Monthly Archives: September 2014

124: Pauli

I don’t think I bombed that quantum computing exam, but I did waste a lot of time on question 3(c). This was not spent on hard work, though; instead, I wrote a skit on Alice in Wonderland.

3(c). What is the expectation value of \sigma_{z}?

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice, checking her work.

“Trig-o-no-me-try,” intoned the Duchess sharply. “Did you never learn about – triangles and imaginary numbers and such – in school?”

“I’m afraid I must have missed the lesson,” said Alice, trying not to feel offended.

“You simpleton child,” (and Alice was now very offended) “it’s very easy!” The Duchess seized a piece of chalk and snapped her fingers imperiously. A quartet of flamingos skittered haphazardly up to Alice, a blackboard balanced on their backs. The Duchess began to write and sing:

“SINE and COSINE make EULER / only a STUPID girl misses the lesson / confronted with exp, SOILS HER / self, for which she is beaten.”

The Duchess savagely dotted the period, very nearly upsetting blackboard and flamingos both.

123: Carillonneur

I took no pictures. I felt awkward snapping shots of my first audience with the great keyboard in Sather Tower. It’s not even that great; it’s just the spare practice keyboard in the library, hidden away from the piercing tolling of the real bells on high. The practice room just feels sacred, though.

You make your way into the rarely used stairwell (tourists take the elevator, which commutes them only between the top floor and the ground) and go up to the first floor. This takes several flights of stairs and a couple of jumpscares from motion-activated lights. You grab your earplugs from the cheerfully lit office (today, I met Thomas, who was using the keyboard in the big room: he’s a third year carillonneur who plans along with the other senior carillonneurs to show us the ropes) and double back to the stairwell, opening that other door and going into the cramped practice room.

I closed the door securely and put on my earplugs. (They were very soft, making them difficult to ram into my ears.) I sat reverently at the bench, centering myself between C and G per Jeff’s instructions.

This is where my memory stops moving linearly, which is ironic in a musical context: music is especially sensitive to the flow of time, more so because it is an abstract auditory experience, rather than a definite, socially charged visual experience like a play or a movie. Books, too, conjure images with words. Music, by and large, is absolute and abstract (not to say it can’t be programmatic, of course, but it tends to be substantially less bent to social convention). But when I sat and  began to play, I really did lose my grip on my reference frame.

I don’t have a natural touch for the carillon – my fists, especially my pinkies, ached at the end of my half-hour’s practice – but I wasn’t dead clumsy, either. Little fragments flowed from my head out through my hands at the keyboard, surprisingly workable in a completely homophonic expression. (The consequence of requiring fists on the keys is that you are very hard-pressed to generate chords, unlike the ten-note, twelve-note possibilities of the piano and friends.) I played little segments of Kiki’s Delivery Service, the tiniest part from the first of Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, a memory from Howl’s Moving Castle, an eerie formless impromptu in D minor, and even a little bit of Eir Aoi’s Sirius. The last one was lots of fun to handle because the bells in the higher register happen to share the same timbre as the chimes in the original recording of the song. I look forward to properly arranging it one day for the carillon.

I threw in the stuttering beginning for Sliced Apple (the first ending theme from Shin Sekai Yori [From the New World]), which worked surprisingly well on the bells. I suspect the same cannot be said for the sostenuto main vocals. The hollow but high-powered melancholy really works.


EDIT: That is all.


122: Satisfaction

I think most find it difficult to imagine, after weeks of listening to music on tinny laptop speakers, how gratifying it is to hear music blasted joyously through the air. I used to (and still do) snark on people whose cars form one gargantuan subwoofer; yet I willfully took up the asshat’s mantle, holed myself up in 306 Soda, jimmied my computer into the line-out, and let loose a barrage of music rarely amplified in the CS-held territories.

I finished off a half-baked playlist of Chopin’s mazurkas (Evgeny Kissin live at Carnegie Hall, part 2 of 2 – I have never heard him in such detail before! It was a good experience) which then poured out into Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Now there is a piece to stir your bloodstreams: the spirited stomping of the first movement, the lovely coquettish grotesque flourishes of the second movement, and the furious maelstrom of finality in the concluding movement – all this is very exciting to listen to. I was especially satisfied with the final statements of the “Dies Irae” motif in the last movement: the speakers in 306 Soda do the brass of the Russian National Orchestra great justice.

Somewhere in the third movement of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, I got up and paced restlessly. I tried to sketch a Totoro on the whiteboard, but this only succeeded in elevating my resentment at my inept hands. I erased my obscene scribbles shortly after.

I frustrated myself over a trifle a few days ago: I suddenly became very conscious of the many splintered chat standards: chances are, most of my friends couldn’t network amongst each other for lack of standardized communication protocol. The common denominator tends to be Facebook, thankfully, which provides me the semblance of sufficient standardization.

Still, it irks me to no end that there is no single decided-upon format that we can’t all interoperate. All of these chat companies insist on create closed cliques which can’t communicate with one another except by throwing invitations to join their respective closed community at each other. As one girl put it, “who still uses e-mail?” (yes, that line was heard in conversation today. Confound my generation). Yes, indeed, why not use the most robust (as of now), decently organized, almost completely interoperable method of communication when you can wall yourself off from everyone except to send them invites to use your odious software?

I could probably marshal a horde of endangered lemurs to gather at an Irish manor and devise a better workable standard than all these fragmented solutions on the market now. But, lacking both lemurs and Irish manors, I will not do so. I will be content to be malcontent. Ew.