Saturday, February 13, 2010

Yet another sign that I'm older than dirt.

Conversation at work tonight:

"Rob, what is that song you're singing?" (Sometimes, when it's late and I'm tired, I start singing quietly to keep myself awake. There is no logical connection there, but hey.)

"It's a very very old song."

"Bruce Springsteen? I really like Springsteen..."


"Bob Dylan?"



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Monday, December 21, 2009

More Hi-Fi information

More stuff from the back of the record album:

This Mercury STEREO record has been cut with variable groove spacing and electronic groove depth control, thus producing a 2-channel disc of exceptionally wide dynamic range, reliable stylus tracking throughout the frequency range, and startling clarity and definition of instrumental timbres.
Not that there are any instrumental timbres on this album anyway...

This almost makes me want to dust off the old turntable and try to find some way to hook it up into the (new) receiver.
This Mercury STEREO record should be played according to the RIAA standard with a stereo reproducing cartridge having a stylus tip not exceeding .7 mil. For best results, be sure that your two loudspeakers and amplifiers are correctly balanced in terms of output and phase, and that the loudspeakers are placed in the room so as to provide an even "spread of sound" from one to the other.
Ah yes, so the RIAA once had a purpose other than suing their ultimate customers into the ground.

I wonder what the ratio is of people who primarily listen to music through a big stereo system with speakers that have to be "placed in the room so as to provide an even 'spread of sound' from one to the other", to people who primarily listen to music through tiny earbuds that do a crappy job of reproducing strong bass lines. (I pretty much fall into the latter category, alas.)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blast from the past

In my collection of LPs and 45s (people under 30: LPs and 45s were types of black vinyl discs that people used to listen to music), I have this:It's a stereo recording of "The St. Olaf Lutheran Choir", conducted by Olaf Christiansen (Mercury Records SR-60636). The fun thing about it is reading some of the notes on the back of jacket:
HI-FI Information
This recording was made simultaneously in stereo and monaural in a Hollywood recording studio with Harry L. Bryant at the engineering controls. The choir was set up in standard concert grouping. Five Telefunken U-47 microphones were used as follows: three were placed approximately 15 feet in front of the choir, and 10 feet above the floor. One was suspended 25 to 30 feet in front of the choir, 16 feet high. The fifth microphone was used for solo work. The session was recorded on Ampex tape recorders at 15 inches per second.

David Carroll
Mercury Recording Director
Harry L. Bryant
Recording Engineering
Imagine the same sort of thing for your average pop singer today. "This recording was made digitally in an LA studio, with the vocals recorded separately from the rest of the tracks. The artist recorded over 20 takes before we decided to auto-tune the whole thing..."

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'd sit in the quad, and think, "Oh my God..."

Two Ole Choir home concerts digitized, one to go...followed by some Christmas Festivals. Gotta dig up some concert programs, to make those ID3 tags...

I do miss being in choir. My years in the St. Olaf choirs were some of the happiest in my life. I made a few good friends -- not many, but that was more because I was (still am) kind of an introvert than any other reason. The people in choir were almost all easily approachable and friendly...and we were all working together for that common goal.

One year, before one night of the Christmas Festival, I signed up to do devotions before the performance. (We did devotions before every performance...sometimes silent reflection, more often one or two choir members giving food for thought. One memorable one from that same year brought up the idea of God as a verb.)

I took as my inspiration something a choir member said during the PBS broadcast of the 1989 St. Olaf Christmas Festival. He was talking about the Randall Thompson composition "Alleluia", and he discussed how Dr. Kenneth Jennings (then-director of the choir) described it to them.

The text of Thompson's Alleluia is simply the word, alleluia, over and over again until a final "amen." Dr. Jennings told the choir to think of "alleluia" as an endless river of praise to God, and to sing the Alleluia is to dip into that river for a short moment of time.

I extended the metaphor to mean the St. Olaf Choir itself. Begun almost a century ago as a church choir, nowadays the choir is made up solely of students of St. Olaf College, and thus is renewed completely every three years. During our time in the choir, be it one, two, or three years, we join in a mighty river of singing -- of praise, and of beautiful music. Upon graduating, we leave that river behind us, knowing that it will continue flowing far past the point where we depart, and we will never touch upon it in the exact same way again.

