Monthly Archives: April 2016

148: Written ambiguity

I have long misread this one line from Hamlet:

But I do prophesy th’ election lights
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.

Today, I suspect “lights” is used as a verb – as an archaic form of “alights.” In this reading, the election is given a sense of agency (or at least the voters are). This is at least less wrong than what I used to think: throughout high school and the earlier years of university, I mistakenly read “lights” as literal sources of illumination. So I just thought it was some Norwegian (possibly Danish, since Hamlet is speaking this line) custom to convene all the candidates in one room to call the election like a B-grade anime popularity contest omake episode. Surprise! The lights (of the election) blaze upon Fortinbras, voted best waifu in Hamlet.

For this reason, I have come to associate figures alone in the light (especially facing a crowd) with Fortinbras’ name. This wallpaper lives under the name “fortinbras.jpg” in my home directory:


I witness the stage lights upon Blechacz.


147: The Falco intensifies

It’s so strange that one of the most meaningful decisions in my undergraduate career is yet to come. I am faced with a modest dilemma about the Music 41A final recital. It’s a little less than two weeks out (May 1); we must commit to our individual pieces in about a week’s time. I have studied very little this semester (of course), having only two bits from Barnes’ first serenade to add to my repertoire. These are the Milonga and the Barcarolle. (We ignore the silly Bach chorale I arranged.)

Felix has been learning the first serenade in its entirety since day one; he has focused his practice around the same pieces plus the Sicilienne. Anders has been eyeing the Sicilienne for himself, too. If I decided to be selfish, one of them will almost certainly be thrown under the bus. I.E., if I claim the Barcarolle,

  1. Either Felix takes the Milonga and not the preferable Sicilienne, which goes to Anders,
  2. Or Felix takes the Sicilienne and Anders loses out on his dream piece that haunted him first when he listened to the carillon.

After dessert at McDonald’s

I let myself into the Campanile and locked myself into the Verdin Room (someone had the library keyboard). The tower had freshly struck eight. After about half an hour of practice, I heard the sound of the outer library door closing (but my earplugs deafened any feet on the staircase). I nosed around the library; nobody was in. I helped myself to the keyboard. From there it was another solid hour of practice, homing in carefully on the weaker parts of the Barcarolle (mostly the pedalling in the first part!). It’s worrisome that I can’t hit 100% accuracy on such a slow-moving pedal part. At least the Vanden Gheyn had its fast parts to shield me from criticism.

Actually, directly after dessert

I went to the observation deck first, partially to test the elevator and partially to watch the beautiful sunset alone. I spied the dome atop Campbell Hall for what it was (a bona fide telescope); I saw the Big C, still fluorescently outstanding in the fading light. I pulled out my phone and put on Zimerman playing Chopin’s third ballade. At the close, I lay down my phone and wallet. After a moment’s thought, I also lay the tower key on the ground. I absolutely did not need to see it hurling out of my pocket over the lip of the observation deck.

I turned two cartwheels on the west end of the observation deck – first in a southerly direction, then northerly. On the latter turn my foot clipped the far pillar (second furthest northwest, I believe), reminding me that there wasn’t much room for these physical shenanigans. I pocketed my things and returned to the first floor.

I have done two things that few people have ever done (or will probably ever do) atop Sather Tower – listen to Chopin’s third ballade and turn a cartwheel, both in the sunset. I find that the experience is totally unremarkable.


146: Some notes about Gil Shaham live at Zellerbach Hall

2016-04-14: Jamie got us (the Berkeley Connect students) tickets to see Gil Shaham at Zellerbach Hall. The production was a co-op with filmmaker David Michalek; with his contribution, the end result was a multimedia presentation of Bach set to mesmerizing slow-motion short films.

Is it correct to say the Bach was set to the films? The films were set to the Bach – and yet thematically I sometimes felt a disconnect that made it seem like the visuals were trying to tug at the balance of power to give themselves more prestige.

