Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Winter 2006 Book/Movie Review

Some thoughts about the books/movies that I've consumed lately:

Eragon - Christopher Paolini

My brother got me into this series. The author was 15 when he began writing Eragon, the first novel. It's a Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy trilogy, centered around a young farm boy who becomes a Dragon Rider. I found it more palatable than LOTR. Simpler. A good read.

Eldest - Christopher Paolini

Of course, I had to keep plugging right along. Eldest is the second book, and Paolini gets to (ahem) spread his wings with this one (it's nearly twice as long as the first). I liked it better -- The storytelling seems more effortless, and as the conflicts broaden in scope one can't help but get excited to see how the fates of the characters will intertwine. I like the way Paolini treats the development of Eragon. He has natural gifts, but they don't blossom into an instant mega-warrior who owns everyone. He's a Luke Skywalker-type.

Paolini also decides to throw in a bunch of not-so-subtle anti-religious subtexts into the books... If you are bothered by arguments favoring reason over belief, you might be offended. Overall, the Eragon books talk about a fair number of ethical issues, which give them greater value.

Eragon (the film)

Piece of shit. Don't bother seeing it, ESPECIALLY if you haven't yet read the book are thinking about doing so. It's hopelessly compressed, disemboweled and stitched back together, with crappy dialogue, bad cinematography, and a total lack of flow as a story.

Babel (film)

This movie came out without much fanfare, but it deserves to be seen. It unfolds uniquely, following three almost completely separate stories about people who don't listen to one another and the unfortunate consequences thereof. The film's title is a metaphor for this misunderstanding. The characters are at the center, and they are good ones -- real and complex. Brad Pitt is the big name actor, but all the roles are perfectly acted. I smell Oscars.

Charlotte's Web (film)

If you have little cousins, go see it with them. You'll both enjoy the irresistible cuteness of the little pig Wilbur. As an adult, don't bother, unless maybe you have a GF who loves irresistibly cute piglets. The reviews that I've read all give big props to Dakota Fanning, who plays the little girl Fern. She annoyed me -- the actress is so used to playing drama and horror roles, I don't think she knows how to strip away her Hollywood blockbuster demeanor and act like a simple, little farm girl. Too affected.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Xtension Chords on BOCA 2007!

The list of songs on the upcoming 2007 BOCA (Best of College Acappella) compilation album has just been announced, and track #2 is going to be The U. of Illinois Xtension Chords - "Just The Girl".


I have to admit, it makes me feel pretty darn good that my first effort at recording/producing an Xchords track was chosen for BOCA. And track 2 is a good place to be -- A LOT of people are going to hear us. We all deserve credit for this puppy though -- Brian Thoman threw down a killer solo, and all the parts from Ryan's powerful, precise bass singing to Ed's balls out high A's made this track work. And Bill Hare is really good at mixing. Sorry, that was my moment of gloating... now back to work on the rest of the album :)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Annoyed at I-Tunes

Is anyone else slightly pissed at Apple for releasing a buggy-ass version of I-Tunes? I'm getting wierd artificacts and skips even when simply viewing a webpage in firefox with a few other apps running. After all this talk about how "Apple products never crash"...

- I'm giving DMB's "Crash" album a good hard listen. I used to love this band, and all three of their great albums -- Under the table, crash, and before these crowded streets. Then they just sucked for a while, and I forgot about them. I've brought out those old albums again in the past few years, and am giving them a fresh listen. The reason I love listening to this "vintage" dave now is that there is so much subtlety and complexity to the musicianship and production those albums. The grooves are constantly fresh, and constantly tight. So tonight, it's "Crash" -- .. the album which I've most neglected thus far.

- Finished mixing on the first track from the next Xtension Chords CD. It sounds real nice. I'm having various thoughts about whether or not I could do this for a living (music production, recording). And I always come away with the thought that, yes, maybe i could, but I gotta get out of a cappella. I gotta get into stuff like Steve Lillywhite did on those DMB albums. The a cappella CD project is cool, just trying not to burn out on it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Putting things in perspective

I found the work of Julian Beever when I received a chain email with a few of his images. I immediately looked him up to learn more. The bottle in the photo above was drawn with chalk on a two-dimensional surface (the sidewalk). INSANE. I wonder what he does before starting to draw -- does he really have such an uncanny mastery of perspective, that he can achieve such a convincing 3-D effect without prior sketches and computer-aided stretching?

