May 27, 2013

Different Trains in Portland, Maine

[ updated 4 Jan 2014 ]

Found the flyer:

different-trains.front different-trains.back

A couple of weeks back on Mother's Day, Lisa and I were driving back from my brother's and listening to Radiolab. The episode, titled Behaves So Strangely, included Diana Deutsch examining short fragments of speech. She noticed accidentally that when a few seconds of speech is repeated, its natural, tonal melody becomes more apparent and could be transcribed as a simple music motif. One of my favorite, lost recordings from college, Steve Reich's Different Trains, immediately came to mind. Reich takes interviews with people who rode or worked on trains before, during, and after World War II, and he transcribes short segments. Throughout the piece, the recorded interview segments are played over and echoed by a string quartet. As I was telling Lisa about the piece, I looked it up on Google and found that a string quartet was scheduled to perform it in Portland the following Thursday. We purchased tickets the next day.

Portland has to be one of the friendliest places we've ever visited. This was our first time visiting and the desire to go was never predicated on interest in seeing the city, but we would definitely go again. It's walkable and offers some good restaurants and, obviously, a strong art scene. And the friendly people!

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(Pre-concert at SPACE Gallery and menacing dark tower afterwards)

The concert was at the SPACE Gallery: what appears to be ground zero for interesting artwork and, thanks to the musical program, a notable range of music fans. I can only imagine and envy what the 8-year-old thought of the performance! Music was: John Zorn's "Cat O' Nine Tails", local composer Beth Wiemann's premiere of "Minor blasts, some flurries", and after an intermission "Different Trains". Zorn's piece, written the same year as Different Trains, was madcap chaos. I can't imagine not having heard it live and if Zorn didn't exist, I don't think he could be invented. Very pastiche noise that had such physical humor that it was like few other compositions. Some Zappa works from The Yellow Shark come to mind but even he might not instruct the cellist to pantomime whipping the other musicians as they simulate ouching whines on their instruments. The Wiemann piece was a beautiful, palette-cleansing episode. It put me in mind of the clarity of Walter Piston's harmonies, another Maine composer. Finally, Different Trains. Like Einstein on the Beach early last year and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway last Fall, this was a rare opportunity that met all expectations.

Secondary culture visit was the superb Portland Museum of Art on Saturday. Many modern 20th century works on the first floor in the show The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism. 21st century stuff caught my eye up the atrium on the 3rd floor, so we hopped up there for some stunning pieces by artists I've never heard of (and should have written down). Down to the 2nd floor for a selection of Homer, Hopper, and other northern painters. Would definitely return for the modern works.


(These. Guys. Were. Everywhere.)


(The craggy coast of Kennebunkport. The dull-witted feeling you're sensing is President W's house off-camera to the left.)

Restaurants were:

Thursday, Petite Jacqueline the afternoon we arrived. One more reason why French restaurants are infallible, and the string quartet performers showed up as a bonus! I didn't interrupt their lunch, but instead stared and whispered. OTTO Pizza (before the concert) and Nosh (after the concert) for drinks and snacks. Friday, an extended nap after the four hour Maine Beer Tour, a lobster roll at J's Oyster, and drinks at Spread (hip space, drop-dead gorgeous bartender, yet inexplicably filled with what appeared to be Fox News-watching gay Republicans) had us reschedule Five Fifty-Five for the following night and instead go to the late-night Portland Pie Company (half pepperoni, half seafood). The beer tour is highly recommended. Again: friendly people and a chance to get some hyper-local beers that may never get to Atlanta. Saturday - brunch at Duckfat before a drive to Kennebunkport. Finally, the trip's fancy dinner at an upstairs table at the superb Five Fifty-Five. Sunday - donuts from Holy Donut for our drive back to Boston airport.

Another successful impromptu vacation!

posted by sstrader at 9:33 AM in Concerts , Where was I? | tagged galleries and museums | permalink

May 20, 2013

John McPhee on writing

The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something--anything--out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something--anythings--as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again--top to bottom. The chances are that about now you'll be seeing something that you are sort of eager for others to see. And all that takes time.What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version--if it did not exist--you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day--yes, while you sleep--but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.
posted by sstrader at 11:53 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 13, 2013

A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan

"Older people are more resistant to . . ." She seemed to falter.

"Being bought?"

Lulu smiled. "See, that's what we call a disingenuous metaphor," she said. "DMs look like descriptions, but they're really judgments. I mean, is a person who sells oranges being bought? Is the person who repairs appliances selling out?"