The program is subtitled “The Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.” He played them by ascending BWV, 1001 through 1006 from 2000 to 2240. There were intermissions every two works. It was a long night and somewhat taxing (though less so than sitting through the 24 Paganini caprices or even the 24 Chopin studies, I think).

I walked away happy and impressed. If I have ever pretended to understand music, I should ashamedly rescind any such pretense now. I completely failed to grasp most of the form and structure behind the works presented tonight. I enjoyed them as a series of pleasing forays through dissonance and consonance, kind of like the projected films.

Some chronological notes

  • I couldn’t hear the fugal parts of the Sonata no. 1 BWV 1001. I don’t know what I fixated on to miss all the contrapuntal writing.
  • I found the whole of Partita no. 1 BWV 1002 quite wearisome. Maybe seeing all the accompanying doubles (trailing each of the four “main” dances) printed in the program set me up for disappointment.
  • By the first intermission I had worked out the source of the faraway tapping and thumping: Gil himself was moving and bobbing to the piece, occasionally bringing his foot down on the wooden stage.
  • I greatly enjoyed the opening of Sonata no. 2 BWV 1003 (“Grave”). Gil teased out some truly wondrous effects from the depths of silence in Zellerbach.
  • When the fugue in Sonata no. 2 BWV 1003 began, the projectionist lit up a table with an hourglass on the right, something I don’t recall on the left, and a human skull in the middle. There was an audible disturbance; some whispers and possibly hisses. I was a little put off by the choice of visual for the piece (really? A grim and unwarranted memento mori?), but I refrained from joining the hubbub. I was intrigued by the outbreak itself, though.
  • For the finale of the Sonata no. 2 BWV 1003, another controversial tableau lit up the screen: a medium-lit vase of flowers (a huge, poofy bouquet in a fancypants goblet-esque vase) sits on a table. A fruit or two share the space. Water droplets bounce off the leaves and petals. The modest little stream waxes mightily into a roaring downpour; the vase is toppled and falls off the table, lost from view. The stream falls undeterred for a long while, creating a huge frothy pattern like the explosion of the Death Star. At last, the flow wanes and the film fades.
    • There was a lot of laughter when it became apparent that the vase was going to fall, especially from our section (I heard Jamie most distinctly).
    • Someone had a coughing / laughing / crying / nervous fit around the time the downpour really strengthened. I don’t actually know what happened, only that there were some strange noises coming from somewhere far off. Gil looked around bemusedly like a deer in the headlights, but bravely kept fiddling away without missing a beat.
    • The applause at the end was perhaps all the more enthusiastic for the film’s impact. Not sure. It was an excellent performance anyway.
  • The Partita no. 2 BWV 1004 took my Chaconne virginity – I have only ever heard the piano arrangement from Busoni; tonight, I was lucky enough to drink in the pure original. It was more modest and more elegant by far – a wholly different experience from the barnstorming tempest from Michelangeli and Pletnev that I have in my collection. Neither is really superior or inferior; I think I would treat them separately and look for different experiences from each. This closer brought the house down and won Gil a standing ovation from a tired but wildly enthusiastic crowd. For my part, I was grinning ear to ear, maybe a little less from the strange film featuring a traditionally garbed Japanese woman fan-dancing between two gold-leaved trees.
  • The pastoral “Loure” of the Partita no. 3 BWV 1006 featured two children playing violins. They both end and draw away their bows triumphantly, breaking into laughter (and eliciting some from us).
  • The concluding Gigue of the Partita no. 3 BWV 1006 showed a familiar table holding up a piece of wet fruit. Turns out it was the falling vase tableau run in reverse; their rehearsal had paid off, and the vase was well onto the table and the final droplets receding off the top when Gil’s bow last left the violin. A beautiful ending.