Check out more of his stuff here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chapter 1: Ma' House

It's been about a month now that I've been all moved out of my '05-'06 apartment and all moved into my palazzo.

Perhaps palazzo isn't the right word... maybe chateau?

I was lucky enough to know the previous tenants, so they let me move in early, before the end of their lease. Good guys. The place has been treating me well.

The persian rug is courtesy of my parents. It's a pretty ratty rug as persian rugs go (we've used it in our family living room for a LONG time), but it's still WAY better than what I deserve to have in my college room right now. Thanks Ma, thanks Pa.

Twin monitors on the desk are barely visible -- one of them glows rapture-white in this shitty cellphone shot, the other one is caught between the twin rapture points of the window and the first monitor. Each monitor is connected to its own PC (you'll read all about that in Chapter 3: "Xtension Chords in collaboration with st00ts st00dios, Inc"). The keyboard is new and awesome, but maybe i'll talk more about that when I actually have something created to show you.

The plywood in the bottom left corner is another hint of what's to come in Ch. 3....

The bed is old, mattresses hopelessly worn in, headboard ugly, and the whole rig is somehow incredibly comfortable.

Yes, that is indeed an accordion next to the bed.

Let's head downstairs!

The Living Room -- As of yet un-decked-out.

The D-room -- Care to dine with me? Join me in the D-room! Pour yourself a drink!

The K-hole: Care to make me dinner so we can dine? Please, step into the the K-hole! Make sure you wash the dishes -- no dishwasher here.

The future good times headquarters of Chambana.

(Stalker Challenge! Can YOU figure out where I live from the pictures presented here? Winner gets a copy of my fall semester class schedule!)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Perhaps you meant...

Those chapter entries will soon come, I promise!! But here's a distraction in the meantime. I was looking at various dictionary sites for the word "escalate".. ever since I told Jamie that she was using the wrong word to describe "the escalating (growing) rip in her skirt". I was trying to find an authoritative source that would prove to her that it's not standard usage to use "escalate" when describing a physical increase in an object... Why should I even care? Good question.. I just felt like disagreeing with her on this point :)

Anyway, here's what I found at

No entries found for "escalate"

We have not found any entries on our dictionary databases for the word you entered. Perhaps you are looking for one of the following instead?



PS. Anybody know of a dictionarywiki?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Table of Contents

Welcome to the

"Table of Contents"


Keep reading, and you'll soon find a list of all the things i want to share with you about myself!!! Yup, this is the Table of Contents for blog entries to come. Except you can't just flip the page to Chapter 1 whenever you want. I have to write something. Yeah, that's right. I decide when you flip the page in this publication. bitch.

Ch. 1. Ma' house!
Ch. 2. My pimp-mobil-a-car
Ch. 3: Xtension Chords in collaboration with st00ts st00dios, Inc.
Ch.4: Wildcardwildcardwhat'sitgonnabewhat'sitgonnabe

That's all for today folks, stay tuned for frequent chapter updates! :)

Monday, June 26, 2006

How could we have been so nerdy?

I just came back from wiki-surfing! This is what I saw:

Damn, they don't make magazine background gradients like they USED to!

I was meandering through some biographies of the world's wealthiest people and came across good ol' Bill Billy Gates here. The fact that Bill Gates was once this nerdy is no great surprise, but Time Magazine... how could Time Magazine have been this nerdy?

Jesus, it was only 20 years ago, but that magazine cover looks like an anthropological artifact.

I found these Wikis of extremely wealthy people interesting, both for the astounding facts they contained and for the amusing personalities of the writers of the articles. Warren Buffet is portrayed to be so classically American -- he filed his first income tax return at 13 - deducted his bike as a work expense. Bill Gates, on the other hand, seems a bit sickly -- like he took advantage of a fledgling, confused industry (computing) and weaseled around into just the right places to succeed. Mmm, slantastic.

Nonetheless, they are interesting accounts to read, to think about, to talk about. Warren Buffet seems like he could be the protagonist in an Ayn Rand novel. Though Ayn Rand probably wouldn't approve of the 39 billion Buffet just recently announced he would donate to charity, with most of that going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Wikipedia has been expanding in all directions so damn fast that now it's kind of an awkward teenager. It is one hell of a creature though.


