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Dec. 2nd, 2006 09:34 pm Whoa

I actually started this entry more than a month ago, but as usual, events conspired to prevent me from finishing it. Here's what I wrote at the end of October:


"So the other day I was scanning through some of my previous journal entries, trying to find something in particular to show someone, and realized that I quite enjoyed reading the scattered record I left behind of my activities over the past few years. 2004 seemed an especially good one (my writing kinda peetered out later on, and I'm not too fond of my early entries.) Anyway, this prompted me to make an update, which will include the obligatory hollow promise of me posting more frequently.

I will try to post more frequently."



Anyway, the rest of the entry is pretty outdated, so I won't bother with it. In fact, I just deleted a whole chunk of it. That felt GOOD.

So basically I've been sick for about a month, and only now am I finally recovering. Glancing at my calendar, I can pinpoint exactly when it all began. It was somewhere between November 1st and 2nd. I'd just come home from a particularly outrageous session of Super Smash Bros. at Mark's, my lungs protesting from a combination of laughter (caused by Aaron's hilariously authentic Chinese accent) and extremely annoying asthma-related constrictions (caused by the cats.) Some combination of these factors, plus the mercurial weather, the already generally nasty cold season, and the fact that I came home at 4 am and wasn't getting too much sleep, all must have contributed to what was to come.

The next day I felt the first signs of a sore throat. I drank lots of tea and gargled lots of salt water, to no avail. The day after that I was definitely getting sick -- I could feel the cough blooming from within. However, I was at Sheridan College with the rest of my film class collaborating with some animators, and afterwards Aaron and I shared one of the biggest meals I've had in my whole life (we had two massive boats of sushi and sashmi, plus platters of various complimentary rolls and tempura and, eventually, banana-encrusted vanilla ice-cream. It was damn good. It was also the last good meal I was to have until about...last Tuesday?)

Unfortunately I had to work the entire weekend, and that was pretty rough. I teach Saturdays at a music school called Euromusic, and I have this weird feeling that I might be getting fired soon, since my students are about to write their exams next weekend and they...well...kind of suck. I work Sundays too, accompanying violin students for the Toronto Suzuki Studio.

Anyway, next week I tried to stay home as much as possible, as my parents were getting on my case about how I'd been going out too much and not getting enough rest, so it was no surprise that my system would break down again. They weren't wrong, but it does annoy me how fragile my health is compared to some of my friends. I know people who haven't been sick for years...some of them haven't been sick for so long they've forgotten what it was like!

So I skipped most of my classes (I did attend one, but it was to hand in an essay) and stayed in bed for most of the week, doing very little except watching bad movies on TV and, well, getting a Facebook account. The only productive thing I did was mark papers and write a scathing letter to the St. Michael's Hospital review committee (they were reviewing my dad's boss, who is an asshole of the highest order.) It was by far one of the best things I'd written all year, and was received with a significant amount of admiration from the committee members who despise the prick as much as my dad does.

The weekend rolled by (Nov. 11-12) and I was STILL sick. More teaching, more accompanying. The next week I forced myself to attend an interesting seminar, and found I couldn't stay because I was coughing too much. I think I stayed home the rest of that week, too, but it's all kind of a blur now. Oh, I finally went to the doctor's on Friday. He prescribed to me a bottle of antibiotics and an asthma ventilator. (Note: I went through the entire bottle and used most of the ventilator, but I don't think it really did anything.)

Another painful weekend came and went. Now the mucus was finally starting to pile up in my nose and chest, which I figured was a good thing -- symptoms of a normal cold and all. On Monday I started to feel a bit better (I proctored a test for my Materials III class), and, as a result, went to Aaron's place for a while and tried out some of the sports games on his new Wii. I must say that I was impressed. It was nothing like I'd experienced before. The physics of the Wiimote were dead-on; I couldn't believe, for instance, how accurately my actual bowling tendencies translated into the virtual medium. (Normally I have a natural tilt to my wrist that nudges the ball ever-so-slightly to the left, which I compensate for by aiming slightly to the right. The game reproduces this perfectly.) Tennis was a riot. We had to move furniture out of the way in order to simulate the feeling of holding rackets and whipping them around. Although I foresee accidents happening with more people, the gameplay itself was undeniably fresh and engaging in a way that's only possible with that kind of motion-sensing equipment. It was also the first time I could genuinely claim to have been physically exhausted from playing a video game.

