Friday, December 29, 2006

From my postcard collection # 4

Dragonfly, Pear, Carnation and Insect (detail)
Mira calligraphiae monumenta
(Model book of calligraphy);
Vienna, 1561-62 and ca. 1591-96
Inscribed by Georg Bocskay and illuminated by Joris Hoefnagel
16.6 x 12.4 cm (6 9/16 x 4 7/8 in.)

[Click image to view larger version.]

This is from a very beautiful postcard book I got from The J. Paul Getty Museum, Picturing the Natural World. The back cover notes that:

"In 1561 and 1562 Georg Bocskay, the Croatian-born court secretary of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna, created the Model Book of Calligraphy to demonstrate his unrivaled technical mastery of elaborate and inventive writing styles. He arranged the calligraphy cleverly, giving each page of the book an independent beauty. About thirty years later Joris Hoefnagel, a court artist of Rudolf II, Ferdinand's grandson, was asked to illuminate the manuscript. He added captivating, carefully composed illustrations of flora and fauna to nearly every page and contributed a new section of intricate designs that provide instruction in the art of constructing the letters of the alphabet. The result is one of the most extraordinary collaborations between scrive and painter in the history of manuscript illumination."

Take note that each page from the book was only a few inches wide (check out the measurement above). Hoefnagel illuminated Bocskay's manuscript (whom he had never met, by the way) in miniature, with gold, silver and vellum. The level of detail (as seen in the image above) is astounding! For more on illuminated manuscripts, go here.

For more commentary on this art piece, check out the Getty Museum website here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Christmas tune for y'all

Simbang-gabi sa Gesu

I’ve never liked Michael Buble (his singing puts me to sleep, and I hate how he did Kissing a Fool and I don’t care for his A Song for You, pardon to the fans), but this -- ! Christina Aguilera's version is too melismatic for my taste, and Kelly Clarkson's is alright I guess, but a tad too girlish. Now this, Michael's Buble's Grown-up Christmas List, I FLOVE.

Merry Christmas you all! Enjoy the holidays!

War of the Worlds Musical Redux (or Why I Love youtube!)

Back in January I wrote about the staging of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Musical in the U.K. (My blog accounts are here, should you like some background info.). The sold-out tour was completed in April to very appreciative audiences (as far as I can tell from the reviews in the web). And while I wasn't looking (that is to say, in November), the dvd was released. I want THIS. But woe, it's only available in Amazon UK. (No, I don't think I'll find it in uhm ah you-know-where. *wiggles eyebrows*)

So the other day I began searching all over the web (not really all over, just the usual places I go to find stuff, which, might I note, rarely fail me) for mp3s and videos of the live show, but nary a one was to be found. Until today, hwah!

I love you youtube, and I love you generous fans who share videos with those of us who for some reason or other have missed stuff we like. (My most effusive thank you to TrockRon of youtube, hey!)

I've seen only a few of the videos I list here, so I'll comment only on those details that I saw. There is a screen on stage where the audience watch a continuous series of images which complement the story that unfolds in front of them with the use of a live orchestra and band. Singers are clad in period costume, and they not only sing but act out their parts. As I mentioned last time, the production planned to resurrect Richard Burton. Or more aptly, Richard Burton's head. He is right there, floating, narrating. And he looks creepy. Apparently they took an image of a young Richard Burton and then superimposed it on a look-alike actor who lipsynched the narration. Consequently, the movement is mostly in the mouth. The eyebrows do go up and down from time to time, and the eyes blink. This image was projected onto a huge plaster head on stage, but the face looks flat. So you get strange. And then again I'm seeing this only on video. Perhaps it looked better live. I wonder how those unfamiliar with the musical reacted to the floating re-animated Burton head with the wiggling eyebrows? I read that they also went ahead with their plan of having a life-size tripod on stage hovering above the actors. I haven't seen the video yet where this appears.

One of the things I had been looking forward to was Russell Watson's performance. Russell the opera singer (actually he's more of a crossover artist), with no theater training whatsoever, took on the role of the famed madman, Parson Nathaniel. Having watched Spirit of Man on youtube, I can see why some were less than happy about him bringing his operatic singing style to the role (I should also report that most reviews I've read declared his performance as "stunning", "excellent", and "outstanding".). Spirit of Man is, after all, one of the rocking-est songs in the musical, and fans are bound to have heard the passionate version of Philip Lynott a hundred times over. You know how some fans tend to be, nothing can be better than the original. Perhaps Russell’s tenor didn't quite ring mad enough for some audience members. Notice for instance, the sustained last note in “When the demons arrive the survivors will envy the deaaaaaad”. Wooah I'm sure that sounded great live and I might have been compelled to stand up and applaud, except that the number would have barely reached the middle by then and it wasn't meant to be an aria, yah? In any case, I like Russell's voice so I'm sure I'll like his version better as I listen to it more and more.

As for the acting, it can still be improved, but it wasn't bad. And to think of what he was going through then! You see, I just recently found out that Russell had been suffering from migraines during the WOTW tour, pains which later progressed to excruciating headaches and impaired vision while recording his new album Love Affair in Los Angeles. Russell was then diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo surgery sometime in September. He’s now reportedly recovering well, and is set to defend his title in the UK tv reality show Just the Two of Us (a celebrity duets challenge; funny how they should have a whole show about something we regularly see on Philippine tv, eh? You know, celebrities who dare to pretend they can sing, and do so with real singers.). Btw, before I move on, Rusell’s makeup in the youtube vid looks awful, what the frack, does a madman have to look like that? *posts nice picture of Russell to erase bad make-up from memory*

Ok I've babbled long enough. Here are the wondrous, fabulous youtube WOTW linkies!

Credits & Prologue (something that isn't found in the Jeff Wayne WOTW), where the Martians plan their attack on Earth. I'm not sure if this scene connects with something else in the production (have not seen the whole thing yet), but for me, the original intro was good enough to start the story. The creepy floating head of Richard Burton is visible already, at the left side of the stage, albeit in shadow. I'm no expert, but the CGI reminds me of video games from several years back.

Part 1 (The well-loved Eve of the War. If you can listen to only one track right now, this is it, this defines the musical WOTW. The creepy floating head starts to talk here.)

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 (Justin Hayward sings Forever Autumn. Sublime!)

Part 5 (Thunder Child ought to be in here.)

Part 6 (Parson Nathaniel makes his entrance at around 7”; Spirit of Man starts here.)

Part 7 (Spirit of Man continues here)

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

TWOTW Musical Live: How it started

Monday, December 18, 2006

Found this web radio thingie

Le'mmesee now... *tinkers*

Hwah it works!!! *claps with glee* (You have to click on the play button.)

Nifty, eh? Stumbled upon, searched for some tracks, joined the site (it's free!), played with it a bit and presto hey, I got me a track bar! You can also listen to music from the site without joining. Uploading files and creating your own playlist is a little bit more complicated from what I gather, but that track bar above? Took me 3 minutes ;-)

Oh, in case some of you are wondering what Elliott looks like these days (and just so I can take a jab at the lookist nasties who kept harping on his imperfect teeth during the AI5 days - eat your shoes, you!!!), here are some recent pics. He got his teeth done, sat on a dentist's chair for some 20 hours for dental work that normally would have cost $50,000 (lucky E, the dentist offered his services for free). I'm not liking the hair but the boy is looking nice. (And still, it's the voice that melts.)