What I wouldn't give to be part of that once more...

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Am I forever dreaming...

I've been digging through my CDs and DVDs, trying to get a handle on what I still have, what I sent home from Japan, and what I don't have anymore. I've been finding a lot of "why did I bother sending THIS home" discs, however. *coughMorningMusumecrapcough*

I have a lot of Utada Hikaru's CDs. She was one of my favorite Japanese artists. However, now she's trying to gain a foothold in the American music scene, and in order to do so, she's changed up her style and sound into electronica/dance music, which is just not my thing. Angela Aki's taken up the number one spot on my Japanese music prefs nowadays, anyway.

I also have a lot of single songs/albums from artists who were flavor of the day for varying periods of time...Hajime Chitose, Nakashima Miyuki, Nana Katase, and several others that have never made a splash outside of Japan.

One pleasant surprise for me was uncovering a couple of video game soundtracks, of all things. Katamari Damashii, because all the tunes on there are really jazzy and catchy, and ICO.

ICO is this really atmospheric game for the PlayStation 2. Very little dialogue, beautiful graphics, challenging puzzles, and a very intriguing setting. The game soundtrack includes one song with vocals (in English, even), that uses some abstract imagery, fitting in very nicely with the game itself.

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole witness to history

Fleeting memories rise
From the shadows of my mind
Sing "nonomori" - endless corridors
Say "nonomori" - hopeless warriors
You were there
You were there

Am I forever dreaming
How to define the way I'm feeling

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

Slaves to our destiny
I recall a melody
Sing "nonomori" - seasons lit with gold
Say "nonomori" - legends yet untold
You were there
You were there

Happiness follows sorrow
Only believing in tomorrow

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole key to this mystery

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Regrets? I have a few...

One of the things I regret having to do before leaving Japan was the selling off of my DVDs and CDs. I figured that I'd need the money, and the cost of shipping them all safely back to the states would've been impossible. That was before I found out about this:

Anyway, I did put a number of my favorite songs on my iPod before I had to unload them. I was listening to it while driving to work yesterday, when the song 島唄 came on, reminding me of what I sold off...

This CD was also where I got the song 花 from, the song I tried to sing for that NHK talent show a while back. Both songs were covered by 普天間かおり, who did remarkably non-bombastic versions, especially compared with the more popular versions...

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Angela Aki: 手紙 (video)

In case you were wondering about the song which I tried to translate (link to translation), here's the video for it.

アンジェラ・アキ: 手紙〜拝啓 十五の君へ〜

I love this song.

(edit: replaced busted video embed with working one)

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

New vocabulary

Just came across a disturbing (to me) new concept on Music Station tonight.

On the internet, in places like the 'chans (don't don't wanna know), they have a derogatory term for Americans who wanna be Japanese -- Wapanese. You may already know the type. They consider themselves well versed in Japanese culture and language based solely on, say, the viewing of a small sampling of anime and/or manga, they...well, that's enough, isn't it?

On Music Station (a late-night pop music show, mixing song rankings, live performances and interviews), they just showed a story on an American, Kevin Kmetz, who has become expert on the shamisen (Japanese three-stringed lute). He has released albums with his band, God of Shamisen. They played several clips of his playing, and he's really good, having won honors at several Japanese shamisen festivals.

How did they refer to this guy on Japanese TV?


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Angela Aki: 手紙〜拝啓 十五の君へ〜 (revised)

One of my favorite musicians, Angela Aki, appeared on NHK's Kohaku Uta Gassen for the third time this past New Year's Eve. The song she sang, 手紙〜拝啓 十五の君へ〜 (letter to your 15 year old self), was first released in September of last year, becoming her biggest hit and the theme song to the latest season of みんなのうた, as well as the image song for the 75th Annual Nationwide School Singing Contest, shown on NHK.

I happen to like this song a lot. As some of you may know, last year was...not the easiest for me, and many times I found myself seeking comfort in music.* This song's lyrics seemed rather meaningful, in my opinion.