Playing the Wii was a bad idea in retrospect, but more on that soon. The next day, imagining myself to be on the road to recovery, I binged on Indian food, and finally got to rehearse with Esther the new flute and piano piece I'd written a couple weeks ago. The day after that I had lunch with a bunch of people at this Japanese restaurant on Charles St., which I actually didn't like very much. It was my birthday, and Alexa made me a custom-made coupon for Casino Royale, but we didn't end up seeing it because 1) I was still rather sick, and 2) no one else seemed to be free at the time. So I wound up playing Twilight Princess for about an hour at Aaron's, before my cough suddenly sprung to life again...

And then hell truly began. Heavy fever set in the next day. I tried desperately to work on my opera piece but only got a few pages done, and my appetite was starting to dwindle. The next day I had to go to Sheridan again. This was a nasty, nasty day. I had the chills (I kept alternating between feeling extrmeely hot and cold), the cough was worse than ever, and I had no appetite. We stopped by a burger joint to get food, but I couldn't order anything except a hot chocolate. On the way home we were stuck in traffic for about two and a half hours (damn 401!) Upon getting back, I threw up (despite not having eaten), called in to cancel teaching for Saturday and accompanying Sunday....and then proceeded to go to bed for the next two days. Somewhere around this time I scribbled in my private journal -- something about wishing I could trade some of my compositional inspiration for any semblance of a healthy body. I take it back now, but I meant it then...it was pretty bad...

At some point into the weekend I became rather pissed about my situation -- more so than I'd already been. I called Esther and asked if we could rehearse Sunday night. She thought I was insane -- she was expecting me to cancel the concert -- but she agreed anyway. We were scheduled to play in concert on Monday, and I refused to budge on this one. Too many sacrifices had already been made...I was well behind on my academic work, and my actual work -- not only my teaching and accompanying but my extensive TA duties at the university -- was suffering. I just couldn't admit defeat on this one last thing.

And so we somehow performed on Monday. It was Nov. 27, and at last I started to feel some genuine recovery taking place. The piece we played seemed to generate a very strong reaction, for whatever reason. Among the people in attendance were Bryan (who I think has been to more of my concerts than anyone else I know!) as well as an assortment of new people who had never been to any of my concerts before. So that was very encouraging.

We played the same piece again just this past Wednesday (the 29th) at the Arts and Letters Club. I made a brief blog about it at my website. It was a really great day, actually, but I must share this story with you because it represents my first-hand experience of the kind of pettiness that my dad faces everyday at his workplace. Essentially, the head committee member of the Arts and Letters music division, a former professor at the UofT Faculty of Music (he retired in 1999) named Walter Buczynski, felt it necessary to criticize my piece while standing on a podium addressing the whole audience. No, criticize is the wrong word. 'Demean' would be more accurate. In pretending to deliver his opinion in a tasteful, polite manner, he effectively dismissed both myself and the work. Quote: "There is something to be said for economy of materials. I felt this piece had far too many ideas and was going in too many directions at once. I liked the beginning, and the ending, but the middle was a mess. You call this a sonata...but a true sonata must obey certain tenets of sonata form, unless you are redefining the form...not that I heard any of that today either." He then proceeded to say nothing but nice things about the rest of Esther's program, which consisted entirely of actual standard flute repertoire -- no other student pieces were on the program, that's for sure.

What was this, a masterclass? No. This was a volunteer recital -- Esther's recital, to be specific -- for the benefit of old music connaisseurs who pay a membership fee to attend pleasant music-filled luncheons every Wednesday. After we finished playing, the audience applauded for so long we had to bow twice, an honour that they accorded only to our piece. And this has-been dares to get up on his horse and voice his negativity in front of this same audience, while we musicians are still at the piano, waiting to be fed?

Think of the meaning behind his words. "You're just a student...your music MUST have flaws...and not only do I have the authority to back up my opinions, I will EXPRESS these opinions in public instead of keeping them to myself, because everyone else seems to like the piece, and they have to be put in their place." Sounds pretty insecure to me.

