From the archives: January 2009

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Wednesday Book Club: Childhood’s End

Wednesday, 21 January 2009 — 11:56pm | Book Club, Literature, Science

This week’s selection: Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke.

In brief: Clarke’s compact story of a benevolent alien takeover of the Earth asks hard questions about whether the human species would ever lay down its natural curiosity for the promise of utopia. Its brisk pace and multigenerational scope make it difficult to get a sustained picture of any of the human characters, and the absence of causal explanation for the rapid transformation of human society into a stock Golden Age directs our attention toward the consequences and away from the how-and-why, but none of this obstructs the philosophical ambition of the piece. I, for one, welcome our new species-civilizing Overlords.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on Childhood’s End, keep reading below.)

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Platonism and pork pie hats

Sunday, 18 January 2009 — 10:37pm | Jazz, Music

Ben Ratliff of The New York Times has written an eight-page Q&A about jazz and its criticism that shouldn’t be missed. He dips into many of the issues on the minds of jazz listeners—the sustainability of the respective cultures of recordings and live performances, the effect of college educations in music performance, the anxiety over whether there has been an emergent “canon” to speak of since the post-bop masters of the fifties and sixties—but my favourite part is this elegant response to that age-old question of Genre, viz. what belongs and what doesn’t:

Q. If I just listened to Mingus pluck an open string that he let resonate for a while, would I be hearing jazz?
— Elias Falcon, Brooklyn

A. No. You would be hearing Charles Mingus.

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Wednesday Book Club: Twilight

Wednesday, 14 January 2009 — 11:44pm | Book Club, Literature

This week’s selection: Twilight (2005) by Stephenie Meyer.

In brief: There is a difference between supernatural and superficial. Stephenie Meyer disagrees.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on Twilight, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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Wednesday Book Club: The Rights Revolution

Wednesday, 7 January 2009 — 11:46pm | Book Club, Canadiana, Literature

This week’s selection: The Rights Revolution (2000) by Michael Ignatieff.

In brief: The text of Ignatieff’s appearance in CBC Radio’s Massey Lectures series makes for an effective plainspoken introduction to the complex balance of rights in modern liberal democracies. What remains to be seen is whether the positive vision of Canadian-style governance, founded on civic notions of identity rather than ethnic ones, has a realistic chance of spreading to the societies that need it most.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Rights Revolution, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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Runaway fifths

Tuesday, 6 January 2009 — 10:17am | Game music, Jazz, Music, Video games

My dedicated readers may be aware that one thing I used to follow quite closely, on this journal and elsewhere, was the composition and arrangement of video game music. I haven’t attended to it in some time, and am in no way up to date on what’s been going on with it apart from the occasional press releases that land in my inbox about how (to pick one example) contributors to OC ReMix provided the official soundtrack to a high-definition remake of Street Fighter II.

So I was surprised to discover that a video game band—and a jazz band, no less—had sprung up in my very own a mare usque ad mare backyard under the name of The Runaway Five, after the Blues Brothers spoof band that lets you hop on their tour bus in the oddball Super Nintendo classic EarthBound. I saw them live at the Beat Niq on Saturday, and walked away pleased with a lot of what I heard.

I am careful to say “what I heard” because, in a bungled cross-product of the sound engineering and where I was sitting (but mostly, I conjecture, the former), there were serious acoustic issues that worked against the band. Never mind the unfortunate trend of miking and amping everyone in sight in tight basement clubs where a live sound would serve them better—there were fundamental EQ problems with what was coming out the other end, as if the treble had entirely dropped out. A lot of what the band was trying to do harmonically got lost in the midrange mud-crunching.

As for the band itself—a guitar-piano quartet in the first set and an octet with four horns in the second set—it is the very archetype of the young 2000s band that draws on a potpourri of stylistic influences without necessarily committing to one or another. If their point was to illustrate the versatility of their source material, I’d say they got it across. I jotted down their whole set list but I won’t bother reproducing it here; instead, here are a few performance notes.

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