(more on various personal developments soon!)

Monday, June 05, 2006

I almost died tonight

That's no shock title, I seriously almost died tonight. My dad and I were driving home on I-294 from Buffalo Grove (where we were checking out a '98 Camry XLE for sale) when I noticed a huge white square object sitting in our lane 20 yards in front of us. Washing machine? Piece of posterboard standing on edge? Hard to say.

I blurted "watch out!" to my dad, and he reacted -- we swerved sharply out of the way. SCREEEWWEEEERRSHHHHHREEECH! Next thing I know we're sliding across lanes of traffic, skidding in wild arcs back and forth on the highway as cars pass us going 80 MPH on either side. At that point my brain understood two things:

1. The sea of headlights and taillights, if observed at night from an erratically spinning vantage point, is pretty psychedelic.
2. My car has a lot of momentum right now. So do the cars that are probably going to hit me. And that truck that's staring me right in the face as it approaches us helpless spinning saps... it's got PLENTY of momentum.

At that moment I was fully prepared for the possibility of getting severely messed up by this truck. I was waiting for the impact.

We ended up near the outer shoulder and gathered our wits enough to move off the road. The two cops sitting 40 yds ahead on traffic duty didn't react in the slightest, either to the big white thing in the middle of the highway, or the fact that a car just spun the hell out and was now sitting on the shoulder. We didn't really care, though; we just sat in our car and breathed deep and listened to our frantically pumping hearts slow down a bit.

My dad claims that the car oversteered... I think he just got startled and jerked the wheel way too hard. In any case, we still haven't found a good used car for me to drive around. If you got something, email me.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Poop That Looked Delicious

Yeah, that's right, that's a shock title for today's entry. Now keep reading.

It all started back a few weeks before Acappellapalooza when I was working long into the nights in three and five hour spurts on that friggin' Xchords movie in my room. I was eating poorly and infrequently, and ended up losing a bunch of weight and getting frequent hunger pains.

Everything subsided for a time, but then finals came and I found myself working 12 straight hours no break on a paper in the library. Got some hunger pangs then, too.

They didn't go away after that -- been feeling them more or less continuously for the past month -- so of course my slightly paranoid doctor parents started suspecting an ulcer. I've been taking stomach-healing prescription drugs like crazy for the past 2 1/2 weeks.

Hold on, I've almost reached the poop part of the story!

So today I did some X-rays and they made me swallow this chalky, white drink (Barium) which apparently illuminates the shape of whatever it passes on the xray (hence the usefulness -- by seeing the negative space within the stomach, you can basically see the stomach itself). The doc said she didn't see any ulcer, so it could be inflammation from other causes.

And then I pooped, and it was pure, pure white. I paused for a moment above it, in reverence -- it looked so innocent, like a Dunkin Donuts powdered sugar pastry or something. It looked delicous.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

DaVinci Code -- Meh at Best

If you've read the book, there's no point in seeing the movie. If you have not read the book, go spend your $7.50 on a copy of the book, read it, and then don't see the movie.

Dan Brown's DaVinci Code was a cliffhanger, a pageturner, and can't-put-it-down-er. I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow, this book reads just like a movie." Turns out that when you try to turn an eight-hour experience that reads like a movie into a two-hour movie that... uh.. watches like a movie, you run into some problems.

For me, one of the most pleasurable parts of the book was seeing the puzzle come together. Though it's basically impossible to discover the solution yourself before the characters do, at least you get the chance to think about it. You can even STOP READING (imagine that!) and try your hand at decoding an anagram. In the film, however, each riddle is solved in a jiffy:

So dark the con of man.... hmmm.... maybe it's an anagram...'nads' 'scone'...nope... I GOT IT! 'MADONNA ON THE ROCKS!'"

There are so many puzzles and plot points to cover, and so little time, that each conflict has to be resolved almost immediately. The result is a disappointing lack of suspense.

Screen minutes were obviously at a premium, but Ron Howard still found time to bombard us with graphic violence. Why spend so many minutes zooming in on Silas (the albino monk) mortifying himself with whips and barbs, as blood oozes down his thigh? Or Fache beating the air traffic controller, then kicking him repeatedly while he's on the floor... why not one threatening shove, and then move on to the next plot point?