Elliott's This Christmas above is available from iTunes, and is doing rather well. Who needs the AI crown? Bah. Last I heard, there might be an announcement of a record deal soon. (A couple of weeks ago he did announce a publishing deal with Sony at his myspace page. Who knows, maybe they know something we don't? Might he turn out to also be a gifted songwriter? Why ink a publishing deal otherwise? Rather unusual, that.)

(Special thanks to L-Dub of Yaminions for gifting me with This Christmas via iTunes. *hugs*)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Angkor: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

So my friend falafel, worlds away, `neath the middle-eastern skies (whenever she manages to go out, that is), e-mails me and remarks, “Have you heard, seems Siem Reap and Angkor are sinking.”. Eek. So I googled it and sure enough, this article states that there is growing concern among experts over the hotels that have been sprouting like mushrooms in the city known as the gateway to Angkor.

National Geographic Traveler’s November/December issue features this article (Pssst my Angkor companions, check this out, see those tourists sprawled over the temple steps?) and this telling image on page 112:

(View larger version here.)

Incidentally, a Destination Scorecard survey recently conducted by Traveler and its National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations with George Washington University asked 419 well-traveled experts worldwide to rate 94 World Heritage destinations according to aesthetic appeal, quality of tourism management, social and cultural integrity, overall outlook for the future and such other criteria. (Check out the full criteria list here.) Angkor earned a dismal score of 48, dropping 4 points from its 2004 score. (To think that just 5 years earlier I was drooling over an Angkor article in Traveler’s 50 Places of a Lifetime special collectors' issue. *sigh*) A score of 48 means that the site is in moderate trouble (all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives). The experts say that yes, Angkor and its environs rate high in aesthetics and conservation efforts, but very poorly overall in terms of sustainable tourism and destination stewardship. As in the article I mentioned above, the magazine reports that the water table has become “so depleted by hotel wells that it is destabilizing the foundations of the ruins”. So yeah, Siem Reap and Angkor may be sinking.

In an impoverished country which relies solely on tourism for its lifeblood, it's no wonder that money is prioritized over preservation and sustainability. Even as Cambodia still suffers from the trauma wrought by the Khmer Rouge in the late `70s, those in government continue to fatten their pockets with the fruits of a continuously growing tourism industry. In the meantime, its citizens, most of them ethnic Khmer, descendants of the proud, highly-cultured society who built the famed temples in ancient times, struggle to eke a living out of the ruins of their heritage. (I cannot say how sad it is that I mean that literally.) Children work during the day selling books, postcards and souvenirs around the temples. A lot of young people, I imagine, are studying to become tour guides as one stands to earn a decent income in that occupation. Aside from hotels, ranging from budget guesthouses to the expensive boutique and five-star resort and spas, karaoke bars and who knows what other recreational establishments, are built every day. Siem Reap is fast losing its character as it is literally overrun by busloads of tourists (that includes those coming in planes and taxis, too. *cough*) I read elsewhere that a few years ago, horror of horrors, there were plans of installing a cable car network in Angkor. Let’s hope they never try to take that up again.

So my overly eager footfalls may well contribute to the continuous defacement of one of the world’s most remarkable man-made wonders, and my very arrival at Siem Reap to the irreversible loss of its old-world charm. Great. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Perhaps. National Geographic, UNESCO, I’m counting on you. Pardon me if in the meantime I still go anyway. I don’t want to have to go to a theme park, darn it. Cable cars? Presposterous.

Friday, December 08, 2006

From my postcard collection # 3

Recently sent from Bordeaux, France. Acquired at Venice. (Thanks Ninfa!)

Fritellino drawn by Maurice Sand, published in 1860. Commedia dell' Arte character wearing a mask and a plumed hat. Beard. Wooden sabre.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy Feet: Don’t Pan the Penguins!

“I saw an animal do that once, but then they rolled him over and he was dead.”
~ one of Ramon’s mariachi buddies, on Mumble’s singing

One word to sum up the movie: Delightful.

What I liked:

  • Need I write it down? It’s about penguins. Penguins are fascinating, and always adorable. Oh, except for Danny de Vito in the Batman movie.

  • Mumble is extremely adorable. I didn’t realize that Baby Mumble’s voice was not Elijah’s until I checked the cast list. In any case, Elijah Wood, himself somewhat odd-looking, is a good choice to cast as one set apart from all others by his less penguinly looks and talents. I thought it an amusing touch to make Mumble’s coloring such that the tuxedo effect was more pronounced – yeah, all penguins do look like they are wearing tuxedos, but Mumble more so, with a bowtie and grey vest. Tuxedos and tap dancing, hee.

  • The music. They had me at the 1st scene. The Norma Jean and Memphis opening duet was so fabulous it reminded me of Moulin Rouge. Gloria’s Somebody to Love at the graduation had me giggling the whole time. (Pretty good singing too, hey!) Pop, R&B, blues, hiphop, even some gospel, so much of the music was fun and enjoyable.

  • Ramon and his merry band of mariachi misfits (the tiny Adelie penguins) provided many of the laugh-or-cry moments that I loved in the movie.

  • The pathos. Naturally it can’t top National Geographic’s March of the Penguins when it comes to dramatizing the Emperor penguins’ journey to the most inhospitable of environments to bear their young, but I also found Mumble’s own struggle to express his individuality easy to relate to, and touching. `Course, those who aren’t into anthropomorphism might not agree.

  • The animation. Eat your heart out, Pixar, those are darn life-like fluffy feathers! Check out the grey down on the baby penguins. And very smooth, fluid movements. Fear not though, you’ve got one over Animal Logic where it comes to facial expressions (Animal Logic or whichever of the two other special effects companies they employed, that is). The filmmakers relied on music to convey emotions, not so much on characters’ visible expressions. To be fair though, how can you do that with only beady penguin eyes, a beak and a whole lot of feathers? Not that Mumble's eyes are anywhere near beady, nor Elijah's. They could have taken advantage of those clear blue pools, imo. (No one can beat Weta’s Gollum yet where emotions of CG characters are concerned, though.)

What I willingly overlooked: the booboos

  • The abrupt transition from Mumble in Penguin Park to his return home. Surely they could have done that better? I would have loved to see a National Geographic reference.

  • Apparently Lovelace is a rockhopper penguin. (Yes, there is such a creature, check it out here.) Robin Williams is great as a rock-hopping mad guru figure. Thing is, there are only 2 species of penguins that live in Antartica, and rockhoppers aren’t one of them. Well, they could have written a backstory for him, say Lovelace stowed away on a ship to Antartica... nah, too Madagascar, that. Well any long-travelling guru and such and such story then. (Heh, Lovelace should have been Latino too, rockhoppers live in South America.)
  • Some critics gripe that the movie tried to be everything all at once: it was advocating for the environment, it was about being different, surviving in the Antartican wilderness, about love, loss of innocence, coming of age, humans' continuing domination of the planet, the cruelty of uprooting animals from their natural habitat, etc etc. Yes, it was ambitious to try to convey all that. But who cares if it worked in that respect or not? Happy Feet is about penguins. Who doesn’t like penguins?

