post, with the best of the lot ( contributed by Mathew, which ended up being our team name as well )

Overheard at the American Embassy : We don't sell H1N1 Visas here!!

Saturday, 4 July, 2009

Music Videos - The Temple of the King

Disclaimer : This post is exclusively about pop music, music videos, and the sultan of the dance floor. and it stops there. this post does not talk about the personal issues in the lives of the artist in question.

Ah the music video. What would MTV be without it! Rewind to the early 80s, when the world of music was facing a transition from more rock oriented acts to popular music. The fact that many of the classic rock acts of the 60s 70s and 80s only live on in the minds of rock buffs of today, should be attributed to the media shifting attention to the world of pop, hip hop and all the sissy acts around us presently. But there was a time, when music videos paved the way for really talented artists to showcase their stuff in a way that was never possible for many of their predecessors. Leading the music video revolution, was MTV.

As if by a twist of fate, the launch and establishment of MTV as a mainstream music channel, also happened to coincide with the rise of one of the greatest ever entertainers of all time (THE greatest, in my book), Michael Joseph Jackson. This young African American, was making waves with his extremely refreshing style of music and his groovy moves. And so it came to pass, by the end of the year 1982, the world of music was about to witness an act that would not be eclipsed for more than 25 years since it's debut (27 years and still going strong) . 109 million albums world wide , selling a millioin copies a week while at it's peak, a record breaking 8 grammys, with seven of the ten songs in the album making it to the topp 10, Thriller took music to levels never dreamed of , before.

The picture says it all

But it doesnt stop there. Jackson was no mere musician. He was a true entertainer at heart. What others saw as a mere tool to market their music, Jackson envisioned a whole new art form. The music video was to Michael Jackson, a huge white canvas, where he let loose his arsenal of amazing moves to come to the fore. MTV, which was previously not that open to black american artists, had no choice but to cash in on Jackson's genius, as Thriller took the world by storm. To this day, "Beat it" remains my favorite music video. The verses venomously pouted out, the gang war, the choreographed dance sequences (which is now common place in almost every music video), and the insane guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen! What more can one ask for!

While thriller was shattering world records in every which way imaginable, Jackson was busy working on his next project - Bad. This album, on it's release, debuted at number 1 !!! Number 1 on the day of release. I mean, man, there are people who call the Backstreet Boys and Justin Timberlake - the princes of pop!! I am already ruing the fact that I mention such names in this article! 5 songs from Bad in the Billboard top 10. The music videos of the singles making waves everywhere! The world of popular music now, officially had a King.

With Bad, MJ had produced a musically better album than his previous ones. While the title track was a smash hit, the shuffling "The Way you make me feel" , the rock track - Dirty Diana with a guitar solo by Steve Stevens, Speed Demon, Liberian girl , featuring a host of celebrities and my favorite, from this album - Smooth Criminal, were also fantastic numbers, with almost everyone of them making the BillBoard top ten, their home for many a week. The anti - gravitiy lean in Smooth Criminal , is almost a legendary move today! Bad brought to the fore, Jackson's song writing abilities, his diverse musical tastes, and it unleashed a whole new world of dance moves. Following this, Dangerous, History and Invincible were also extremely good albums, but never measured up to the success of their predecessors. Those albums did yield such wonderful tracks like Black or white, Stranger in Moscow, They don't care about us, Scream, You Rock My World and Earth Song among many others.

Another thing which stand out, in Jackson's videos , is that there is usually a theme, such as racial themes (black or white) gang violence (Beat It, Bad) and you will almost get the feeling of watching a mini movie, something artists of today can learn, as more and more videos look exactly like any other music video. To the new world of pop music, Michael Jackson was a true messiah, as he took the industry, and the music, to dizzying heights, which he himself was not able to reach in the later parts of his career. And it is truly a great loss that the world has lost such an amazing talent. Pop will never see the likes of another Michael Jackson again!!

And to quote B.B.King, the Thrill, is gone.

RIP Michael, forever, The King of Pop!!

Thursday, 23 April, 2009

Brave new world!

I had a tough time getting Mario to lend me this book. But after reading it, I am feeling that it was worth all the effort. Oh there I go rambling again not giving a moment's consideration to give the readers an insight into what I am talking about. For those of you in the dark, A Brave New World is a novel written by Aldous Huxley and is considered one of Science Fiction's masterpieces, and justifiably so. While the concept of a dystopian future is a bit cliched now, this was a ground breaking work during the early 20th century (pub. 1932). While earlier works like Men like Gods visualized a utopian future, Huxley chose to parody that idea, by creating a new world where men are 'reared' and life is an ever turning wheel, uniform and synchronised. Everyone has a pre-determined fate. They live it out and die, to be replaced by more drones.

The year is AF 632 (that s not a typo. It is AF). Population is stabilized and peace and harmony reigns in the world state. The novel opens with the director of Hatcheries taking a fresh batch of students through the Hatcheries and conditioning centre, explaining the process of Bokanovskification - the creation of various classes of human beings from embryos. While genetic engineering was unheard of during Huxley's time, he used the advantage of coming from a family of biologists to good measure, by giving a not too unbelievable explanation of how the various castes are developed. As the director takes the students on the tour, the reader is also transported to the world of the future. One is able to form a vivid mental picture of the decanting process, the hypnopaedic (sleep learning) centres where the babies are infused with ideas of class segregation and what is acceptable by the world order and what is not.