The scene that reveals the Teacher's identity deserves specific mention for being one of the Greatest Heavy-Handed Moments in Narrative Cinema. The camera is fixed on Teabing's butler, who is clearly having a conversation with the Teacher, saying things like, "we got 'em good, boss" etc etc. The teacher is never on camera, and you can't hear him responding to anything the butler says. Then, as the butler lays poisoned and dying, the camera desperately tries to create suspense by slowly panning up from the Teacher's feet to his face, to reveal that he is none other than Teabing. The whole scene is in wierd slow-shutter, the angles are amateurish. I found myself wishing it would all be over soon, for Ron Howard's sake.

As far as the religious content goes, I really got tired of the sign of the cross juxtaposed with brutal violence over and over again. Ok, I get it -- Silas is devoted to Opus Dei and he's also crazy. Now stop it. If you need to kill time, give Tom Hanks some more unnatural-sounding lines or something. Stop alienating your audience.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The movie I walked out of and the movie I walked into

United 93 is "not a good date movie", I had been told. Nonetheless, one night Jamie and I found ourselves on a date at the Savoy 16, romantically sharing a gigantor-size popcorn bucket, sitting in those awkward theater chairs that kinda recline but only if you're applying steady pressure on them with your torso, watching Hollywood trivia and waiting for "the September 11th movie" to begin.

The film opens with the five hijackers quietly murmuring Arabic prayers in their hotel rooms. I hoped for subtitles -- they might have shed some light on what was going through the minds of these men. There were none, however; either the film wasn't concerned with giving depth to its characters, or maybe subtitles are considered "desecration" of the Qu'ran.

The scene moves to the airport, where more characters are introduced. The camera work is jerky and gives the appearance of being unmotivated -- As I watched, I felt like a regular airport traveler, just looking around. It flashes from one average Joe talking on his cell phone to another guy reading the paper. Occasionally it shows a terrorist trying to be nonchalant as he nervously bides his time.

From the very first scene, I couldn't help thinking about the film's inevitable, tragic conclusion. By the time the passengers were boarding the plane, I was overcome by this feeling. OK, I thought. I've spent a good 20 minutes here, essentially watching a giant ticking time bomb. So what's next? I'll watch another hour or so, thinking about how all these people are going to die, and then they'll die.

That thought did not appeal to me. What would be the point? And so we got up and left. It was the first movie I've ever left early because of its content. I wasn't learning anything or gaining some new perspective, and I certainly wasn't getting any entertainment value from the film.

And so we walked right out, and right into Thank You for Smoking next door. We missed the first 10 minutes or so, but still got a big kick out of this movie.

It's the story of a smooth-talking tobacco lobbyist who is constantly in the spotlight and under fire, and who consistently utters his most brilliant (and chuckle-worthy) lines when trying to explain the moral justification of his job to his young, admiring son.

Every criminal deserves a fair trial and a lawyer, right? Well, I'm like the lawyer for Big Tobacco!

There's plenty of fun here -- the movie is almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, and plenty witty. It's certainly a better date movie than that other one.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Xtension Chords at ICCA

I just got home from spring break. This year, we had to haul ass around the country to get ready for ICCA competition in Madison on Saturday. Driving around in the XRV was enjoyable, though we felt a bit rushed. It was a lot of driving.

I got sick with a massive fever and sore throat on the second day, and it didn't go away for about 3 days. It was mostly annoying because I couldn't project my voice enough to talk to anyone we met on the road.

I got healthy enough in time for ICCA. This was the semi-final round -- the winner would be moving on to New York. As we stood on stage along with all the other groups, awaiting the verdict, we were feeling satisfied with our performance. As we went unmentioned in one category and then another, (arrangement - Other Guys, choreo - A Cub Bella, Solo - Dicks and Janes, 3rd place - Rip Chords... 2nd place - A Cub Bella... ), we started getting nervous. This competition wasn't our 'everything', but we wanted to do well.

First place was announced (The Other Guys), and we left the stage, disappointed. The judge sheets didn't shed much light on the verdict -- apparently, we were just not well-liked by the judges, for some reason or another.

Several judges did strange things -- one rated our energy and stage presence 7 out of 10. Another wrote "Choreo -- why?" next to 'Friend Like Me'.