    Interesting detail: Steve Irwin, the late crocodile hunter, provided the voice for Trev, one of the humongous elephant seals who Mumble and company spoke to as they approached the ocean. The movie was dedicated to Irwin.

R. Hidalgo St., with arms wide open

Several months ago I read an article about the local government's plan (based on John Chua's initiative) to rehabilitate what was once widely popular as Quiapo's camera street. For the clueless, R. Hidalgo in years past was as synonymous to cameras as Raon was to electronics. (Still clueless? Never mind, just take my word for it.) Nowadays photographers who know of Hidalgo can be classified into 2 categories: (1) the uh *cough* most experienced, i.e., the mature ones *cough* and (2) the more persistent and dedicated hobbyists and professionals. Some photographers have never even set foot on Hidalgo, opting to get their gear elsewhere. (A common misperception is that cameras sold there don't carry warranties.)

I went there last Saturday to buy replacement batteries for my camera (I have killed my original batteries after 2 years of use, pretty good I guess), and I was surprised to find that I could actually see through to the end of the street. Ah, so that's what it looks like. Ehehe.

Whereas before, navigating your way through involved skillful slinking and maneuvering between crates, kaings, bilaos, banigs, boxboard sheets, make-shift stalls, and carts filled with all manner of items for sale -- say fruits, vegetables, garments, underwear, toys, plasticware, custom jewelry, fashion accessories, crafts components and other knick knacks -- in addition to the continuous surrounding human traffic moving at varying rates, from leisurely to quick-paced to so annoyingly hurried that you'd get pushed and pulled from and to every direction, now you can actually walk in the middle of the calle with both arms stretched! No more intimate, sweaty hobnobbing with every Kulas and Kulasa you pass by. In place of all that clutter now are streetlamps and benches. And oh, the ground is paved with brick tiles. All still quite ugly, but hey, there's air!

So now, if you're in R. Hidalgo and a pungent smell assaults your nose (meaning it's somewhere close), but you're standing in the middle of the street with so much space about you, chances are, it's probably you.

For directions to R. Hidalgo St., Quiapo, go here.

Disclaimer: I'm not actually suggesting that you go there stand with arms stretched out, particularly if you have something expensive-looking slung over your shoulder. That sort of thing might well be an invitation to get robbed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Contemplating Angkor

If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.
~ Henry Miller

Yeah, you read that right. Angkor. “Angkor what?”, you say? Exactly, Angkor Wat. You know, the UNESCO world heritage site, Hindu & Buddhist temple ruins, one of the wonders of the world, site of some of the most magnificent man-made monuments on this planet. Huh, still asking “Angkor what?”? *sigh* Eh, haller, try to remember Tomb Raider movie # 1 then, that might ring a bell.

I had always wanted to go see the Angkor temples. You see, I have a thing for ruins and other vestiges of the ancient world. In any case, when my friend Cho and I heard about discounted Bangkok flights a couple of months back, my first thought was setting foot at last on Cambodia, that land of the Khmer that is associated with Pol Pot’s killing fields as much as it is with the magnificent sandstone monuments built in the heyday of Khmerian god-kings.

The route we picked (the overland Bangkok-Aranyaprathet-Border -Poipet-Siem Reap route) involves what by most accounts in the web, is popularly known as the bus ride to hell. At first I was unfazed. Surely it can’t be worse than the transportation system here, huh? For instance, I have taken the Baguio-Sagada bus ride that yes, is breathtakingly scenic and all that, but one that goes on forever and ever and ever, with toilet stops that make French tourists virtually cry while taking a pee in holes on concrete floors, or bumpy jeepney rides aggravated by worries about being ambushed by highway robbers in Kalinga (or is it Abra, I forget) and insensitive bus conductors and passengers who sing the karaoke (and very badly) on an hours-long trip where you’d rather sleep since there isn’t much to see anyway as you traverse the arid Aurora plains. And oh, let’s not forget my most hated bus trip of all: 10-hour Tuguegarao-Manila day trips. Arggh, boredom that stretches out to 10 hours, and that involves sun (being in an air-conditioned bus makes no difference to me)! Now that’s the pits. So going back to Cambodia. I was thinking: hmm, two four-hour bus rides across two foreign countries, with an interesting border crossing in between, how hard can it be? Might turn out to be a piece of cake, yeah?

Well, my research tells me the answer is No. Interesting yes, but hardly a piece of cake. For starters, take a gander at the picture here and here. Hwaah! Now I’m daunted. Once at Aranyaprathet, one is supposed to pass through Immigration, in itself proven to be an event-filled chore particularly for those who have to get a visa (thank goodness we Pinoys don’t have to because we're part of ASEAN), then take a short tuktuk ride to get to the Cambodian side. Poipet is said to be a hellhole (other travelers’ words, not mine) filled with thieves and scammers. The detailed description and travelers’ accounts in,, and make me think of Poipet as an exaggerated version of Quiapo or Cubao or Baclaran, but what do I know? The main thing to remember, they say, is not to spend more time in Poipet than you have to. Alright then, I guess I won’t be setting my tripod there. I haven’t even talked about the other bus ride yet. The Poipet-Siem Reap bus trip has been described as a total nightmare. Apart from the shitty road condition (there’s a rumour that a Thai airline company has been paying off Cambodian officials so that they won’t fix the roads thereby ensuring said Thai airline’s monopoly; not too farfetched, imo, if you check out how much the airline is charging for a crummy 45-minute flight), let’s see, there’s the “official” (government-run) bus which can take a good while as it is alas-puno, as we say in the vernacular. Alas-puno essentially means the bus will leave when it is full. Who knows how long that will take, huh? The alternative, the tourist bus is even worse. That is why this is called the scam bus. Unfortunate suckers who go for the dirt-cheap Bangkok-Siem Reap package commonly sold in Khao San Road have reportedly suffered through 10 hour or longer trips punctuated by interminable stop-overs, flat tires and all kinds of vehicular problems, only to find themselves magically booked in one of the bus company’s partner hostels and guesthouses. By “magically” I don’t mean they can Houdini themselves out of the uh arrangement. What a frack of an obstacle course to get to Siem Reap, huh? Fortunately, there’s a 3rd alternative: taking a taxi. So to hell with buses.

All of this will take anywhere from 6 to 8 or 9 hours of travel, assuming one doesn’t take the scam buses, as those can take forever. If one is clueless and is the type who sticks out like a dolled-up socialite standing amidst the human traffic in Villalobos Street on a Friday afternoon, then well, yeah, one might want to think twice about taking this route. But us? Nah, we’re not afraid, are we? What else is there to be afraid of? Swarms of locals selling their wares? Missing the sunrise and sunset hours? Viewing sunrise and sunset at popular Angkorian spots while rubbing elbows with thousands of tourists? Cameras running out of batteries? Running out of memory cards? Getting a guide who annoyingly commands you to “quick, take picture here!”? Accidentally falling into Tonle Sap? Climbing up Angkor Wat’s steep stairs (70 degrees baby!) under an unforgiving sun? Yeah those are daunting. But land mines? Terrifying.