"No, because what they do is up front," Alex said, aware that he was condescending. "It's out in the open."

"And, see, those metaphors--'up front' and 'out in the open'--are part of a system we call atavistic purism. AP implies the existence of an ethically perfect state,which not only doesn't exist and never existed, but it's usually used to shore up the prejudices of whoever's making the judgments."

"So," he said. "You think there's nothing inherently wrong with believing in something--or saying you do--for money?"

"'Inherently wrong,'" she said. "Gosh, that's a great example of calcified morality. I have to remember that for my old modern ethics teacher, Mr. Bastie; he collects them. Look," she said, straightening her spine and flicking her rather grave (despite the friendly antics of her face) gray eyes at Alex, "if I believe, I believe. Who are you to judge my reasons?"

"Because if your reasons are cash, that's not belief. It's bullshit."

Lulu grimaced. Another thing about her generation: no one swore. Alex had actually heard teenagers say things like "shucks" and "golly," without apparent irony. "This is something we see a lot," Lulu mused, studying Alex. "Ethical ambivalence--we call it EA--in the face of a strong marketing action."

Continue reading "A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan"
posted by sstrader at 9:36 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

May 10, 2013

The failure of a remixable Internet

Months ago, my choice of web-based IM aggregators, Meebo, was purchased by Google and discontinued. Google, like Microsoft before, is deep in the era of purchasing companies for their internal skills and then killing the original product of those skills. I started using Meebo several employers back when the desktop client Digsby was blocked by their IT dept. Digsby had superseded Trillian for me, based on a recommendation from my bro-in-law. I wanted to like the open-source Pidgin but could not. The web-based solutions were ideal for access anywhere (yay, the cloud!), and so I doubt I'll move back to a desktop client. Web-based services can also provide a single archive of all of your conversations. I had used a now-defunct service called Dexrex to archive, but it has since welshed on its promise to provide export and search, and just recently went offline complete (fuck you, cloud!).

After the death of Meebo, I, like many others, moved to imo. It was in many ways better and provided both import and export, including import of the Meebo data. One benefit of having Google buy-then-kill your product: their Data Liberation Front army will make sure its data is retrievable in the most standards-compliant form available. I have a general distrust of loss-of-ownership, and a robust import/export mitigates that. A variation on this is the oddness of Apple forcing users to port their information from MobileMe to iCloud when MM was discontinued. Pretty bold offloading your own internal work to your customers. Imo had been doing its job without much fuss up until last weekend when their connection to Skype's network started failing. It has not yet come back. One theory is that since Microsoft, who purchased Skype, is adding web-based Skype access, they must kill access from other OSes such as Chrome. The removal of Skype from imo has, inexplicably, also removed access to your archived Skype conversation. No word yet on if they will become available again.

These aggregation tools are one of the key concepts behind the web--a system that links services--and walled gardens are a barrier to implementing that concept. There is a trend toward products with no user serviceable parts inside (a la the iPad and Facebook) but it is not necessarily the dominant thread in computer evolution. Wikipedia, open source code libraries, embeddable YouTube videos, embeddable tweets, and RSS are all enablers of that other thread (ignoring the dreaded "Video No Longer Available" static). W/r/t the closed systems: avoid those you can and back up frequently. An easy exit strategy is your plan B.

posted by sstrader at 8:39 AM in Internet | tagged iphone, social network | permalink

May 1, 2013

The failure of security

Links from last week:

  • Why does America lose its head over 'terror' but ignore its daily gun deaths? - from Michael Cohen at The Guardian:

    But Londoners, who endured IRA terror for years, might be forgiven for thinking that America over-reacted just a tad to the goings-on in Boston. ... It was yet another depressing reminder that more than 11 years after 9/11 Americans still allow themselves to be easily and willingly cowed by the "threat" of terrorism.
  • How Boston exposes America's dark post-9/11 bargain from Andrew O'Hehir at Salon:

    I think the real reason why this gruesome but small-scale attack sent the whole country into such an incoherent panic lies a little deeper . ... We agreed to give up most of our civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk...
  • Weekly Review from Harper's:

    Legislation designed to strengthen gun control by expanding background checks was defeated in the Senate after failing by six votes to reach a filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold. "It's almost like you can see the finish line," said the father of a man who was injured in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, "but you just can't get there."
posted by sstrader at 11:44 PM in Politics | permalink