Esther and Mark were immediately sympathetic, calling him "old-fashioned" and "a dick" (respectively.) So were members of the audience, including Buczynski's wife, who actually apologized to me on behalf of her husband. I soon realized that this tirade, far from being damaging to myself, was actually very flattering. This was my first taste of bad publicity, and it had been handed down to me from higher up, so to speak. It gave me great pleasure that my music could stir such an inappropriate response from someone so well-established -- it proved that it was worth something!

After that I ate the biggest meal I had since the sushi on Nov. 3 -- a plate of chicken swimming in some kind of creamy mushroom gravy. Three hours later I was having dinner at a Greek place on the Danforth with Aaron and a guy who lives in Haifa but is currently studying composition with us at UofT. For the next little while he shared his experiences from his hometown with us, and I considered those two hours the most profound I've had in a long while. It is hard not to come away from something like that without experiencing some change of perspective. This was a person who attended the funerals of his friends and family members on a regular basis, and yet who remains currently one of the most jovial presences in our faculty. Go figure! (His family, I noted with some relief, is moving to Toronto permanently. Not a bad idea, I have to say...)

Each time I recover from a long illness I seem to undergo some shift in values -- not unlike last January, where I ended up rearranging my life's priorities after returning from New York with the flu from hell. I really kind of wish I didn't have to go through these periods in order to grow, though...

On that note, I think I'll adjourn for the night. I apologize for the length of this -- I really will try to update more regularly, with shorter entries. But it felt good to type that out!

Current Mood: bouncyNot sick (at least, for now!)

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Jul. 28th, 2006 10:57 pm I'm back

Oh livejournal, how I have neglected thee...

Well, it has been a busy year and a busier summer. I haven't had too much time (or energy, rather; there's always time!) for posting much. There are a few entries I want to finally get under the door; but before I do that, I need to write about what I've been doing for the past couple months, to (in part) justify my absence but also to give some context to future entries. Which (I hope, I hope) won't be long in coming...

So...at around the time school was finishing up in April, my friend Aaron got hired by another composer to co-score a PC game. A year ago, this composer interviewed a bunch of us, hoping to find an assistant to score "Land of the Dead" for X-box (which apparently ended up being a horrible game). Aaron got the job, and since then has maintained a healthy working relationship with this person.

Anyway, about a month into Aaron's new gig (some kung-fu style demo for PC), I received a phone call from Aaron's employer asking me to join their team. I was thrilled, of course, and over the next few weeks Aaron and I managed to produce a total of 12 cues. It was all very exciting, as we both hoped this gig would open up new doors for us. See, the PC game is a relatively small venture -- an online-only release, not much mass market publicity, designed solely for multiplayer use -- but it was to function as a demo for a much bigger project in the works, to be eventually released on Xbox 360 by Groove Games (the publisher of Pariah, Warpath, and yes, Land of the Dead.) If we did well on this demo, the idea was that we'd land the bigger gig as well.

Things did not end up working out quite so well. First off, production on the game stalled, so that throughout the months of June and July we were sitting on our asses just waiting for new instructions. Secondly, the big Xbox title ended up going to Tan Dun. Tan Dun, the guy who wrote (and won an oscar for) the music to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"! On the one hand, it's amazing to think that we were even in the running for something like that...but that doesn't change the fact that we lost the gig...

Acting on our frustrations, we decided rather spontaneously to form our own company, create a demo reel from scratch, and send it out to every major video game company in Canada. Our plan was to flood them with demos every few months in an attempt to piss them off (and hopefully get their attention.) We spent some time creating a concept for the demo, as well as a company name. Brainstorming for that one was fun. I wanted to go with "Hans Zimmer For Half the Price" but eventually Aaron thought up "Lightmotif," which was probably the better choice.

It took us a while to get started. You see, at this time, I was trying to date someone...and so was Aaron. This killed our collective productivity for about two weeks. Perhaps what is amusing in hindsight is that we both ended up getting rejected, within a day of one another, which I suppose finally allowed us to get cracking on the demo.

