10.10.2010

Austin Symphony / Judith Ingolfsson : 4 of 5

I had a wonderful evening at last night's Austin Symphony concert (although the Austin City Limits Festival crowds made traffic incredibly terrible), and once again I was introduced to some new works and thrilled to hear one of my favorites. The opening piece was Smetana's The High Castle (actually part of a much longer work), which began with a fantastic double harp introduction. Truthfully, I imagine this piece was selected for the program since the Berlioz work also requires two harps! The guest violinist was Judith Ingolfsson (of Iceland), who performed Schumann's Violin Concerto in D Minor, which I had never heard before. This is one of the last works Schumann completed before his attempted suicide, so it has a interesting past (his widow didn't want it performed), but unfortunately I didn't find it as interesting to hear. The solo violin seems reduced to just a counter melody for the orchestra, so it never gets to shine and assert itself. Of course, the playing looked extremely difficult and was performed flawlessly, but I just didn't care for such an uncharacteristic concerto (but as always, I was thankful to be exposed to it). The soloist chose to play a beautiful short solo work as an encore, which I enjoyed much more! But the real highlight of the evening was Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, which I have loved since discovering it in college. The music itself it incredible with its signature motif that appears in each of the five movements, representing the girl who is the object of the artist's love (and obsession) in this prime example of "program music". Being familiar with Berlioz' notes made it fun to image the story taking place, from the ballroom scene, to the terrible opium-induced vision of death by guillotine, to the spooky witches' sabbath (made much creepier by the cool bowing effects of the strings). Tons of percussion adedd to the excitement, and at one point there were even four musicians on tympani! Obviously the audience loved Symphonie Fantastique as I do, since the applause was enormous. It was so wonderful to hear one of my favorite works performed live, definitely making fighting the traffic worthwhile!

10.07.2010

Manga Mentions 10.7

Hikaru no Go, Vol. 19 (Hikaru No Go (Graphic Novels))Hikaru no Go Vol 19: I always have mixed feelings about this series, since it reads so quickly with all the "action scenes" of Go games being played, but the artwork is so nice and there's always just enough story development to keep me wondering what will happen next. In this volume, Hikaru starts holding a fan like Sai (who is still nowhere to be seen), and there's a great side story about Hikaru's female classmate Akari.

Hikaru no Go Vol 20: I was interested enough to start the next volume right away, which is mostly filled with qualifying games for the Young Lions tournament, including a great cliffhanger match with a cool Korean player. I really enjoyed the scenes where Akira and Hikaru both have matches with their teachers, but at the same time I'm really ready to finish this series since it's so close to the end!

Nana Vol 10: Even though the story is jumping all over the place (since the two Nanas are no longer together), it's amazing to me how well the characters are being juggled, making this manga so much fun to read. Most of this volume is about media scandals concerning Ren and Nana (affecting both Trapnest and the Black Stones), but there's also a semi-cute scene with Takumi and Nana picking out baby shoes.

Honey & Clover Vol 5: The students' graduation projects (including Takemoto's crazy Tower of Youth) are finished in this volume, and Morita returns to Japan after winning a Hollywood award for special effects (which amazes everyone). Yamada makes a nice speech about unrequited love, so it's no surprise that I get more and into these characters with each volume I read!

Mahoromatic Vol 4: I never really intended on reading this whole series, but I guess I'm hooked, and this volume has a cool subplot that wasn't in the anime. Mahoro goes undercover and enrolls as a student at a different school so she can defuse hidden bombs, interspersed with tons of cute and racy scenes (including a crazy bout with a breast enlarger device).

10.06.2010

Batman / Under the Red Hood : 4 of 5

Batman: Under the Red Hood (Single-Disc Edition)I'm really glad that Warner Bros. and producer Bruce Timm have been catering to adult comic book fans by creating these incredible DC Universe DVD releases of classic stories, including some of the most dramatic plots in the Batman saga. Under the Red Hood takes on the fate of Jason Todd, who was the second Robin after Dick Grayson left to become Nightwing, and this animated treatment doesn't pull any punches. This is definitely a Batman tale for mature fans, since it opens with an intense scene of the Joker brutally beating Robin with a crowbar! It's difficult to talk about the plot without revealing the twist of the story (which most fans already know from the comic book), but I can say that this DVD explores the second Robin through flashbacks (often portrayed as ghosts when Batman remembers something in a familiar setting) that establish the emotional foundation necessary for an incredible climactic confrontation that features some of the most insightful dialogue I've heard! The animation is pretty fantastic for a direct to DVD release, including beautifully designed, moody opening titles, fantastic fight choreography with wonderful sweeping camera moves, and even cool cockpit displays for the Batmobile and Batwing (which sees a lot of action, for some reason). A few scenes use a little too much CGI for my taste (it seems like no one bothers to hand-animate vehicles anymore), but I will say that the integration with hand-drawn animation is well done, especially in a nice fly-by of the CG Batwing with an animated Batman visible inside. The Joker is appropriately creepy and well-voiced, and I enjoyed his dialogue, which has a nice balance of camp and violence (although one of his zingers is repeated verbatim in two scenes, which makes me think there was some sloppy re-writing going on). Along with the Joker, the classic Batman villain Ra's al Ghul makes an appearance, along with the crime boss the Black Mask, and of course, the mysterious Red Hood, whose identity is revealed a little too soon, but thankfully the pacing of the story doesn't suffer for it. Under the Red Hood is one of the best DC Universe DVD releases so far, presenting a fascinating Batman story with all the psychological underpinnings that make the Dark Knight such an amazing character.