ETA. Sssh don't mention land mines to my mom. Or Poipet.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A dream of saffron-robed monks

Some nights ago I had this dream. I am not sure where I was, somewhere in the city. There was an event, lots of people were coming to this place. My friend Q was there, she was coordinating with her hubby S on a walkie-talkie, apparently in-charge of securing the visiting monks. Buddhist monks in saffron robes walked by with fashionable duffel bags, Cartier and Gucci maybe, made of canvas and leather, predominantly brown-colored with saffron accents and big buckles. I was the main event. I was a boxer. Pretty strange because I don’t like boxing at all, as it’s a savage sport. (This was several days after the much-vaunted Pacquiao-Morales fight, which I didn’t watch with the rest of the country.) I went across to another building, my relatives were there. Some didn't take notice of me.

Now that I think of it, what was so striking about the dream was this: Buddhist monks, the most ascetic of creatures, were coming in droves (so many that security measures had to be ensured) to see me, the savage, perform my trade. Eh, that’s a lot to chew on.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ganesha, remover of all obstacles

Ganesha. Collage by Nick Bantock,
from The Venetian's Wife (1996).

"The one who moves towards knowledge of the timeless is never afraid." -- The Arthava Veda, Ganesha Upanishad

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Luted Fields of Gold

Nicked for your listening pleasure, folks. Sting performing one of his most popular songs with the lute at Studio 60. There are a couple of actors from the show talking over the track though. (Filchers can't be choosers.):

Elizabethan-flavored Fields of Gold

So, did you giggle? get misty? sit aghast? Come on then, let it out!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

My Zen's beauty wrap

I recently got my Zen player a beauty wrap from GMask. Lookee, it's purty. *purrs* :

The GMask wrap is not only decorative but protective as well. You can choose from a variety of designs, or if you like, you can make your own. The wrap takes 45 minutes to an hour to do. The attendants are very helpful and accomodating. All sorts of electronic gadgets can be wrapped: cellular phones, personal music players, digital cameras, PDAs, even laptops and notebooks. Learn more about GMask from their website.

(And yeah, I'm a Creative user, not iPod. Creative's mp3 players are much more functional - you have an FM tuner, recorder, and data storage in addition. Plus, with the accompanying software (Creative MediaSource), you can record audio from the web or your computer. And oh, audio quality is excellent.)

* Friendly reminder to fellow PMP users: Listening to your PMPs constantly, for prolonged periods, and at high volumes can make you deaf sooner (like at 40!). Following the 60-60 rule is recommended. Read about it here: How music to the ears is deafening for the MP3 generation.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The problem with imagining Sting in tights

The first time I read about Sting taking on Elizabethan music, as in John Dowland songs arranged for the lute, I immediately thought it would tank (sorry Stingie). And then when I heard a 30-second clip of him singing

I sit, I sigh,
I weep, I faint,
I die, in deadly pain
and endless misery

I giggled and giggled. Yeah I know, shame on me. It somehow reminded me of Panchito and Dolphy singing “Hopiang di mabili, inaamag kasi” to the tune of La donna est mobile. Or maybe I was giggling because I was imagining Sting as a traveling bard in tights and ruffly poet’s shirt (opened to the abdomen, of course).

Since then Songs from the Labyrinth topped the UK’s classical charts, and more surprisingly, reached the #24 spot in the pop charts! So here I am listening to the Englishman’s distinctive tenor crooning in time with lutenist Edin Karamazov’s string-plucking, and oy, I must say it is rather pleasant. Particularly those songs where Sting harmonizes with himself. They sound very strange at first, all those rounded O’s and sonorous notes that almost sound like wails. But once you’re used to the style, the music can be quite relaxing (very good for sleeping in fact). Interspersed between the music tracks are readings from Dowland’s letters. How can anyone not find Sting’s lovely British speaking voice appealing?

Snooping around blogs I chanced upon an audio file of Sting’s guesting at Studio 60 where he sang Fields of Gold accompanied by the lute (which he played himself; he also plays on a few tracks in Labyrinth). Like the songs in his new album, the lutenized Fields of Gold is quite soothing once you get over the shock. I will upload it and post a linkie here soon.

`Abracadabra' is the operative word

* Note: I tried to make this as spoiler-free as possible.

The film is a sleight of hand, a series of misdirections, a skillful trick. Like Cutter (Michael Caine) says at the start, as in magic, you have to watch very closely. Who needs the Wachowski brothers? I’ll take the Nolan brothers over them anytime. They are so much subtler, not as in-your- face (I am not amused by the Wachowskis’ “look at how many allusions we’ve embedded in our movie aren’t we so very smart” references particularly in the indigestion-inducing Matrix Reloaded). I love The Prestige not so much for the mystery as for the writing. The film is structured in a non-linear fashion, with 3 timelines crisscrossing each other: in the present, a fatal accident occurs and Borden (Christian Bale) is on trial. He is given Angier’s (Hugh Jackman) journal, in which Angier recounts his search to unlock the secret of Borden’s Transported Man by decrypting the latter’s notebook, which in turn recounts how they started out as assistants and eventually became the most bitter of rivals.

It is a multi-layered story that is not only about magic in the Victorian age, but is also about rivalry and revenge, about what it costs to create a grand illusion, about the thin line between driving passion and all-consuming obsession.

Some were turned-off by the (Angier-related) twist at the end. (Waaha, it's a sci-fi fantasy film pala!) For me, that wasn’t actually the major twist that viewers were being led to. (If Tesla's science, or magic depending on whose POV -- I love how the setting was in the Victorian era, at a time when rationality and intuition were starting to collide -- was meant to be the climactic twist then they wouldn’t have shown us all those hats and cats in his backyard.) Borden’s secret was the greater twist. While I suspected it earlier on, I still couldn’t be sure till the very end, for, like a good magic trick, the filmmakers left room for doubt, much like Angier’s trapdoor in his final performances. You think you know but you really can’t be sure. (And then again, if you are a smart aleck and did know for sure, it’s still a dang well-written movie!)

What does it take to enjoy The Prestige? The very thing that witnessing magic requires: suspension of disbelief. If you fail at that, then the movie will probably suck.

End note. David Bowie is in the movie. What a surprise, I didn’t know that until I checked the cast list a day after seeing it. So that’s why Tesla looked vaguely familiar. I did recognize Andy Serkis (a.k.a. Gollum) instantly though. Huh, figure that out.

Songwriting that Stings

* Originally posted in LJ on November 1. *

At a pinoyexchange (a.k.a. Pex) thread I started a few days ago (we'll get to that in the next entry), dindi mentioned one of Sting's songs from his Brand New Day (1999) album. Back then, I confess that after a couple of listens, I declared the album a dud. I didn't like any other songs apart from After the Rain Has Fallen and A Thousand Years (which really, shame on you, Mr. Sumner, I thought of only as a cheap ploy to cash in and sell the millennium its theme song. But oh, wait, it should be two thousand years then, right, not only a thousand. Ah, I remember now, it was Brand New Day which I judged to be the sell-out song.). In any case, I had basically bought the cd for Desert Rose (which, needless to say, I lurve).

Anyway, chalk it up to ADD-ishness or the fact that I loved Ten Summoner's Tales too much or the possibility that I simply did not listen to it closely enough - Ghost Story passed right over my head. So then now, dindi mentions the song in the Pex forums, and I decide to go have a listen again. I must say, I appreciate it a whole lot more now, and I think I'm beginning to love it. Some of the most poignant, moving songs Sting has ever written are in fact, about his complicated relationship with his father (the senior Mr. Sumner passed on several years ago.).