Meanwhile, my musical -- which I'd finished writing in the beginning of May -- was being rehearsed like crazy. Four days a week, four to five hours per rehearsal. I always knew theatre was demanding, but it's one thing to know it and another to experience it firsthand. Fortunately my work was technically done so I didn't have to attend every single rehearsal, but still...as a composer you want to be present to make sure things are going all right; plus this has the advantage of stroking your ego, hearing your own music performed over and over again :)

Beginning of July, things really started to pile up. The musical was starting its run; Aaron was booking performers to record for our demo; I had a job interview for a part-time teaching position in the fall; and my friend, Richard, was getting married. That last item was very important, because I was Richard's best man, and I had been -- to put it frankly -- neglecting him. After some discussion about this Aaron agreed to shoulder most of our recording and mixing duties, for which I'm very grateful for.

The week before July 16 was quite possibly the busiest non-academic week of my entire life. All in all, though, things went well. The demo reel got finished. Meanwhile, I attended three out of seven shows for my musical. Although we received some mixed reviews (a *** review from EYE that was admittedly reasonable, and a 'negative' review from the Toronto Sun that was ridiculous), the audiences were big and enthusiastic, and we did end up making a profit, albeit one that has to be split 15 ways. To this day, the musical remains my most fulfilling compositional achievement, in part because of my friends who came out in such numbers to support it. No, really. I love you guys ^_^

As for the wedding....it was wonderful and inspiring. Everything ran smoothly. And the bachelor party, which consisted of only four of us (me, Richard, Mark, Aaron), was riotous. But more on all of that in another post.

After the wedding, the show, and the finalization of our demo reel (which all happened on the same day), there appearead to be a mass exodus -- Mark left for BC, Aaron for Kansas, Richard and Michelle for Cuba. I, too, left with my parents -- for Hawaii! And *that* definitely deserves a post of its own, if only for the pictures.

I'm back now, with a relatively light workload. I still need to finish the Kung Fu game, not to mention put together a curriculum for a course I *may* have to teach in the fall. Today I discovered I'm about $7000 in the red (ok, so most of that is tuition, but I do have an annoyingly large outstanding fee on top of that), and I'm not getting nearly as much funding as I thought I was for next year. Stupid fine print.

In conclusion: I think I'm doing pretty well, spiritually if not financially. After four years of being stubbornly jobless it's good to see things finally start to pick up...we'll see how things go from here.

More to come soon...

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Mar. 23rd, 2006 05:48 pm Finally....

What? Story

Who? Robert McKee

When? published in 1997

Where? In my room, on the subway, and two hours in the living room of Aaron's house while he was having his Mandarin lesson.

How'd I get it? Borrowed it from Aaron

Why? Although geared towards screenwriters, "Story" promised to reveal insights into the universal art of storytelling in general. As someone who loves writing but has always struggled with it, I found this impossible to resist.

Length? 419 pages. I read it in two days, which is (for me) a feat of tremendous proportions.

First Bit Imagine, in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays performed, films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, twenty-four hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence Internet gossip, humankind's insatiable appetite for stories. Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities -- work, play, eating, exercise -- for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep -- and even then we dream. Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.

My Thoughts I devoured this book like chocolate. Almost everything in it struck me as true, but in a way that was unexpected and revealing. It puts all your gut feelings about good vs. bad storytelling into crystal-clear and convincing reasoning. This is no dogmatic "writer's guide" book, but a penetrating look into the unconscious elements that unfold between the storyteller and the audience.

After reading this, I felt that I possessed a much deeper understanding of why audiences enjoy certain things and detest others. Some may not want to explore that level -- they would prefer to simply feel, and not analyze. That's cool -- especially since what passes for analysis these days is really just pseudo-philosophical crap that has nothing to do with the point of the film (or book, or whatever). But as someone who aspires to create, I feel an inherent need to learn about what works and what doesn't -- and this book gave me just that.


I should note that within a few days of reading the book I watched the movie "The New World" and absolutely hated it. I have no doubt that my feelings were influenced in part by reading "Story", and since "The New World" apparently conveys its substance not by story but through images (at least, according to the people I saw it with, who liked it a great deal more than I did), I was in some ways doomed not to like it.

