22 October 2005

Who is the beast? Why, it's a man of the cloth!

Yes, there's a mysterious 'vege-ravaging' beast rampaging around the UK, and this screen grab from the website of UGC cinemas finally reveals its identity! Look carefully in the bottom left corner and all will be revealed!
Were Rabbi
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15 October 2005

I've finally sung at St John's College, Cambridge!

At a fortnight's notice I was offered the opportunity to sing with the English Arts Chorale in their performance of the Bach B Minor Mass at St John's College, Cambridge last Saturday. Anyone who is familiar with the work will realise that it's one of the hardest sings in the repertoire—long, relentless and tiring. Having not sung it since the early 90s, I was a little sceptical that they'd actually take me at such short notice, but I was encouraged to come along and try out. I had dreamt of singing at Cambridge all my life, so how could I refuse?

So I showed up to the ante-penultimate rehearsal, got some of it right although I fumbled my way through several of the cruel runs at conductor Leslie Olive's cracking tempo. I was pronounced adequate without having to undergo their usual audition ordeal, and it was Cambridge, here we come. At this first rehearsal I was struck by the choir's excellent handling of the rapid bits, and real sense of ensemble and subtlety in the delicate bits. Les encourages everyone to sing the very least they need to create a good tone, and pursues a bright clear 'young' sound, and it works. The choir has a good blend of strong voices and for an amateur choir of 45 or 50 voices is very good indeed.

We arrived at St John's College on Saturday last for the big day. The College is lovely, dating back to the early 16th century. The Chapel, which is world famous for its choir and its acoustic is, surprisingly, much newer, having been built in the 1860s. It is nevertheless a beautiful building, with a magnificent polished floor, lovely roof treatment and austere dark woodwork. There's a Quicktime movie you can scroll around on St John's College website which you might like to check out. The place is long and thin, with the organ mounted above the Quire on the Cantoris side. One look at the place and you can see the sound is going to be nice and detailed in the front half, and a wash of meaningless noise at the back, and that's pretty much how it is.

We had been practicing at my son's school in Reigate, accompanied by piano. The dress rehearsal in this completely different space, now with organ and chamber ensemble was, frankly, a disaster. Suddenly without the percussive authority of the piano, tired from more than two hours travel, and perhaps a little overawed by the occasion, heads went down and timing went out the window. To add to the disaster, the oboist's music was lost, and the tenor soloist was clearly under-rehearsed. This could be ugly.

But as I said earlier, this is a pretty decent choir. With three hours between rehearsal and concert, would we get our heads together in time? Would there be anyone in the audience to care? And most urgently, how was I going to get my fat neck into the tiny bow tie with which I had been provided?

In the end, I need not have worried too much. Joanna fixed the bow tie with the ingenious application of safety pins--a girl thing if ever there were one. The audience was just shy of 250 which in a college chapel is pretty good. The tenor soloist had been working hard between times and was fine. Soloists were very good all round, and the violin, horn, flute and oboe generally excellent—top class players all. And the choir were suitably transformed—they sang well, with reasonable tightness and authority until the inevitable 'wall of tiredness' which affects every choir I've ever heard about two-thirds of the way through the Bach B Minor. After a couple of ensemble wobblies at that point, they recovered to a very musical conclusion. They could have been a little tighter on the day, and perhaps just a little more sophisticated in places, but overall it was pretty good, and in several places, brilliant. And the star of the show was Ian Le Grice, the choir's accompanist, on the organ.

So all told, a very good show. And what a joy it is to sing in that incredibly famous chapel. As wave after wave of audience applause washed over us at the end, I was high on the space and the sound, and just did not want to get off the stage, knowing I may never have this opportunity again—an absolute buzz.

My '6-week' world tour started last Christmas, but somehow didn’t involve any singing until quite recently. Of late I have performed Brahms Requiem with the Surrey Choral Festival, rehearsed Spem in Alium with the Tallis Scholars (yes THE Tallis Scholars), and soon I have another Spem with the highly regarded Exmoor Singers of London in early November, followed by yet another Spem with the English Arts Chorale at Arundel Cathedral, along with the Faure and Brahms Requiems. But in this 500th anniversary of Tallis's birth, every Spem is sacred, every Spem is great!Go to eebahgum!