With Ghost Story, the former English teacher's writing again demonstrates an elusive, poetical quality. You may know exactly what he's talking about, or you may only sense the emotions yet not fully grasp it. In my case, the song speaks. Underneath the lyrical monologues, the graceful, cadenced musings and introspection, Sting asks himself questions which echo my own. The second half of the song goes:

What is the force that binds the stars?
I wore this mask to hide my scars
What is the power that pulls the tide?
Never could find a place to hide

What moves the earth around the sun?
What could I do but run and run and run?
Afraid to love, afraid to fail
A mast without a sail

The moon's a fingernail
And slowly sinking
Another day begins
And now I'm thinking

That this indifference
Was my invention
When everything I did
Sought your attention

You were my compass star
You were my measure
You were a pirate's map
Of buried treasure

If this was all correct
The last thing I'd expect
The prosecution rests
It's time that I confessed
I must have loved you
I must have loved you

Listen to Ghost Story here.

As simple and compelling as all that, and still it does not top another song he wrote about his father, what I think to be one of his most beautiful songs ever: Why Should I Cry for You?. I will say nothing more, just read the lyrics for yourself, or listen to it here.

Why Should I Cry For You ?

Under the dog star sail
Over the reefs of moonshine
Under the skies of fall
North, north west, the Stones of Faroe

Under the Arctic fire
Over the seas of silence
Hauling on frozen ropes
For all my days remaining
But would north be true?

All colours bleed to red
Asleep on the ocean's bed
Drifting on empty seas
For all my days remaining

But would north be true?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Dark angels follow me
Over a godless sea
Mountains of endless falling,
For all my days remaining,
What would be true?

Sometimes I see your face,
The stars seem to lose their place
Why must I think of you?
Why must I?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Why would you want me to?
And what would it mean to say,
That, "I loved you in my fashion"?

What would be true?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?

Aaaaam back!

Finally I can publish! Egad, that was horrible. Blogger's been having problems and I've been locked out of here since I posted that entry below. I was forced to use LJ for a while. Thank goodness I got this back. Though I've lost all my customization (check out the sidebar). Oh well, at least everything else is intact.

Look, I got me a John Legend media player. Hah! (Never mind the ridiculous juxtaposition of nearly naked women and religious iconography (blasted MTV director), that's one fabulous church!) #3 on Billboard, baby! (Will write about the album soon.)

Will have to start rebuilding little by little. I kinda like this new set-up. Nice color, clean minimalist look.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Post hiatus

So yeah, I haven’t been blogging for aeons. Haven’t been doing anything creatively for that matter, as I’ve somewhat lost my mojo. (Hello Zoloft, I’ve been thinking of you.) I still feel like I haven’t got it back yet, but perhaps blogging again can help. No book reviews like I planned a while back, as I haven’t been reading much either. My eyes, you see. I’m in uhm, transition. No, it’s not that letters have begun to blur lately, nor that tiny characters in my Zen player which I had effortlessly been able to read only a year ago have now inexplicably become unintelligible at the same distance and in the same half-light on evenings in bed when I usually enjoy my mp3s before going to La-la land. It’s that I can’t read for too long lately without being overcome with the dreadful suspicion that mis ojos may need some sort of assistance in getting my optic nerves to operate their auto focus. (Let’s leave it at that, shall we?)

Consequently, the books I’ve been meaning to read (and finish – I have been reading several at the same time) have piled up. I’ve been spending more time on tv series (on dibidi, er I mean dvd!) and music as a result. So the next few entries will probably be all about that. (Well hullo, the American Idol entries are still under this one, let me just edge those out as quickly as I can. Not that I’m completely done with the topic as I’ve since found an even more rant potential-filled topic: Philippine Idol! Yes folks, I have gone bakya. No matter, we’ll get to that soon enough. Unless I lose interest entirely. *roll eyes* And move on to Pinoy Dream Academy. Haah!)

Currently listening to: The Heart of the Matter, India.Arie

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mission NOT Impossible: Making TPTB and Simon Cowell see $$$

I haven't googled yet today because I'm avoiding American Idol results show spoilers, but if they haven't picked up on this idea yet, will somebody please talk the media into investigating this tidbit.

A spike in sales of The Donny Hathaway Collection cd at Amazon was observed immediately following Elliott Yamin's performance of A Song for You. During the pre-song interview, Elliott said he wanted to pay tribute to Donny Hathaway's music and to bring it to the forefront. Well guess what, funky white boy, I think you did just that.

When I checked last night, its sales rank was #42. Right now, as of this writing, it's #26. The day before, it was #196. Others have observed that prior to AI's Love Songs night, the rank was #2,400. Others say it was #4000+. I don't know how true the 2,400 rank is, but from #196 to #42, then #26 in a matter of two days? Man, that alone is impressive.

If anyone had access to (or could request for) Amazon's data it would be easy to track the actual sales rank from before April 25 and after, till today. Aside from sales rank, one can also check other metrics: how many times were the keywords "A Song for You" and "Donny Hathaway" used in product searches? One might also want to check how many times the song has been downloaded at iTunes and other music/mp3 sites. It's fascinating. Elliott is selling songs and cds already, and they aren't even his! What more if he gets to release his own? If this won't make TPTB* and Simon Cowell see $$$, I don't know what will.

Has anything like this ever been observed in AI history? I'm not being smug, nor am I asking a rhetorical question. I really would like to know. So will someone please put a reporter to work on this?

Gushing about performance night to follow later (maybe!) as I'm still in a daze.

* In AI speak, TPTB = The Powers That Be, i.e., the producers.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Music lovers, lend me your ears for two minutes, will you?

This is the short version. Listen up, if you love listening to a beautiful voice, scroll down to the following entry and click on any of the song links (there's jazz, standard, pop, country, and rock), each will bring you to a page where you will find a link to an mp3 of that song. Listen.

If you like what you hear, do spread the word around. If you're a Pinoy living in the U.S., I'm especially making a plea to you: because I can't vote for my favorite, I'm asking you to do it for me. Yes, I'm a dork. There you have it. It's just that I want to support talent in whatever way I can, wherever I may find it. This guy is not only talented, he is gifted.

Forward a link to this blog to all music lovers you know. Particularly those based in the U.S.. Even if they're not Pinoy.

Now scroll down, if you please. ;-)

Elliott Yamin: Half-deaf and Still Better than You

So here's the thing. I think I'm being punished for years and years of snarking on various shows on the tube. It’s pretty funny because now I’m hooked on American Idol. *blush* In past seasons I managed to catch a few episodes, usually sometime towards the end (I did see Fantasia’s seminal Summertime performance, and I did take notice of Bo Bice), but I never had the urge to watch it regularly. I even missed the hullabaloo surrounding William Hung. This season though has got me hooked because underneath all this mountain of cheese, there is a gem. And his name is Elliott Yamin. (Right, now how cheesy is that? I can’t believe I just wrote that. Anyway…)

Fellow snarkies and skeptics, bear with me please, go on reading. Forget that this is about American Idol for a moment if you have to.