However, not long after that I read "Great Expectations" and played (well, watched) "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater", and loved them both. The great thing is that they're completely different -- one's a classic Dickens novel, the other a first-person-shooter set in the Cold War! -- and yet they can both be seen as prime examples of Mckee's principles in action.

Snake: "That's damn good!"

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Feb. 9th, 2006 12:34 pm more books

This seemed like a pretty cool idea so I'm doing it.

What?A Storm of Swords, Vol. 3 of "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Who? George R.R. Martin. There's tons of info on him on the net. I have him on my friends list :P

When? It was published in 2000. I read it over December and January and finished it about two weeks ago. (Note: Vol. 4 just came out last fall. Must have been one hell of a wait for those poor sods who read the book when it first came out...)

Where? 40% on the subway, 10% in New York / Washington / Dulles Airport, 50% on my bed at home.

How'd I get it? I bought it. :P

Why?Because I'd just read "Clash of Kings" (Vol. 2) in the fall. I was going to spread the series out a bit -- who knows when the next book is coming out? -- but addiction won over and I couldn't help but plunge straight into the next book.

Why?Sometime ago last year (late spring/summer?), when Josh and I were trying to get our writing chops back (and, for the most part, failing), Josh began reading this series, and he couldn't stop talking about it -- or rather, couldn't stop trying to persuade me to read it, since he couldn't actually spoil the book. One random day, after an MSN conversation, I leapt into the car, drove to the nearest Chapters, and picked up a copy of "Game of Thrones" (vol. 1)....and that's how it all started.

Length? 1128 pages. It's a beast.

First Bit: An east wind blew through his tangled hair, as soft and fragrant as Cersei's fingers. He could hear birds singing, and feel the river moving beneath the boat as the sweep of the oars sent them towards the pale pink dawn. After so long in darkness, the world was so sweet that Jaime Lannister felt dizzy. I am alive, and drunk on sunlight. A laugh burst from his lips, sudden as a quail flushed from cover.

My Thoughts: This is a fantasy book, though "medieval fiction" might be a better way to describe its genre (at least, at first). The series as a whole eschews the traditional "reluctant heroes battle against dark lords" formula of romantic fantasy in favour of a richer and more complex tapestry of clashing motivations and interests. I love how the enormous cast of characters, big and small (and in between), reminds me of real life, in the sense that you meet tons of people and most of them, no matter how small a role they play in your existence, are intriguing in some subtle way. Each chapter of "A Storm of Swords" is dedicated to one major character's point of view, and this is Martin's secret weapon: he never allows us to see the world objectively, as it is always coloured by the character's perspective (another way of looking at it is that he never gives any character an objective point of view.) So characters you thought you hated end up being dangerously endearing when you get inside their heads, and characters you sympathized with begin to show their shortcomings when viewed from another's eyes. This doesn't always happen, of course -- and the book is full of clear-cut examples of good and evil -- but it challenge your assumptions and make the dynamics between good and evil more complicated.

One other aspect about this book (even more so than the first two volumes) is that it is provocative. By that, I mean that it has the ability to stir up some very strong emotions in the reader -- including anger and frustration. These emotions result not from poor writing but from the ruthless exploitation of our sympathy and thwarting of our expectations. Aaron and I were discussing the power of scenes that do this, which -- for lack of a better term -- I will label as "holy fuck" moments. "A Storm of Swords" contains several such moments, each of which are designed to make you want to hurl the book across the room (and then pick it up again to find out what happens next.) So, in a way, I don't recommend the book if you're looking for pure escapism (especially if you're in the middle of studying for exams or something -- the book might create more stress, not reduce it!) On the other hand, this is the stuff that good drama is made of, and I'd much rather be made to feel something than to read about Egwene moping around a city for a hundred pages or Nynaeve tugging at her braid for the hundredth time (who DOES that, anyway??)

"A Song of Ice and Fire" also contains scenes of violence, coarse language, nudity, sexuality, adult situations, AND mature subject matter (for those who scrolled down just to get to the good stuff.) Viewer discretion is advised.

I am now reading Charles' Dickens' "Great Expectations" in order to get my blood pressure back to normal.