11 October 2005

Earthquakes don't kill...

Behind the disturbing images currently on our TVs showing the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan lies an equally horrible truth which isn't getting much media attention—that most of the deaths could have been prevented.

Earthquake experts have long asserted that earthquakes don't kill, buildings do. And buildings generally don't unless people have messed up.

Although this has been a very significant earthquake, massively destructive because of its closeness to the surface of earth's crust, it would not have caused anything like the carnage had buildings been properly built in conformity with the building codes present in most countries. Bad engineering, non-existent quality control, inadequate government regulation and quite probably systemic corruption have led directly to the death of tens of thousands of innocent people, many of them children. Lack of capital may well be an issue, but the Pakistani government has no difficulty finding the money to play nuclear games or engage in pointless military conflict with India.

Whilst the international community is rallying to provide much-needed assistance, I hope we're also willing to call a spade a spade, so that something positive can come of this disaster.
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10 October 2005

Gaudi's Barcelona

In 1987 I bought the Alan Parsons Project CD Gaudi. Despite being from my favourite band of the time, the album was pretty awful, apart from one and a half tracks. But the subject matter, the life and works of the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, had me hooked. At the time I promised myself that I would one day get myself to Barcelona to experience some of Gaudi's work first-hand, in particular the magnificent La Sagrada Familia.

sagrada web

Finally, after 18 years, that dream was realised last week, as Jonathan and I spent three whirlwind days in Barcelona. It's a marvellous place, full of wonderful high-class shopping, fascinating markets, and a Mecca for lovers of the Avant Garde and surrealism. And despite the prominent influence of artists such as Picasso, Dali and Miro on Barcelona, and it on them, one figure reigns supreme over the Barcelona skyline and, it seemed to me, the Catalonian mentality—Antonio Gaudi.

Jonathan Park Guell

I'm not going to go into intimate details of Gaudi's biography (which you can read at Wikipedia here), or a deep meaningful analysis of his work. To me, his structures are more than architecture—they are a weird form of organic art into which you can immerse yourself and somehow feel connected with the transcendent, but your mileage may differ. Certainly, they are all more amazing in actuality than in photographs, but here are a few more anyway. I'll be adding more to this page over the next week or two:

viaduct web

Park Guell central hall

(6 Megapixel images from my Nikon D70 are available on request. More images to come...)Go to eebahgum!

7 October 2005

Review: Apple's own iPod killer, the Nano

ipod_nano1Call me a Luddite if you will (okay, okay, stop now) but I never really ‘got’ the Sony Walkman thing. I really love music of every variety (except, of course, country and western), and thoroughly enjoy listening to a very good audio system, so listening to music through scratchy little earbuds with the sounds of the outside world disturbing the rhythm and sanctity didn’t seem all that appealing. Besides, most of the time I actually enjoy interacting with the world outside my head, rather than retreating into the twisted space within.

So Walkmans, Discmans and MiniDisc players came and went, and I remained disinterested. Even the iPod, for all its obvious style, didn’t do much to change my mind. Admittedly, I did take to listening to music on my PDA from time to time, but I wasn’t exactly hooked. I did it simply because I am a gadget freak and I could.

When I added the Orange C500 Smartphone to my gadget arsenal, the first signs of enlightenment quickly followed. At last, here was a device small enough and with good enough battery life to make listening to music on it seem pointful. Besides, it was already with me all the time. Recently I have found myself watching movies and TV programs on it, as well as listening to language learning CDs for my holiday in Barcelona last week.

But the iPod Nano has almost got me convinced. If you haven’t yet seen one, it is very small, if not quite, as Apple claim, ‘impossibly’ so. And it’s absurdly stylish, which will surely be the main motivator for sales. On top of that, it has a number of excellent features such as syncing with Outlook on the PC, a built in stopwatch, and an inbuilt screen lock function that may discourage theft. I’ve blogged before on my view that portable electronics, in particular digital cameras, should have inbuilt security, so it’s good to see Apple doing something on this score.