I am quite capable of writing pages upon pages about what makes Elliott Yamin the best contestant of this season. I can quote music lovers and professionals from the music industry – vocalists, songwriters, music producers, DJs, etc. – but I won’t. Instead I ask you to listen to any or preferably all of his performances through the links below. Just that. His voice is incredibly soulful and unique. It has an interesting texture: smooth and velvety but with hints of huskiness. How else to describe it? Let's see, it's like... well, rich creamy chocolate ice cream with soft marshmallows, but also with yummy brownie bits and choco chips in it, `ya know? And as if that weren't enough, he has great skills (listen to Moody's Mood for Love in particular). The key points to take note of: tone, pitch, phrasing, breath control. (Ask the music experts though, because I’m not that musical myself.) Mind you, he hasn't had any formal training.

These are arranged in order of my preference (very hard for me to rank them since I have a lot of favorites). Links lead to a page where you can listen to mp3s:

Moody’s Mood for Love (Top 20)

Somebody to Love (Queen night)

Teach Me Tonight (Songs from the `50s night)

It Had to be You (Standards night)

If You Really Love Me (Top 24)

I Don’t Want to Be (Songs from the 21st Century night)

Heaven (Top 16)

If Tomorrow Never Comes (Country night)

Knocks Me Off My Feet (Stevie Wonder night)

I should note that I was surprised to find how fascinating the show is, not only in terms of what we see on the tube, but beyond it. There’s a lot of interesting psychology going on beyond the singing. Simon Cowell alone, that brilliant manipulator, is a marvel. And apart from him, it’s such fun to speculate about the various aspects of the show: voting dynamics, fanbase phenomena, the concept of popularity, etc.. Conspiracy theories abound about a myriad of things: who the TCOs (TCO = the chosen one) are, how important placement is (i.e., what number a contestant is in the line-up for a performance night), who is vulnerable to getting the boot next, and so on. Make no mistake though, this show has not made me a believer in “reality shows”. The way I see it, AI is a very clever combination of producers' machinations, reality (the voting results), and good TV. Take note that I'm not saying that votes don't count. I believe they do, especially in determining the top contestants. I am not saying the results are rigged, only that it's possible that they tweak some results to ensure good TV.

I'm lazy and I don't feel like it, so I won't get into how I came to this conclusion. But in my analysis, provided that Elliott survives this coming week (which is more likely than not), it could very well be a Taylor-Elliott finale. This scenario to me, would provide the most emotional, magical TV moment. The darkhorse getting this far, c'mon that's the best story there is right now. Not *yawn* an aforenamed TCO winning - it makes for a stale story, especially since that already happened last year (Cowell picked Carrie Underwood to win as early as the auditions round), and they have been building this season as the most unpredictable of all. Of course you can say I'm predicting a Taylor-Elliott finale because that's what I want. And you wouldn't be wrong. But it doesn't mean it can't happen. And it doesn't compel me to explain myself either, hee.

So let’s go back to Elliott. As for the issue about his lack of stage presence. I offer no argument than this: Watch his performances from the start of Top 24 until Standards week, and tell me he hasn’t improved. Anybody can see he’s come such a long way. Remember that all the others in the Top 6 had been performing for years even before they auditioned for AI. In contrast, this guy has gone from nothing but karaoke bars in Richmond, Virginia to a show viewed by millions worldwide. Who would believe that not a long time ago Elliott was so shy he’d ask relatives and friends to turn off the lights when they asked him to sing? He has grown by leaps and bounds.

As to the argument that he has no personality. Well that’s a really stupid thing to say because in the first place, hello, there’s no such thing as a person with “no personality”. Duh. I’ve got news for you: not only does Elliott have an endearing personality, he has character. Take note of his behavior, how he reacted under pressure (during the two times he hit the seal – when he stood there with Mandisa, and when they announced that he was again among the bottom 3 after Queen night), how he treats his fellow contestants, how he reacts to the judges when they comment on his performance. I’m not feeding you the data, you watch and observe, and tell me his mother wasn’t right when she said that “he’s such a good soul”.

Lastly, in case you didn’t know. Elliott has been battling with Type 1 diabetes since he was 17. And he is 90% deaf in his right ear. These are not reasons to pity him. Rather, these are reasons to admire him.

I’ve been checking some message boards in the internet, and I must say, if AI were held in the Philippines, Elliott would have been a frontrunner from Day 1. I’d like to think we Pinoys, being so used to having talented singers amongst us, know how to separate real talent from fluff. Fluff can be added later. Sheer talent has to be there to begin with.

So this is where I’m going: Since we Pinoy fans living here cannot vote, I am making a plea to Pinoy AI viewers in the US. Scratch that, make that a plea to Pinoy music lovers in the US: Please help get Elliott to the top. Philippines-based Pinoy fans, you’ve wondered how you can help him win. This is how. Make noise. Forward this to your friends and relatives if you like. Then ask them to vote. This coming week is a huge hurdle for Elliott. I am confident that if he gets through to Top 5, he’ll be well on his way to a win.

I started this meaning to be brief but what the heck. Now excuse me while I pester my brother some more to make sure he TiVos the whole thing.

* I should give credit to verly, the person who thought of Elliott Yamin: Half-deaf and Still Better than You in the infamous TWoP forums’ Name That Contestant thread. Click on that linkie and note how Elliott's is the most affectionate thread title, others are just plain snarky like TWoP itself. Note also how many pages there are in the Yamin thread compared to all others. People love talking about the guy -- and it's not all just snark.


Here’s where we get shallow. From the start, Elliott has been called all sorts of things, from hobbit to leprechaun to Narnia's Mr. Tumnus to monkey boy with jacked-up teeth to the face that only Stevie Wonder could love. People can get really nasty unfortunately. Lots had predicted that he would get booted off very early on. But look how far he’s gone. Now his fans call him The Man, The Little Yamin Who Could, Funky White Boy, and the most endearing nickname of all, CinderElliott (or Cinderfella).

I don’t know about you, but sometime between Stevie Wonder night and `50s night Elliott crossed over from “not much to look at” (my very words when I emailed a couple of friends about him) to adorable to downright sexy. I don’t get why for some people his looks are still an issue (probably because they can’t find anything else wrong with him). Open your eyes, for crying out loud, and look at how the stylists have worked their magic on him:

2.22.2006. If you really love me, won't you tell me? And if you really need me won't you tell me, then I don't have to be messing around.

3.01.2006. There I go, there I go, there I go...Baby, you are the soul who snaps my control.

3.08.2006. Oh nothing can take me away from you...

3.14.2006. There's something about your love that makes me weak and knocks me off my feet.

3.21.2006. Did you say I've got a lot of learn? Well don't think I'm trying not to learn.

3.28.2006. I don't want to be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately. I don't want to be anything other than me.

4.04.2006. If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I love her?

4.11.2006. Can anybody find me somebody to love?

4.18.2006. With all your faults, I love you still. It had to be you, wonderful you, it had to be you.

Hnhh, say, ever heard of subliminal messages? ;-) Anyway, here's looking at you, people. Spread the word!

* Special thanks to Laclos of, Rickey of, Jennifer of, and the TWoPers (no thanks to the doom-and-gloomers though).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

V is for Vitriol

"I'm not going to claim all comic books are literate — there's a lot of rubbish out there. But there have been some very literate comic books done over the last 20 years, some marvelous ones. And to actually read a comic, you do have to be able to read, which is not something you can say about watching a film. So as for which medium is literate, give me comics any day."