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Nov. 27th, 2005 08:41 pm the other convention (canadian national anime expo)

More convention...more pictures!Collapse )

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Nov. 27th, 2005 05:26 pm birthday week and convention (con no baka)

Another year, another birthday. I'm 23 and I feel like 13, which is both nice and a bit depressing if you think about it. At least this time around my recent life has been a whirlwind of resoundingly non-academic activity, and that's a GOOD thing (although the next two weeks are going to suck plenty, again.) Thank you to all of you who contributed a little something to my relaxed and happy state this week. I realize that not everyone is in a similar state (mine's about to evaporate pretty soon) but I'll always do my best to help. You know who you are (especially since most of you are reading this anyway) and I love you all :)

This entry is going to be about an anime convention (Con no baka) I went to this weekend. It is really an excuse for me to post my pictures so I have a link to send others. Check the next entry as well for pics from the previous anime-related convention I went to (Canadian National Anime Expo) in the summer, which I realized I never uploaded.

Convention and pictures!Collapse )

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Nov. 12th, 2005 11:55 am

(Tagged by linden_tree)

Write down five days that you are a looking forward to in the next month (in chronological order), and then tag 5 people to do the same.

1) Friday, November 18: Hawwy Hawwy Potter Potter! Wheee~ (also, I get to see my friends and play Mario Kart)

2) Saturday, November 19: I get to see my friends and play taiko!

3) Tuesday, November 22: My birthday...which, more importantly, means 1) the release of John Williams' "Memoirs of a Geisha" soundtrack, and 2) SUSHI

4) Friday - Sunday, November 25-27: Con no Baka (anime convention). I'm hooked on anime. Also, I went to a convention in August and travelled with some rather eager fans. Eager female fans. Dressed up as female anime characters. (Liberally clad) female anime characters make me happy. Lalalalala~

5) Friday, December 9: release of "Memoirs of a Geisha" AND "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe"! Holy crap. Narnia obviously has me bouncing around like a pogo stick in anticipation (all a result of one fantabulously made trailer), but it's hard to say which film I'm more excited about. Memoirs, after all, has that freak-awesome cast...

Tagging cognoscente, lindodles, agentrain, wootaameron, violingirlinto

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Nov. 9th, 2005 06:48 pm So....

In belated response to being tagged (with of course the utmost unwillingness) by the resident High Priestess, here are Five Things That Make Me Happy:

1) Coming home from school on Wednesdays, because I know I won't have class again till Monday afternoon. And no matter how much crap I have to do, I almost always veg out on Wednesday evenings.

2) Watching a movie I really like with someone who hasn't seen it before. Even in the rare situation when they don't actually end up liking the movie, I still enjoy it because I *assume* they're liking it (until they inform me otherwise and deflate my mood :P).

3) Spontaneously coming up with ridiculous analogies, and then having a good laugh about it. For example, in a conversation today: "Good, you're starting to think outside the box. To poke your head through the lid, so to speak, like a perisocope, or R2D2 after falling into the swamps of Dagobah."

4) Being able to turn an otherwise frustrating driving experience into something constructive. For example, dissecting every driving manouevre, no matter how trivial. "What a magnificently understated left-turn. I am awe-struck by the sublime beauty of that curve." Then launching into a modified version of the Strongbad Techno Song. In canon. ("The Left Turn is down!") Or pretending to have an arsenal of red shells you can toss out the window to unsuspecting vehicles. And insulting jerkwad drivers using the names of flowers. "You goddamn hibiscus!!"

5) Cheering someone up, or inspiring them in some way. Couple weeks ago a friend spent three hours telling me about his novel. The total number of sentences I spoke during this time, excluding the phrases "Right", "Okay," "Uh-huh", "Huh...", "Cool", "Neat", "Sweet", "Hardcore", and "That's freaking nuts dude", was about two. Later this person remarked that I had inspired him to resume work on the novel, which had been on hiatus for a while. I said, "But I didn't say anything the whole time." He said, "That's exactly it! You didn't tell me to stop talking, and that was inspiring." So there you go.