10.05.2010

The Social Network : 5 of 5

Along with my love of cool technology, I admit that I'm fascinated with (and often idolize) the creators of devices and services that I use every day, so I knew I would enjoy seeing The Social Network (and was lucky to see it on opening day in a sold-out theater). Without getting into discussing what the movie says about Facebook and society in general, The Social Network is simply a fantastic film in nearly all aspects. The structure of the movie manages to juggle between multiple lawsuits and timeframes without totally confusing the viewer, and is shot beautifully with subdued lighting that implies the stoic, academic Harvard environment and intensifies the dark nature of the plot. The acting is terrific across the board, and even the special effects for the Winklevoss twins played by a single actor is pulled off incredibly well (I was also happy to see Brenda Song, a Disney-marketed talent, stretching out in a different kind of role). As a computer geek, I was absolutely thrilled to see the realistic portrayal of programming and hacking from a technical standpoint (certainly the best seen in any major film), and I found myself giggling with glee at the opening montage of the creation of Facemash, narrated by Zuckerberg's actual online diary word-for-word. Although the world of Harvard politics was definitely unfamiliar to me, it didn't really get in the way of the story, although for me it seemed to highlight how the somewhat rocky evolution of Facebook could easily happen (and makes its position today even more amazing). Actually, I was surprised at how little The Social Network focused on Facebook itself, but that makes sense because this is a story (definitely a mix of fact and fiction) about the creators, and not really about their creation. In my opinion, Mark Zuckerberg (with all of his faults) was painted as a sympathetic character, swayed by his own ambition (and obviously the creator of Napster) into solidifying his place as a geek, social outcast, and by the way, billionaire. Seeing talents put to brilliant use is inspiring to me, even though the overall tone of the film is somewhat sad (although I'm sure this has been intensified for the movie). Putting emotion and social commentary aside, the fact remains that The Social Network is an excellent film, and I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over (which I will certainly do after the DVD release). This is definitely a modern day saga that has affected everyone in some way, so it's only natural to want to explore it on the big screen.

10.03.2010

iTunes genre distribution

Almost every weekend I take a long walk around the Domain to get some exercise. My route is a little over 3.5 miles, which takes me close to an hour at my pace, giving me lots of time to listen to music on my iPhone along the way. Yesterday while I was enjoying the randomness of music (my favorite thing about the walk, actually), I got thinking about the distribution of my iTunes library, so I took a minute to get some genre totals to see what I have. Truthfully, my digital music is a little out of control, since I'm up to 19,234 songs now, which would take 51 days to listen to completely! Here's some of the more interesting (at least to me) genres.

Jpop (6,569 songs): I'm amazed at how fast my Japanese pop library has grown, since I feel like I've only been a real fan for the past few years! Of course, most of it is Hello! Project groups (probably everything recorded by Morning Musume) and AKB48, but there are lots of other cool artists in the mix as well. I thought I had lots of Korean pop in my collection also, but I actually have only 558 tracks.

Soundtracks (2,897 songs): When I really enjoy a movie, I love hearing the score, so I have a weird variety of tracks from Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, lots of Disney movies (of course), and tons of anime series as well!

Classical (1,393 songs): The cool fact about this genre is that I rarely buy new classical music now, so this huge number is almost completely from CDs I purchased during my college days when I was obsessed with growing my collection. I also have 249 opera tracks, which could be added to this total, but I like keeping them organized into their own genre.

Jazz (1,238 songs): I'm pretty proud of my jazz collection, too, which is mostly bebop and straight ahead jazz (very little modern stuff). Usually when someone mentions a jazz standard, I can find versions by a couple different artists in this set.

Theme Park (540 songs): Not a huge number, but I bet most people don't have as many tracks of Disney ride audio as I do. This genre doesn't count regular Disney music, but does include drunken pirates, ghost screams, and Mickey & Minnie saying hello during parades!

Holiday (487 songs): I keep these tracks deactivated until Thanksgiving, and then start listening to my Christmas music collection almost exclusively. I usually add a CD or two to this number each year!

Everything else in my iTunes library is fairly "normal", with lots of pop, rock, dance, and other fun stuff. Believe it or not, even with a library this large, I'm able to cycle through my collection and listen to everything fairly regularly, thanks to the way I sync my iPhone with smart playlists (which I should write about in another post sometime).