--- Alan Moore rants against movie adaptations and the V is for Vendetta film, MTV interview

For the nth time, the man is not pleased. He has again asked that his name be removed from the credits and signed away his share from its earnings. Can't blame him for spewing vitriol against the movie industry. From Hell sucked majorly, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, was well, from hell. *snicker* It was just too awful. But hey, I kinda enjoyed Constantine (but then I hadn't read the comic series).

I look forward to V is for Vendetta with considerable dread, seeing as how the last Wachowski brothers production I saw gave me a splitting headache (Matrix Overloaded), but we shall see. A 70% rottentomatoes rating isn't all that bad. It only means that several critics hated it, some liked it, and some were ambiguous (rottentomatoes isn't at all accurate but it's a pretty good indicator either of unanimous praise or unanimous disgust).

Tsk tsk tsk, poor Moore, such rotten luck. Neil Gaiman mentions how relieved he is that no one has done any Sandman films. If the universe is as good to us as it is to Neil, there never ever will be a Sandman movie. (I wonder if Peter Jackson would take up the challenge? Nah, I don't think even he can pull that off, much as I love him.) I am starting to get worried about Kabuki (I don't mean Japanese theater silly, but the David Mack comic series.). Even with the Mackster himself writing the script (sorry David). I can't believe I'm thinking this but, may it never come to pass.

(Idle thoughts following Neil Gaiman's Guardian article `$1M a minute to film? No problem', on movies and comics. Thanks to G for the heads-up.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Off the shelf: Fantastical Field Guide

A couple of the creatures found in Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, currently my favorite art book. Not that I've ever read any Spiderwick book before. When I saw this Field Guide, I just had to have it. More information and images here. For larger versions so that you can actually read the text, click here for the wood elf and here for the sea-maid. (Pardon the semi-crappy scans, I didn't want to torture my book too much.)

More info on the illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi, can be found at his website. You might also want to check out the Spiderwick writer, Holly Black.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pinoy camp at its finest

Anything taking itself so seriously that it heaves under the weight of its own self-importance is not funny, and can be potentially boring. But something that revels in the glory of its own fakeness is not only funny, it's hilarious. (It's kinda like Chicago vs. Moulin Rouge.) And hilarious is what Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Musikal is.

I had a rip roaring two and a half hour laugh-out-loud-athon last night at the CCP's Tanghalang Huseng Batute. Zsazsa Zaturnnah (hold your nose and say it people, "Zsuh zsuh Zaturn-na-ha!") ze Muzikal is an adaptation of Carlo Vergara's National Book Award-winning graphic novel, Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah. The story kicks off with Ada, a small town parlorista, finding a mysterious stone that fell from the sky while taking a shower. His spunky assistant, Didi, urges him to swallow it and shout "Zaaaaaaturnaaaah!!!" in the belief that it is a magic stone that will endow him with superpowers (sounds familiar?). Being the uto-uto that he is, Ada complies and is promptly transformed into an incredibly buxom red-haired warrior, a bona fide female equipped with super strength and agility. Zsazsa goes on to defend the town from a giant frog, a horde of spastic zombies, and a team of alien Amazonistas.

Who would have thought a comic book would translate so well into theater? Two aspects I liked best about the show: One, the excellent performances of the whole cast, led by Eula Valdes as Zsazsa (I hope no one was listening when I whispered to my companion, "Hey, she looks like Eula Valdes.", ehehe, kaya pala, it was Eula Valdes! I went in not knowing anything about the production aside from the title.). She had very strong stage presence, and mind you, it's not only because of the costume (sorry guys, I know what you're thinking, but she was wearing a body suit. Which was practical, with all the running around she had to do on stage.). I didn't realize until then that she could sing that well (si Kuya Germs kasi!), good for her! Tuxqs Rutaquio as Ada was vulnerable and naive, while Ricci Chan virtually stole the show with his feistiness and impressive lung power. Lauren Novero as Dodong, while he can use some more singing lessons, did have a rich, deep singing voice, and was quite charming (and yeah, as Didi pointed out, he did have nice noodles -- seems he was Mr. Body Shot 2001). Queen Femina was played wonderfully by Kalila Aguilos, flanked by her equally entertaining Amazonistas: Wilma Doesnt as Dina B. (I suspected it was Wilma, but didn't say it out loud; what she lacked in vocal power she made up for with sheer pizzazz), Deeda Barretto as Vilma S., Mayen Estañero as Sharon C., and Tess Jamias as Nora A..

Two, the delightfully ingenious special effects improvisations. (What's a superhero story without special effects, eh?) I don't want to spoil your fun by letting you in on all of it, but I must point out my most favorite one. During the confrontation scene between Queen Femina and Zaturnnah, both actresses wore fake legs (their real legs were covered by a black skirt above which the fake ones dangled). Assisted by meant-to-be-invisible-propspeople, this device allowed the audience to watch fabulously hilarious acrobatics and stunts. I don't know about the people downstairs, but the view from the Gallery (Batute's upper level) had us all in stitches.

There are two dramatic highpoints that I can't help mentioning. One has to do with Zsazsa talking to her long dead father (he turns out to be one of the zombies), the other is when Didi gets shot by Queen Femina. As it turns out, when he was alive, Ada's father could never accept how his son was a syoke (that's ancient swardspeak for bading, in case you're very young, or have otherwise been living under a rock). Ada now as Zsazsa, appeals to his senses, hoping his er her father (see it's kinda confusing) will finally be able to accept and love his son for what he (she?) is. Yeah right, talk sense to a zombie, why don't cha? Itay's reaction had me gasping for air. As for Didi, he almost stole the show with his faux death scene (oops sorry for letting that out, but c'mon you'll know where everything is going anyway while watching it). Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. He did steal the show. Ah, scenes like these, I just love it when they have you in tears and move you ever so subtly at the same time. As the gay would say, Nakakaloka! I hesitate to say more lest I spill all the beans in this fantastically executed production. Not at all a bad way of saying gender is an illusion. (O ha, you see, you can still use your brain and come away gigglish for the whole night, too!)

Considering how much I enjoyed the show, I gladly would have paid twice the price of the ticket (that is, if I did actually pay for my ticket, ehehe. *grin* Thanks for the libre, M!) So if I were you, I'd go catch it while it's still playing, as there are only a few playdates left: Feb. 24-25 (8pm); Feb. 25-26 (3pm); Mar. 3-4 (8pm); and Mar. 4-5 (3pm). Check for their contact numbers. Grab a copy of the programme, too, it's delightfully designed, and even has An Idiota's Guide to "Camp". ;)

One final note, though. To the parents: better not bring the kids (under 13 I suppose?) to this one. It's not exactly Darna. *cough*

Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Muzikal is directed by Chris Millado and adapted by Chris Martinez. Vincent A. De Jesus is the composer, lyricist, and musical director.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Random book thoughts

Breathlessly anticipating a pearl of a book. Actually, a book of a Pearl. *smiles* After that most excellent, exhilirating literary fiction, The Dante Club, Random is soon set to release Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow. We don't know much about it yet except what tells us:

Trust the author of The Dante Club to turn in another stylish-sounding thriller, this one starring Poe fanatic Quentin Clark. Clark wants the real-life model for C. Auguste Dupin, Poe's fictional master of detection, to look into the author's suspicious death. But then someone else claims to be the actual Dupin. With a 14-city tour.