Some of their comments were understandable. Our tone quality, blend, and intonation are not perfect, and I certainly don't expect them to be rated perfectly. But as we prepared to drink the disappointment away at the Nitty Gritty, we still found ourselves wondering, "Not even 3rd place -- why?"

Saturday, February 25, 2006

It’s 2006.

Have you ever looked into the future and just tried out some future dates in your head, to get a feel for how weird they ring:

This is a 2015 Chardonnay from California, it was a very good year.

It sounds so bizarre. I instinctively imagine any date more than a few years in the future as some crazy trekkied-out space age. I remember when I thought about 2006 that way. And now, here I am. Of course, the technology has gotten better; in some ways I think I would get really frustrated living in 1996, coming from 2006. Slow internet. Extremely limited cell phone use/network. Virtually no peer-to-peer, blogging, social-networking, or sharing of art that we now have happening over the web. No friggin Ipods.

But I can't help feeling, as I sit here in 2006, that in many ways the world is really the damn same as it was in 1996, and quite likely it was just as damn same in 1986 and 1926 and 1574. People have been getting by, and they continue to get by. When you strip away the superficial gloss - the longer life span, the better tech, the marrying for love, the free society, maybe we’re just the same as we used to be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I switched majors again. I'm still in the School of Music, so this switch isn't quite as radical as the previous one. Nonetheless, it's another change, this time to music education. I think, purely as a degree, a music ed. degree will serve me better. If I chose to make this big, risky jump to music, I might as well have some padding.

Once I have a teaching certificate, I can at the very least get a decent job, and it's not too difficult to get certified in other subjects, as well. With K-12 certification, that leaves a lot of job opportunities. This isn't to say that I'm going to end up as a HS choir director (though that's basically what they are teaching me to do). It is something that I wouldn't mind doing, though, and something that could position me for further musical endeavors.

And so I did a lot of thinking at the beginning of this semester.... It's 3 years into the future... you've graduated college, took a LOT of years to do it... you've got a composition diploma...Great, you are now armed with the completely unmarketable skill of composing avant-garde sonic brain-fuck music that any normal person would probably cringe hearing.

I'm serious in my assessment of the University faculty's music here. I'm not being bitter because they didn't accept me at first and told me I was "unsophisticated" (you can read about that one in the archives). Being completely impartial, I can tell you that the music is not pleasant-sounding. It is not inspiring. It is not evocative. It is a sin against the Music Gods, because it represses all considerations of what one is supposed to feel, think, imagine when hearing music. These professors are interested in music purely as a philosophical, academic exercise. It's all numbers and matrices and pitch classes to them. Sure, they have concerts for an audience occasionally, though the audience is composed of primarily other university composition teachers, and their students, who are graded on the number of "new music" shows they attend.

But I've said enough unsubstantiated things... go listen to their stuff. Click on any one of the faculty members' name at the left of the page. Many of them have sound clips in that sidebar. What do you think of it? I decided that this was not the kind of aesthetic that I would want guiding my compositional development, but you are free to think differently.

Friday, January 13, 2006

GREECE (Part 3 of a 3-part Series)

The photo above is from Santorini, taken in the evening. It gives a pretty good idea of a typical town on the island (if you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all) -- A lot of small, white buildings (which almost hurt to look at in broad daylight) and steeply descending terrain. I guess the three-car garages must be hidden underground or something.

The beach at Naxos -- beautiful by virtue of its monotony. Swimming here feels like bathing in God's swimming pool. I went butt naked -- I figured God would think I was more of a badass if I went sans fig leaves. I have eaten of the tree of knowledge and I still have no shame. The water was cold, and the beach was filled with coppery naked old people. These folks had even less shame than I; I think even God may have winced seeing the old man doing calisthenics with the waves lapping at his ankles and his nutsack lapping at his knees.

This castle was built by the Venetians on Naxos several centuries ago when they controlled the Greek islands. Several nearby islands are visible from its windows. Now, it is a museum, as well as a performing space. We spent an evening there listening to traditional Greek music as the sun set, and were warned that we could not leave until the audience finished several hundred shots of various Greek liqueurs laid out before us. The music was good -- mostly performed by a fiddle accompanied by a lute. Also interesting was a burly, red-faced shepherd from the island who played a whiny, bagpipe-type instrument -- the diaphragm was made from the complete hide of one of his goats.