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while floating away in clouds
my heart sang with elation
I saw it drifting far away
man's proud, petit creation

posted: 31.7.04 | permalink | 4 comments

Musical Notes

I’ve been listening to a lot of new music these days with including a great deal of contemporary western classical. The contemporary period is certainly not my favorite but two works have jolted me to take a notice:

A string quartet is not something that naturally comes to your mind on mentioning Debussy or Ravel. So when I came across a CD of their String Quartets, I was intrigued. Indeed these works turned out to be very different from any of the earlier works for the string quartet that I’ve heard before. The second movements of both Debussy’s G minor and Ravel’s F string quartets use rather elaborate pizzicato (a violin is usually played with a bow, but you can also play one by plucking at its strings, somewhat like you’d play a guitar and this is known in western classical parlance as ‘pizzicato’). Beethoven’s Op. 74 string quartet has managed to attract a nick name of “Harp” because of his extensive use of pizzicato in this quartet, but if second movements of these quartets is anything to go by, they can easily attract a nick name – ‘Burry your Bows’. Exquisite, must hear!

String Quartet is my favorite chamber ensemble. Musicians for centuries have poured in their skill and sublime expression into this one ensemble. I recently picked up a CD of Mendelssohn’s “Octet” under an impression that an Octet will be two string quartets playing in tandem. It didn’t quite turn out to be sum of two quartets. An Octet ensemble (as I learned) comprises of four violins, two violas, a cello and a double bass; the inclusion of the latter in place of another cello, sets it apart from two quartets. It also changes the dynamic of the music. While a lot of “quartet” element can be found lingering, on the whole an Octet sounds a little more like string section of an orchestra, with the intimacy you would expect from a small chamber ensemble, intact. Very little music exists for a String Octet. The closest I had heard was Beethoven’s wood-wind Octet; where he had suggested replacing woodwinds with strings, but I don’t think that a version ever materialized.

Mozart’s piano concertos represent some of the most beautiful works written in the classical era. I recently discovered another aspect of these concertos. A piano concerto comprises of parts for a full orchestral ensemble (similar to that of a symphony) and parts for a solo piano. The interplay of between the solo piano and orchestra is what makes a piano concerto so delightful. To make his piano concertos more accessible to the masses so as to allow them to be performed by small ensembles at family gatherings, Mozart reduced the scores of these concertos to a string quartet and piano. While I find these ‘simplified’ versions interesting, they are by no means a patch on the complete original. The woodwind sections in his concertos (besides the solo parts) are usually the most charming – you take them away and the concerto sounds a lot paler. What is interesting here is that as far as the composition of the ‘reduced’ ensemble is concerned, it is exactly the same as a piano quintet and yet the essence of the music that comes out is vastly different (clearly showing the composer’s intent of writing ‘reduced’ version of the concertos as opposed to composing for the piano quintet).

Also playing: Soundtrack of ‘The Pianist’ (a good compilation of Chopin’s Nocturnes, Polonaises, Waltzes), Beethoven’s late Piano Sonatas, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Bruch’s violin concertos.
posted: 27.7.04 | permalink | 1 comments

The last time I had attempted the feat of taking a 3:00 AM connection from Mumbai to Bangalore, right after having flown for over 20 hours, I had vowed never to attempt it again. But I guess airline Gods were vexed with me and within two months of my initial resolution, I found myself on the same flight. Here are some of the profound conclusions I arrived at after my arrival home:

The disheveled reflection that I’ve had to reconcile with as being my own, has strengthened my long held belief that the interrogation techniques which are coming to fore (sleep deprivation, stress positions, disorientation etc.) have all been neatly packaged into trans Atlantic economy class flights for years now.

Nth corollary to Murphy’s Law: An airport’s appearance/conviviality is inversely proportional to your expectations. I had high hopes from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport that were emphatically put to rest by discourteous staff bordering on being rude and by designer chairs whose designer upholstery was either begrimed with designer dirt or was simply ripped off completely revealing the designer metallic frame underneath. I wouldn’t even venture near the general standards of sanitation in the rest rooms.  Of the three airports that I’ve had to transit through in Europe, only Amsterdam has been a positive experience.

