Category Archives: Music

As a lousy counter

03-empty-restaurant

I stumble the hardest over note values when arranging. My counting game is incredibly weak. I learned triplets when I disastrously attempted to accompany Dvorak’s cello concerto.

Revisiting the Spirited Away score in depth, I came to appreciate Hisaishi’s evocation of his minimalist roots. The Empty Restaurant is a delightful example of this that I expanded on in my paper on Ghibli film music. Most of the piece is sparse enough that I was unable to lock down the counts until tonight. I sat down, cranked up my headphones, and looped the beginning of The Empty Restaurant until the above emerged (albeit in a weird super deformed shape in my notebook – I initially used 2 measures of 5/8 each).

Having found the basic meter (which sets the beat for the measures immediately after), everything else should be easy up to the point where Chihiro’s parents get into eating. There are some unusual motions there that I don’t think I’ve yet nailed down.

The TOK cla-tter TOK TOK drove me crazy (in my ignorance) all day until I wrote it down – and then it all made sense.

I think that’s enough arranging for today!

J39M

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“Mindless Deadrun” take BB

I have invested quite some time on this arrangement and I’m fairly satisfied with the results. The limitations of the intertwined piano 4-hands format I chose mean that this arrangement is lobotomized. There’s no way I (me “up” and me “down” depending on where I was perched on the bench) could hope to match the colors of a full orchestra. Just listen to me fumbling the sixteenths when a string section would breeze effortlessly through.

A few notes –

  • I’m fairly proud of my synchronization, but I have no idea if that will suffer when I work my way up to the proper tempo.
  • That weird trill is supposed to be a snare drum. Limitations of the medium.
  • I left out the repeat and the huge bass drum strike at the end of the piece. But I know that the simulated bass drum sounds cool!
  • I got completely bum-lost in the middle and that made me very sad, but at least I came back in the end.

Shooting a whale in a teacup

Before Rogue One came out, I remember reading some excited comments on Reddit amounting to a score wishlist from Giacchino. Most of that wishlist came true: first and foremost, Darth Vader’s theme got a good showing (Krennic’s Aspirations and Hope). This is like shooting a whale in a teacup; Giacchino could have stuck in an Imperial quote played by a Peruvian pan flute and made the crowd go wild.

The finer points of the A New Hope score that the aforementioned comment hoped for were the insidious minor-third motif (which I hadn’t really taken notice of before) and the over-the-top Death Star flourish.

To my delight, Krennic’s Aspirations fulfilled the former almost gleefully. Giacchino really did his homework, I imagine. However, the Death Star motif didn’t get any showing that I can remember. In fact, the Death Star doesn’t seem to have any particular musical motif for itself in Rogue One since it is rarely the focal point in this movie.

A shower thought came over me tonight: the 2 firings of the Death Star provide a musical foil to each other from film to film. The cue Destruction of Alderaan is chock-full of dramatic tension, whirling up and down the heartstrings before culminating in a shocking and angry resolution in which Leia’s home is destroyed. The big ending to The Battle of Yavin evokes Holst (a bit like the opening Tantive IV chase) with no less bombast, going for the wholesale brass fortissimo to keep the audience engaged.

Compare these 2 examples against how things played out in Rogue One. In Star-dust, the quiet, almost nonchalant destruction of Jedha is just background noise while Jyn tearfully reconnects virtually with her father. One of the quickest genocides in galactic history plays out over quiet piano chords with minimal orchestral work. The cue and scene are serene, because the emotional crux of the scene lies between Jyn and the unreachable Galen. In Your Father Would Have Been Proud, the rate of mickey-mousing drops below zero as a choir layers a slow-paced cue over the abrupt destruction of the upper Citadel tower (and the death of Orson Krennic). Again, the action need not be frenzied because the outcome is inescapable. Jyn and Cassian have no way out; all they can do is collapse on the beach and wait for their time to come, soaring away on a heroic refrain of Jyn’s theme. The Death Star is mostly irrelevant in the scheme of things, having failed to interrupt the rebel transmission.