Some non-chronological notes

  • It’s very nice in Zellerbach Hall. The stage isn’t as big as I imagined, but it’s big enough (and then some) for a solo violinist.
  • Maura (from Jamie’s later section) sat next to me and kept me informed with her 10 years’ of violin experience. Soon after we had acquainted ourselves, she got a selfie of us. I’m such an old man – I was caught off guard by that. She was tired but enthusiastic about the performance. She was disappointed that Gil didn’t use a baroque bow, explaining that a baroque bow is pulled far less taut than a modern one, allowing greater curvature and more strings to be bowed at once – i.e., less “staggering” on large chords. I could not distinguish when the breaks / rolls were written in the score and when they resulted from modern bowing, though; I enjoyed it all the same.
  • Gordon (from Amadeus’ earlier section) sat behind me. I got to talk to him during the second intermission; he was tired, too. We instantly agreed about how weirdly exotic it was to feature a heavily Japanese dance during the Chaconne and got to talking. He’s come all the way from Ft. Lauderdale! He enjoys the sound of the harpsichord.\


Xorg is cutting onions

And it’s wreaking havoc with me. I’m not just crying, but my screen is tearing.

I currently use bare i3 without any real bells or whistles. My aspirations to package compton have been shelved indefinitely since I stopped using it myself. This was prompted mainly by discovering the ability to manually create Xorg configuration files (at time of writing, /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/) and simultaneously reading up about the “TearFree” option in the Intel video driver. That was all I needed to get a working vsync; suddenly, the added bonuses of colored drop shadows and dimmed inactive windows fell away. My core reason for using the compositor was gone.

When I switched to i3, there was even less reason than before – window management is so different from my Openbox movements that I feel foolish starting compton ever.

But the trouble was not long in coming. Several weeks (months? I should keep better logs) ago, I started seeing screen tearing creeping back to haunt me. The most annoying thing was that there was no discernible (!!!) pattern to when it came up – between one and four days of uptime would suddenly magic the tearing into existence; restarting Xorg was the only way to magic it out. The journal was silent on the issue; nothing of note was ever happening when the tearing started. It was not tied to some system thing that I could easily track, then.

Several driver / Xorg / Wayland updates later, the issue continued to persist. Actually, the problem followed me from my old Acer Ultrabook to my new Lenovo Thinkpad (a clean installation in which I reproduced my settings, rather than copying them over from my old computer). Whatever the problem was, it was either a distro-intrinsic issue that everyone was being silent on (incessant Googling turned up nothing) or a really specific thing that only I was encountering.

One day, after I had just freshly re-logged in, I opened a browser and happened to scroll up and down, verifying that there was no tearing. I opened mpv on some file or another to loop in the background, for which I have the following alias (called “gfy”):

quiet mpv –fs –loop=inf “$@”

The only part you need to pay attention to is “–fs” (“quiet” is just a /dev/null redirector). After I started this up, going back to my web browser caused tearing.

I was thunderstruck. Running a single application in fullscreen would cause tearing across all others?

The problem was not just mpv, but with fullscreen vlc, too. Fullscreen flash and HTML5 (via Firefox) did not trigger the same problem. Some googling suggests that this is a related problem.

I have no idea what’s caused this, but it’s super unsavory. I’ll have to ride it out until Wayland goes gold – and even then I suppose that if I’ve misunderstood the nature of Wayland, this might not even go away.

At least I have chicken (non-fullscreen playback).


Foxtrot foxtrot sierra

There was talk for a while, but that went away quickly when everyone saw how compatible those two were. Their sickeningly sugary chemistry sank into the collective consciousness of Satoru’s circle (Airi’s gossiped a while longer) and no more was said about the age difference.

Their marriage was a stable and happy one. Airi wanted very much to take the Fujinuma name, while Satoru pushed back with how prettily “Katagiri” rolled off the tongue. He attracted some knowing looks from his assistants the next day, wearing a stiff collared shirt that did not fully obscure a red crescent on his neck. Airi took the Fujinuma name and that was the end of it.