EDIT: After it was first posted, I ran this translation by my friend Jamie, who's much better at this kind of thing than I am. She very kindly took the time to correct my more egregious errors, and offer a lot of good suggestions. Thanks, Jamie! (You can check out her LiveJournal here.) Anyway, the corrected version follows. Original version will be in the comments. Also, this probably won't be the final revision, either.

My amateurish translation of the song:

To you reading this letter, wherever you are, whatever you're doing
The fifteen-year-old-me has a source of sorrow that I can't tell anyone about
Since I address this letter to the future me
Surely you will understand exactly how I feel

Now I am about to lose, I am close to tears, it seems I am fading away
As I go forward, whose words can I believe in?

I have only one heart, and it's been broken many times over
Living for today is living in pain
Living for today

To you, thank you; I have something I want to tell the 15-year-old you
If you ask yourself which way you should turn, you will eventually understand:
The seas of a stormy youth are harsh
But we go forward on a ship of dreams to the shores of tomorrow

Now, don't give up, don't cry, when it seems it's time to fade away
You can believe in your own voice as you go forward

The adult me has also had sleepless nights from pain
Living for today is bitter, yet sweet

Your whole life has meaning, don't be afraid of dreaming big
Keep on believing

I am about to lose, I am close to tears, it seems that I'm fading away
As I go forward, whose words can I believe in?

Ah, don't give up, don't cry, though it seems it's time to fade away
You can believe in your own voice as you go forward

You can't avoid sadness, whatever age you are
So show your smiling face, and go on living for today
Live for today

To you reading this letter
I hope for happy things for you.

(Thanks again to Jamie for the help; any remaining mistakes are mine, of course)

*Other sources of comfort: food, movies, This American Life, A Prairie Home Companion

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


平成21年始まりました。Happy new year!

Right now, all over Japan, people are crowding up to temples and shrines, throwing money and praying for the new year. Here, the weather is a combination of rain, snow, and thunder, and I'm staying home.

In this year's 紅白歌合戦, the white team won with about 2/3 of the vote. There was a nice medley of music from Studio Ghibli films near the beginning, with full orchestra and chorus conducted by Joe Hisaishi himself.

The Red-White Song Contest is an annual year-end tradition, broadcast on NHK for the past 59 years. It's about four hours long, and there's a break in the middle for a five minute news break. At 11:45, after the contest (and a chorus of 蛍の光, AKA Auld Lang Syne), NHK broadcasts live footage from shrines and temples around the country. Right now, they're showing a picture of some people on a snowy mountain, setting up torches in the shape of a word: 希. Ki, Hope.

Here's hoping that this year is better than the last. G'night, all.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Recycling ideas

I've posted this one before, a long LONG time ago I think, but since I'm using the idea again (that's right, I'm recycling activities from Kagoshima), I thought I'd mention it.

The lesson: Fruits and vegetables, "I like," "He/She likes"

I draw a man's face on the board.

"This is Jack. He likes fruit."

I draw a woman's face on the board.

Jill? Nope.

"This is Diane. She likes vegetables."

Of course, I'm probably the only one at work who gets the joke. Probably a good thing, actually.

"...Oh yeah, life goes on..."

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Music of the '80s...

...but not as you remember it.

See how quickly you can spot this one:

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

のど自慢, the epilogue

Remember that singing contest that I tried out for a few months back? Well, last night was the のど自慢 contest of champions, where a large number of winners from last year duked it out for the title of "2007 のど自慢 Grand Champion". They were all really, really good. The winner from the show I tried out for was on, and did a good job, but didn't win.

The show is coming near here again in August. Should I make another attempt?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pearls Before Breakfast

Just read this, and even though it happened over 9 months ago, I think it's too cool to not share.

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world's great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

"Let's assume," Slatkin said, "that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don't think that if he's really good, he's going to go unnoticed. He'd get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

So, a crowd would gather?

"Oh, yes."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.

"How'd I do?"

We'll tell you in a minute.

"Well, who was the musician?"

Joshua Bell.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So I went to a concert last week

So I went to a concert last Sunday. (I got the ¥500 ticket for free.)