And finally a little limerick on convention centers - a good part of my Atlanta trip last week was spent in one:

In convention centers its always night
Walking miles indoors takes some might
Pack a jacket before you enter
For here, its forever winter
posted: 25.7.04 | permalink | 4 comments

A walk in the rain

Evening yesterday brought with it a strong longing for a long evening walk. For past 3 days it has been raining Leopards and Wolves (I chose superlative members of the Cat and Dog families to illustrate the intensity of the downpours). The skies were looking reasonably threatening last evening and since I seem to be amongst one of Murphy’s favorites, I made it a point to carry my brand new umbrella along. I had barely covered a kilometer that a plump toad (which was looking rather amused with itself) crossed my path. That it was a portent of things to come did not occur to me then. Within minutes of the incident, big drops of rain came drumming down. Having an umbrella with you is one thing, disengaging it from your bag and unfurling it in time so that it actually serves the purpose it was meant to, is another. And though my fingers displayed little interest in obeying orders from my brain I did eventually manage to operate the umbrella without getting soaked. Drainage of rainwater in most parts of the Bangalore is inefficient and hardly ever keeps up with inflow. A decent downpour doesn’t need to last long for little eddies, puddles and streams of muddled water to materialize everywhere. Surely enough, my shoes and socks were now sustaining an entire aquatic ecosystem. Suddenly I found my desire for a long stroll displaced by a sudden fondness for being at home (a phenomena I am now inclined to attribute to my wet socks). Getting an auto for a short distance on a Sunday evening is a tough call even when it is not raining; a downpour simply complicates matters beyond reprieve. Just when I had made up my mind to drag myself home on foot, an auto relented (though for the double the amount I usually pay) and I got to enjoy a hot bath, and piping hot food a little sooner than I would have otherwise.

Musical notes to self: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is eminently enjoyable on a rainy evening. (Carry those headphones into the bed if it is still raining when you are about to sleep and play Chopin’s Piano Concerto #1).

Here is a galaxy of raindrops clicked off the window pane of my office just after a heavy shower earlier last week.

posted: 11.7.04 | permalink | 8 comments

Three guys, half moon and a concrete behemoth

The effect of frenzied construction activity in Bangalore is more pronounced in certain parts of the cities than other. I live in a locality where you can still find beautiful little villas dating back to our colonial past. In fact, barring the “cross” streets, even the names of the streets here bear a testimony to the city’s British legacy. Unfortunately, the exponential rise in demand for affordable (which is always a relative word) housing has meant that the owners of these beautiful colonial bungalows are under tremendous pressure (mostly monetary) to sell out. Over the last 20 months of so that I’ve spent in Bangalore, I’ve seen numerous of these quaint houses torn down to make room for tall concrete apartment complexes (ironically, I live in one of these ‘affordable’ commodity apartments myself). The few days between the time when the original owner sells moves out and the time when the construction workers take over are the most poignant for someone who has walked past these houses regularly. Verdant lawns witnessing their last spring, old lush trees; that if not chopped off right away, will either be mutilated or murdered systematically, rickety letter box nailed to the wooden entrance door, and of course the empty house itself waiting to be demolished insouciantly all contribute to a sense of foreboding melancholy.

Very few of these houses still remain – most of them are in various stages of dilapidation, reflecting sadly on fiscal inadequacies of their once wealthy owners; who would give into a lucrative offer any day. Others stand unoccupied in a state of total neglect. – a litigation is usually the only thing that stands between them and their new owners. With their gardens gone awry with attack of weeds, these ravaged houses look almost surreal; as if they were just strokes of an impressionist painter.

Here is a picture of an upcoming concrete complex that I took one Sunday afternoon. I think there is something menacing and yet frighteningly beautiful about it. Verbosely title: ‘Three guys, half moon and a concrete behemoth’.

P.S. I am unable to decide whether the color version looks better or the greyscale one, what do you think?

posted: 6.7.04 | permalink | 6 comments

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