But the iPod Nano is still far from perfect. Some of my gripes:
  • It needs a larger capacity than the current 4 Gb if it is to serve a serious photo storage device. Of course, that will come soon enough (as soon as Apple have sold out of full-sized iPods, I imagine)
  • The headphone socket should be on top of the device. At the bottom it pulls on the connector, requires more trailing cable and looks less cool
  • An FM Tuner in there would be really nice
  • It is flawed as a photo viewer—the screen is not really of high enough resolution and the inability to pan or zoom into a photo is a surprising omission
  • Some people will also feel the lack of Firewire syncing and the absence of a remote control are also issues, though neither of them worries me.
But minor issues aside, there’s no doubt that the Nano is tiny, light and gorgeous and it sounds good to boot. It’s the iPod killer that none of Apple’s competitors have managed to build. I mean, who would want to carry around a huge iPod when they could have a Nano? Does anyone really need to have their entire music collection on hand all the time?

Actually, I don’t need even need to carry 4 Gb of music with me. A 1 Gb card in my phone holds all the music I need, plus all my TomTom maps for my mobile GPS. And I can watch videos, run applications, use it as a powerful alarm clock and make telephone calls, all without needing to carry a second device. That’ll do me just fine until Apple bring out a Windows Smartphone with an iPod Nano’s size, style and functionality. Until then, I can't see the benefit in giving up telephone, GPS navigation, video player etc just to get more music and more cool.

At the end of the day, if the ultimate converged device is the goal, then my Smartphone is closer than the iPod Nano. But my advice is rush out and buy an iPod Nano today. I have a birthday coming up soon, and it would be the perfect gift for a gadget-obsessed guy like me.Go to eebahgum!

3 October 2005

McDonalds Spanglish

With the self-assurance that comes from having listened to Spanish lessons in mp3 files on my phone for 10 minutes a day last week, and having spent a whole day in Barcelona without being lost, pick-pocketed or kidnapped, I sauntered into El McDonaldos and confidently asked for "uno hamburguese ab fromatge por favor". The accent was impeccable, the prounciation perfect, even if I do say so myself—I sounded exactly like an Anglo-Australian tourist mumbling in broken Spanish. It was now that I remembered the problem with learning foreign languages, when the customer service officer replied in a barrage of rapid Spanish, none of which I recognised. Unperturbed and with great self-assurance, I replied, as one does, "Huh?".

I think it's back to those Spanish mp3s for me!
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1 October 2005

eebahgum's 1st birthday and blogging as a state of mind

Yesterday was eebahgum'’s first birthday. After a gestation period of only a few days the birth was reasonably painless thanks to the '‘new blogger'’ and its great default templates. Since then I'’ve changed little, in part because I'’ve tried to focus on content and structure, but if truth be told, also because I'’ve never bothered learning enough about HTML, CSS or any of the other mandatory acronyms. Let'’s face it, life is short, and my family would rather I spent most of my time talking specifically with them, than more randomly with the blogosphere. At the end of the day, much of my blogging is done, well, at the end of the day, when the rest of the household is asleep.

And it'’s been a colourful year, with the '‘restructuring'’ of my employment and the surprising demotivation which accompanied it, then my running away from home for a while to new country, new home, new job with the resultant rediscovery of self which has come with it.

Now I've never been one to pour my heart out in print, and thank heavens for that, but just writing about the things which interest, annoy or amuse me is a great motivator for me, because it changes the way I look at the world. I find myself always on the lookout for things which I think might be interesting to write about, but also trying looking at issues in a more critical and objective way. It's one thing to have an opinion, but entirely another thing to have to express it in writing, especially to people who donĂ‚’t know you all that well. And the perpetual challenge is to try to put your point of view in such a way that those who disagree with you from the outset might yet be willing to engage with it in some way.

In fact, the very possibility of writing about some things tends to change the way I observe all things. In a way blogging seems to me as much about a state of mind, a way of looking at the world, as it is about what one actually writes—the journey, if you like, as much as the destination—and that too is something to celebrate.

But the most important thing about the blogosphere is that it's other bloggers and blog readers who have planted, watered and nurtured this garden of possibilities in which I have my patch and so it is to you, above all, that I raise my glass today. Live long and prosper!Go to eebahgum!