Compare the cues against each other and you see that we lose nothing by the omission of the quasi-motif of the New Hope Death Star. Rather, the musical blindness to the Death Star prevents the audience from being distracted by what is the largest on-screen object, enhancing the flow of the story.

“Hi,” he said, shaking my hand. “I’m Pablo Hidalgo.”

I grinned. “And I’m John Williams.”

He didn’t react. He stared blankly at me, still vacantly pumping our hands up and down.

“No, really,” I said, “no joking, who are you?”

“Pablo” sighed and motioned for me to sit. I did, still studying the old man behind the desk. This wasn’t Pablo – a few short years ago, Pablo had been so alive, zipping around the Twitterverse in an unending quest to straighten the Star Wars canon. Here I beheld a tired, thinly stretched, and graying old man who could have passed for a Jedi in exile.

“Did you orchestrate this?” Would-be Pablo held up the printed cue faintly.

“Yes.” I was more confused than peeved. Scoring was hard work, and this was the first time I had been referred to the story department on matters of music. It shaped up like a pointless dent in my schedule for wholly unmusical reasons. “Is something the matter?”

“You indicate that this cue,” said Pablo weakly, “incorporates a men’s choir.”

“Yes.”

Pablo sighed. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ll have to rethink this. If you’ve built anything in particular around the sound of a men’s choir, that’s also out.”

I wasn’t shocked, but my annoyance now overtook my confusion. “Just a minute, please. What about a men’s choir is so objectionable that the story group has to step in to interfere with the scoring process?”

Pablo didn’t answer. He lay his forearms on the table, wrapping both hands wearily around a bright green mug.

“I’d really like an answer, ‘Pablo,’ because that is a lot to ask.”

I suddenly noticed the veins in Pablo’s forearms. They stood out vividly as though they had been stenciled in with magic marker. He was straining – and he was gripping his fluorescent mug pretty hard.

“Is this about that silly Sno – ”

CRASH. I flinched. The mug had shattered from between Pablo’s hands. A gash in his palm pulsed heavily, and blood began to dribble out.

“You’re bleeding, my god, you’re bleeding. Are you okay? Where’s your first aid kit?”

“Stop.” Pablo hadn’t moved.

“You’re bleeding!”

“Just.” Pablo was still sitting ramrod-straight. “Just. Please.” He didn’t sound hurt, just wearier than ever. Maybe that was shock. “Please redo this cue.” He looked me in the eye. “And please don’t try using a men’s choir again.” The cut in his hand was slowly pooling blood among the ceramic shards of his former mug.

I bolted out the door. I had passed a first-aid kit next to the hand sanitizer on my way in.

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.

J39M

136: Kappa

Nope, not feeling too hot at all. Not finishing the CS 162 project didn’t help. Some days I can’t look myself in the mirror.

133: Zzz

Joey was out of town on an interview or similar, so he pinged the carillon guild asking if anyone could cover his Thursday recital slot. I was free Thursday at 6 PM, so I jumped right in.

I got to the tower with half an hour to spare, but I was feeling ill. I used the elevator for once, because I didn’t trust my jellied legs to manage the stairs. Nobody was on the first floor – I guess nobody practices ’round this time.

I went up with ten minutes to spare, took a selfie in the playing cabin, and waited for the six o’clock chimes. The program came out a lot faster than I realized – I actually underran the ten-minute cap. I ended up playing “Pigeons and a Boy (Pazu’s Fanfare),” the “Air” by G.F. Handel (the very first piece we played!) and the Fugue in E flat minor by A. Gerken (omitting the prelude).

I ended with a miniature encore for my own benefit – the opening fragment of Sayaka Sasaki’s “Zzz,” the ending theme to Nichijou. It sounded really weird on the carillon, but then again, so did everything else this past evening.

I deposited my music back in my folder and left the tower discreetly. It was fun.

J39M