There are obviously other, slightly more well-documented things that make me happy as well :)

I tag...um...anyone else who wants to be tagged? Anyone who's already been tagged but hasn't responded? Anyone who's responded and wants to do the quiz again? Anyone? Everyone? (And no one!)

Current Mood: bouncylight-headed

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Sep. 21st, 2005 08:58 pm It's not summer anymore...

...but I keep thinking it is. I should stop that, considering my workload. Occasionally I'll chip away at the block, and a whole pile of new crap gets dumped on me. So I just dropped a course...that'll teach 'em!

So here's what's left:

The Symphonies of Shostakovich - We analyze each of Shostakovich's fifteen symphonies, all in the context of his political background. Tons of assignments, most involving research (so at times it feels less like a music course than one in Soviet history.) Shostakovich is one of the most interesting composers of our century, mainly because 1) his political beliefs were ambiguous as hell, seemingly to the point of contradiction, yet 2) his music is clearly shaped by the political forces around him (but how??), and finally 3) the music itself kicks ass. Our prof is Sasha Rapoport, my third year composition teacher; part Brahms, part Santa Claus, and 100% awesome :)

Composing for Percussion - My prof is Christos Hatzis, who's my comp teacher this year (and the last). The course itself is pretty self-explanatory. Some of the extended technqiues are bloody cool. Did you know you can make a bass drum sound like a fog horn just by rubbing your thumb against the surface? I didn't either...

Extended Tonal Techniques - My prof here is Mark Sallmen, the latest in a long line of eccentric geniuses who happen to teach music theory at UofT for a living. Self-described as "insane", he can be seen hurrying around the school grounds as if on some urgent errand, even if none exists. He's like the human embodiment of a V chord, or an electron that refuses to go back to ground state. Although he laughs a lot, I was, for a while, unable to tell whether he was reacting to a joke or...just...laughing. Anyway, the class is cool, but we get some pretty scary shit to analyze -- the kind of stuff that's so complex it doesn't sound tonal, but isn't atonal, either.

Composition - Me: "Yeah, so...I promise I'll write some music for next week." Christos: "I am not terribly opposed to that idea."

Christos actually took me out for lunch today, which was very nice. We had dim sum. We ordered a bunch of stuff and ate it all. He talked about being shortlisted as the composer for the (then) Baz Luhrman film "Alexander", before rotten luck sank the whole production. (The movie got resurrected, by the way, with Oliver Stone at the helm and Vangelis behind the score, to apparently catastrophic results. But the DVD is supposed to be much better than the theatrical release and the Vangelis score is still better than Horner's replacement music for "Troy.")

My parents just bought a new car, finally replacing our loyal, 15-year old Honda Accord with another Accord of the new/used variety (2003 model). Whee! I'm happy at our new acquisition, but at the same time sad to see the old one go. It was a really great car...a lot of happy memories :)

In other news, I attended an anime club with Mark last Friday. The audience was as disturbingly obsessed as I'd expected, although their enthusiasm heightened the cinematic experience of the screenings. We watched a bunch of episodes from shows whose titles I can't remember, but I enjoyed them all. For the finale we watched "Steamboy". Although it's being sold as a film "by the makers of Akira", it doesn't feel like Akira at all, except for the character designs. For one thing, there's something very North-American-PG about it (and Akira was most definitely NOT that.) And the editing feels Miyazaki-esque. Anyway, I really liked it, even though I'm starting to get sick of these Metropolis rip-offs (I think we *all* know what's going to happen to the big tower at the end that's a symbol of military/scientific progress/decadence, etc. etc.)

On Saturday: handball, and FFVII: Advent Children (again). Sunday: The Constant Gardener, which I hope everyone who gives a damn will see at some point or other in their lives.

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Sep. 15th, 2005 01:13 pm Back to school

I’ve been too lazy to write entries for a long while, but I’m going to try to get back into the habit of updating regularly. Wish me luck... :P

First, I should mention that I have a new blog. Well, actually, I am the partial contributor to a blog that has been in existence for a few months, but I forgot to plug it until now. Anyway, check it out:

Lion’s Den

Josh is the proud originator and Bryan and I pay our occasional respects. It’s not meant to replace my current journal. We haven’t quite figured out what it’s for, really. I suppose that in theory this one’s dedicated to more personal, day-today stuff, while Josh’s is a place where we can rant about movies, politics, and whatever else happens to fly within the radar of our overly journalistic instincts. So go have a peak. [poke]

I was prowling around the net and saw that the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra has put up their concert schedule. Scroll down to March 25. Yup, that’s right. I hope some of you will show up—I’m only giving a six-month warning, after all ;). It’ll be fun — like Hamilton, but way closer.