Ah yes, I have very fond memories of Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club. How can one forget that graphic, heart-stopping opening chapter? Maybe I have been watching too much CSI, but I swear Gil Grissom and company would have had a field day with that murder scene. Grissom particularly, as the first victim was being gutted alive by maggots -- and if only the setting had not been 1865 Boston. The detectives of the novel are none other than the famed Boston Brahmins: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell. Picture it: a group of well-respected poets, celebrities in their own right in their heyday, running against time to find a serial killer who patterns his murders after the punishments in Dante's Inferno, a curious detail, since they themselves had been working on Longfellow's English translation of Alighieri's epic poem. Pearl ingeniously mixes historical fact with fiction, not only writing beautifully and fluidly, but pacing his story like a jaw-dropping movie. Who could have thought the novel sprang from his graduate thesis? *sigh* I'm so excited I almost feel like reading the book again, if only I hadn't lent it. Yeah, as if I didn't have enough unread books already. And why read that one again, when there's a similarly-styled second book coming soon? The Poe Shadow will be out May 2006.

Book publishing made easy. Speaking of debuts, Kabayang Kyo has come out with his first book, Chroma, produced through that marvel of a site, Bookmaking has never been as accessible as now. With lulu, you can publish and sell your own books for free. What's more, you have full creative control, you retain the rights of your work, and you can set your own royalty fee. Sounds too good to be true? It probably is, so read the terms carefully. (I will write more about this some time, hopefully when I've had some firsthand experience. *wink*)

Chroma is a collection of color photographs taken around the San Francisco Bay Area. Go check it out and take a peek inside the book from here. If you want to see more of Kyo's images, go visit his website.

Beam me up, Willy (eck, doesn't have as nice a ring to it as Scotty does, but you catch my drift, `ya?). And speaking of creativity. My friend Queena Lee-Chua invited me to her Irwin Chair lecture, Venturing into Science: Creative Writing by Non-specialists, on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 3:00 p.m. at the Social Sciences Conference Rooms 1 & 2 of Ateneo. To be presented during the lecture are the steps taken by her 15 students, all non-science majors, the challenges they faced and the techniques they utilized (drama, analogy, definition, process, character, scene, real-life applications) as they tried their hands at creative science writing this semester under the English Department. Excerpts from their works will be read.

Talking to Queena about this special writing class of hers reminded me of a book I enjoyed a few years ago that goes into a related topic, that is, the impact of emerging technologies on storytelling. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet H. Murray, takes off from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s notion of a holodeck: a computer’s projection of “elaborate simulations by combining holography with magnetic `force fields’ and energy-to-matter conversions”. With a holodeck, you can program any world you want into the computer, step in, and join in the creation of a story. Take it as a very high-tech virtual world that you can actually experience with all of your senses. (Needless to say, the holodeck is only one among the many reasons why Star Trek: TNG is the best ever sci-fi tv series in my book. *beams* *Oh hey, that's a pun!* *amused*)

In the book, Murray envisions the future Shakespeare as half hacker, half bard. Considering how so many more advancements have been introduced since Murray wrote it in 1997, Hamlet on the Holodeck merely touches the tip of the iceberg with its discussion of hypertext narratives, interactive fiction, electronic games (games as stories or stories as games), and various hypermedia productions. Even so, today the book still remains a compelling and relevant read.

Murray wonders about whether the world is ready for a new narrative format that is delivered in a fully digital environment. Will hypertext fiction, for instance, ever be an accepted art form? I did try a couple of hypertext stories myself, (e.g. Jackson’s The Body), but I must admit that I never got to finish any. I was thinking (at least five years ago when I first tried them), it may be that my brain had not yet evolved to the point where I could efficiently absorb and process the narrative and still appreciate the art form – heck, I couldn’t even get past a third of Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and that was in print, an experimental fiction that relied on a lot of extraneous bits of information scattered in the form of footnotes, images, lists, diary entries and such other scraps thrown into a dictionary-sized tome. It is the scourge of linear thinkers, surely! But I digress. The point is, who knows, perhaps now I’ve been able to adapt to calling up several references at the same time (e.g. opening window after window of not necessarily related webpages), processing data and filing some latent meaning into the brain that I can later appreciate and contemplate?

Taking the subject of hypertext fiction alone, think of the challenges that are posed to the author: how does one create a non-linear story that will still be coherent in the end, no matter how your reader proceeds with it? And how in heck do you still make the end surprising? Or hmm, ok, the concept of an “ending” presupposes a structure like that of the printed word. Let’s just say, how do you construct your story such that your audience will still get a satisfying revelation when they are done? One random thought: the idea of postmodern hypermedia creations is mindblowing. How can one take advantage of the nature of digital environments in creating a narrative that refers to itself? If the computer takes its position as the storyteller, in how many ways can you muck up your audience, eh?

But seriously now, beyond Murray’s discussion of the aesthetic aspect (the chapter on the characteristics of digital media is quite riveting, imo) of the digital narrative are fascinating questions that such a device raises, questions that touch on moral issues even. Since the future of storytelling increases the stakes and makes us participants, each and every format carries with it its own issues. Some questions are old, some are new. (I am now going into forms that Murray did not necessarily refer to since they either did not exist yet or were not prevalent at the time she wrote the book.) One may wonder: Are we in danger of losing our humanity in the virtual world? Does it reduce us it into nothing more than unthinking hedonistic animals? Does electronic gaming promote violence? Is blogging essentially narcissistic? Are cyber-relationships destructive? Is `social' interaction within a virtual environment as valid as human contact? Is a person being unfaithful to a real life partner if he has an online significant other? Are Mary Suisms* in virtual fan fictions potentially pathological (I mean if such existed, I just made this up; but hey, surely we aren’t far off from multi-user virtual fan fiction environments (maybe there already are MUVE** fan fictions, I haven't checked yet)? Think Counterstrike or World of Warcraft or Ragnarok meets Me-as-my-favorite-celebrity’s-lover-in-a-fan-fiction-made-
especially-for-me-cyber-novella. Yiiicks, scare you much?)?

Don’t get me wrong, Murray starts off on an optimistic note, and ends her book still hopeful. And then again, all that scary, negative stuff, it also came with the advent of the printed word hundreds of years ago. Come to think of it, they’re still the same issues, albeit draped in fancy techno-talk. But the difference, imo, is that this time around, there’s much greater risk of losing this thing we call reality.

Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t particularly uplifting. Let me get back to this later. *sigh*


*In fan fiction, a Mary Suism is that propensity to insert a new character into an already established fiction/world that in truth represents the fan fiction writer himself/herself. Thus, for example, a Princess Arianna can write herself into a Lord of the Rings fan fiction say as the tenth member of the fellowship, the elven love interest of Legolas. I kid you not, such things do exist on this earth and can be found in the worldwideweb. If you want to know more, google fan fiction.

**MUVE stands for Multi-user virtual environment, a.ka. MUD or multi-user domains or multi-user dungeons. Check the definition here, and its history here.