It was billed as "Blues Live Concert" (ブルースライブコンサート). Turns out that the name of the band is actually "Live". They were mainly an Eric Clapton cover band, with a few songs by other people as well.

The band consisted of a vocalist, a lead guitarist (not even CLOSE to Clapton quality), a bass player (actually a better guitarist than the lead) and a drummer. The rhythm guitar parts, and various other things like keyboards or horns, were covered by a CD player. They were neither insanely great nor insanely awful, but...

Why is it that the odds of an amateur band playing in a small auditorium (around 500 seats, I think) having a competent sound guy so close to nil? IT'S A TINY ROOM, DAMMIT, YOU DON'T HAVE TO CRANK EVERYTHING TO 11!

I also wondered why the bass player wasn't playing lead guitar. They played three sets, and the middle set was the bass player, solo, playing acoustic guitar and singing, and he had some serious guitar chops.

The lead guitar player, on the other hand, was merely adequate. When they played Hotel California, he didn't even bother trying to play the intro, instead just letting the CD of whatever canned MIDI box they used play it, while he played random noodling over the top. (But he did do a halfway decent run on the guitar part for "Long Train Running," go figure.)

I finally ended up leaving in the middle of the third set, when they swung into a far-too-electrified version of "Tears in Heaven."

Still, this wasn't the worst concert I'd seen in Japan.

The WORST concert I've ever been to in Japan was this guy in Kagoshima. He was just about to return to America (I think he had been a JET or something; I don't really recall.) Anyway, he thought he was hot stuff, and he rented a fairly large auditorium for a "farewell concert." In order to improve the appeal of this show, the guy (whose name I seem to have blocked out) arranged for a Latin dance group and a local acapella group to perform as well, and they were pretty good.

The guy himself, though....

As I recall, the tickets were on the pricey side, and this guy was really promoting himself as an up and coming new talent to justify this. Now, what with the hype and the price and all, I expected there to be a live band backing him up. Nope! He was using, and I am NOT making this up, karaoke CDs. What's worse, he didn't even bother using the karaoke pitch function to put the songs in a range that he could sing.

Don't get me wrong, he had a great range between F# and G...he couldn't stay on pitch to save his life. Coupled with the overacting histrionics -- the man thought he was Seal, or R Kelly, or something -- and it was all we could do to not start laughing. Lots of cringing, though. When he started doing the grand arm sweep to throw it back to his back-up singers CD player, I had to leave the auditorium before the laughter escaped.

On top of that, he pulled a real jerk move in the middle of the show that made all of us go from amusement to annoyance.

When the acapella group came out, they started with "Good Ol' Acapella," if I recall correctly, which was very well received. (After the GUY, anything that would have stayed in the correct key would have been lauded, and these guys were GOOD.) Then, the leader went into banter mode, and introduced the rest of the group. He was cracking jokes, and the small crowd was enjoying it -- finally, something entertaining!

Then they went into their second song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Now, apparently the banter went long, and the GUY was fuming that the acapella group was actually way more entertaining than he he turned the lights out on them.

They kept singing. In the dark, the GUY came out to argue with the leader. Finally, the leader cut the song short, and left the stage -- but with a loud ovation from the audience.

At the end of the show, the dance group came out for a final bow with the GUY, but the acapella group was nowhere to be seen...Go figure.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

YouTube - 花(すべての人の心に花を)-夏川りみ

...and this is what the song sounds like.

(I'm doing a different arrangement; both the original and this version are way too high for my voice.)

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Hana (Flower)

Lyrics check!

This is not a professional translation; far from it, actually. Still, I hope I got the gist of it correct. Or something...

花として 花として
The river flows, where does it go?
People also flow; where do they go?
That kind of flow at a certain time
will bloom as a flower
Go ahead and cry, go ahead and laugh
for someday, the flower will bloom
花として 花として
Tears flow, where do they go?
Love also flows, where does it go?
That kind of flow within you,
In that direction will rise

The flower, for the flower's sake we can laugh
People, for people's sake the tears flow
This is the song of nature
within the heart, within the heart
the flower will bloom
go ahead and cry, go ahead and laugh
For forever
we will still use the flower
(Not sure about that last bit)
(Or, in fact, most of of it)

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