Henry Ford sparked off a revolution with his assembly line concept, which revolutionised the industrial world. So much so, that in Huxley's future, Ford has replaced God, and Fordism, Christianity. And AD of the Gregorian calendar, is now AF - After Ford that is. One cant help but smile at this, as it is said in the most serious of tones. London's Big Ben has made way for Big Henry. Huxley, while on a trip to USA, got hold of a book by Henry Ford, and on reaching America, found out that a lot of ideas put forward by Ford seemed to predominate the activities of the people there. He was disgusted by the culture there, the sexual promiscuity, drugs and the lot. So Brave New World sort of, takes off from those American themes, with quite a bit of satire, as is evident from the psychedelic drug - Soma, which is absolute bliss for the one who consumes it,(and which doesnt have the bad side effects of usual drugs) and Sex hormone chewing gums(lol, and to think the world hadnt heard of Viagra back then. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. How true! ) . Most of the characters are named after prominent people of that time. More on that here.

As you turn the pages of the novel, you will find that the writing style reflects the thoughts of each of the key characters in that particular section. Predominantly, you can view the novel as 3 parts. Part one is described as seen by the eyes Bernard Marx, an alpha male (the upper class) , a sort of outcast because of his physical deformity and his blasphemous ideas (such as the desire to be lonely, his disgust at the thought of everyone belongs to everyone else, his distaste for soma etc) which ultimately land him in soup. Helmholtz Watson, a like minded Alpha Plus and lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering is his sole confidante. While Bernard Marx is shown as different from the rest, he is by no means, your classical hero. He is portrayed as a weak individual who has different ideas, but is insecure, about the fact that he is a social outcast. Throughout the book, Bernard annotates quotes from various hypnopaedic lessons, much like Bible quotes one finds, in several texts.

The next part is when Bernard sets off with Lenina Crowne, a Beta female, to study the "savages" who live in reservations pocketed in various corners of the world. By sheer coincidence, they chance upon John, a savage, who is actually "born" of a woman from the civilized world. John and Bernard become friends quickly. From here, we begin to see the world through the eyes of John. An obvious outcast, John tries his best to fit in with the natives. His mother however, cannot adapt to the real world, as she struggles to understand that, in the world of savages, everyone doesNOT belong to everyone else. John cannot come to grips with some of his mother's antics, though he loves her a lot, as is evident in the scene where she is in her death bed. His mother,Linda however, resents the very fact that she has given birth(which is pretty blasphemous. So is the word "mother"). Bernard then obtains permission to bring back John, the savage and his mother, to the New world.

The third part is depicted through the eyes of John, the savage. Each and every "wonder" of the New World, troubles him. Everybody seems to want to use him, Bernard included, who,for the first time in his life, is getting recognition and importance. John falls in love with Lenina, and this grows complicated, as John is the classic romantic, while all Lenina knows is desire and pleasure. John and Helmholtz become friends very quickly much to Bernard's chagrin (as mentioned earlier, Bernard is not the epitome of perfection). In these portions, John is continually referred as the savage, but to the reader, it is quite ironic, because the behaviour of the so called civilised people around him, is nothing short of savagery. Inspired by Shakespeare, the romantic in John gets the better of him, as he tries to redeem the New World, by attempting to do away with Soma rations for the workers. A riot ensues, which results in John, Helmholtz and Bernard being arrested.

While Bernard's excesses had been tolerated thus far, this was the last straw. Both he and Helmholtz are exiled to Iceland and the Falkland islands respectively, by one of the 10 Resident World Controllers, His Fordship, Mustapha Mond. The savage disentangles himself from society and leads the life of a hermit at the lighthouse. He blames himself for his mother's death, Lenina's behaviour and other issues, and embarks on teh act of self punishment, brutally whipping himself. This draws huge crowds, as they want to see the savage do his Savage Act. When even Lenina comes to watch this, albeit a tear in her eye, John, overridden by his love for her, and his loathing for her behaviour, whips her too. The crowd breaks into a frenzy. John's world crumble s before him. The book ends, with people looking for the savage, only to find him hanging by the neck in the light house.

While Huxley portrays a pretty scary picture of the future, many of the characteristics of the dystopian world donot seem too impossible in the near future, especially the abuse of drugs, the urge to control the state of affairs of the world,etc. The conversations between John and Mustapha Mond, show that the Controller is aware of how the world was, and is deliberately carrying on with the New world, denouncing the old practices and Nature's laws. While trying to achieve the greatest good, the controllers lose sight of their goal, as maintaining order and control becomes top priority. So instead of a world of free men, we are left with colorful zombies who lead a pre ordinated and meaningless existence.

At no point does the book allow the reader's attention to wane. It is a must read, especially so if you are a science fiction buff. 5/5 for Aldous Huxley's Masterpiece.

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world! That has such people in't!

Miranda,in the Tempest by William Shakespeare