Last week wasn’t much fun. On Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote three masters’ entrance exams—diagnostic tests, instituted by the composition department to gauge our weaknesses and apply the appropriate remedies (in the form of extra courses.) I can’t fault the logic of the department, as every composition grad student except me did their undergrad somewhere else, and you learn different things at different schools—but that didn’t mean I had to enjoy the nine hours spent in a room with nothing but a desk, a piano, and the distant echoes of happier musicians for company as I struggled through the questions. Which were hard. I might add that the situation was ripe for cheating, as I was completely unsupervised the entire time, but there was really no point as we weren’t being marked. Besides, a music exam is hard to cheat on. It’s like a cross between writing an essay and doing a math test; there is a framework of definite rules, but within it you need to manouevre with some creativity.

After the exams was the TA interview, which by itself went well (even according to my theory prof who was on the panel), but I didn’t get the position. Too many union rules working against me and the hordes of other hopefuls, according to him and Gary. The ones who’ve TAed before are guaranteed placement, and they all applied this year, which leaves no room for the newbies. And unlike, say, any other graduate field, we’ve got a surplus of applicants and a shortage of positions. Ah well...here’s looking forward to the next year’s exodus of PhD students :P

As for this week...well, things don't seem all that different from usual. I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that I am, once again, in the same building that I’ve been in for the last four years, learning from the same profs with (more or less) the same colleagues. The workload hasn’t changed much either. Despite the fact that my schedule looks light as a feather — no courses on Tuesday and Thursday, a class each on Monday and Friday — the assignments are more intense, which evens everything out. One of my classes today was even a tad overwhelming (“Extended Tonal Techniques.”) Our prof zipped through a ‘review’ of Materials III that I had to struggle to keep up with. I understood the material on an intuitive level, but the terms, the classifications, the whole official process was foreign to me. Maybe this was because I had been taught, in Materials III, by the female incarnate of Willy Wonka (Liz gets credit for that disturbingly apt comparison) and as you can imagine, she didn’t bestow much in the way of wisdom upon me, or if she did I don’t know where I put it. (Ms. Wonka was, at the very least, really entertaining to watch...)

One thing I like about the music faculty at UofT is that even though there are tons of people and a serious shortage of opportunities like...hmm....academic job positions (nothing new in music I guess), there’s still this sense of intimacy I find unique among most disciplines. Today, for example, I went out for coffee with my prof, Christos Hatzis. We always go to the law faculty next door to grab our coffee, since they serve crap at ours. After our lesson we discussed film music en route to Radioshack (he needed a new mouse). Then, later, Scott and I went to another prof of mine's house (Sasha Rapoport). He turned us loose on his old PC, then served us tea while we raided his CD collection and burned his Shostakovich discs.

What else? I watched the leaked copy of Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children today. (Fret not; I will be buying the legit version when it comes out.) For the uninitiated, the film is a 95-minute cinematic sequel to the game that took me 40 hours to (almost) beat, and would have taken me more had I bothered to uncover all the secret plot points and side quests. For me, FF7 was one of those intense, life-affirming experiences that no one else is likely to take seriously because, dude, it’s just a video game. Watching the movie pushed my buttons and triggered my emotion ducts in a way that’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t played FF7 (especially as the movie makes, like, NO sense on its own.) If you *have* played FF7, you'll know what I mean once you see AC.

Is the movie good? Did it live up to our (insanely high) expectations? Did I watch the film with my eyes glued to the screen and my jaw glued to the floor even as my higher brain functions contemplated what might have filled the gaping hole of a screenplay? Find out next time, or not, depending on whether I feel like rambling at the expense of schoolwork. For now, it’s back to studying for me....

P.S. Convention pics next time...really!

Current Mood: bouncybouncy

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