Odds and ends, music edition

Non-traditional koto technique

I got curious about how affordable a koto would be, should I ever make enough room in my place to keep one and find time to practice. Not very, it turns out; prices range from $1,250 to $7,000 (sale price) at one source.

However, if you cross over to the Asian mainland, you can find similar instruments at more affordable prices. Chinese guzhengs start at $380. Here’s a Vocaloid tune played on a guzheng.1

There are also the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese dan tranh.

If you can’t afford real instruments, there are always virtual ones, such as the Korean noisemakers that are available for free here, courtesy of Seoul National University.

Should you want to build your own koto, the traditional source for wood is Paulownia tomentosa, an attractive, adaptable and invasive tree.

Here’s something to bring to the next jam session:

Need an orchestra, but can’t afford to pay for pro-quality sample sets, let alone the real thing? Here’s a useful freebie. (If the complete instrument crashes your DAW, download just the sections you need. I’ve found the percussion to be particularly handy.)

What were the big hits in past decades around the world? You can get an idea with Radiooooo.

Those interested in early music might find this online compendium of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of interest.

If you are interested in microtunings, you might find this scala-to-TUN converter handy.

Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, and the Remington Electric Razor (Via Dustbury):

Ronstadt:

It’s a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.

Linda will be relieved to learn that I have formally disaffiliated myself from the Stupid and Utterly Useless Party, and describe myself politically as a Contemptuous Independent.

First look, last look

So it’s time for the summer anime season. Is there anything worth watching? Let’s see what’s on Crunchyroll.1

Abandoned in five minutes or less
Tsuredure Children — High school romangst. Bleah.
Aho-Girl — Really stupid girl likes bananas. Double-bleah.
Knights and Magic — Medieval mechas and really stupid punctuation (I corrected the title).
Fox Spirit Matchmaker — Just bleah.
Hina Logic — Cute yet boring girls do cute yet boring things.

Abandoned in fifteen minutes
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu — The staff spent more effort on the pretty scenery rather than the sword-boys’ pretty jewelry this time, and the action is grimmer, but it’s still pretty silly.

Not abandoned yet
Elegant Yokai Apartment Life — Something like Natsume Yuujin-cho-lite. Bland business major takes a room in an apartment building where all his neighbors are yokai or eccentrics. It could be fun, or it could be dull, depending on where it goes after the introductory episode.
Restaurant to Another World2 — Fine dining with dragons and demons. As with the preceeding, it could be fun, or it could be a waste of time.

I’ll give the last two at least one more episode. I don’t expect more than light entertainment from either, though. Perhaps something substantial will air this fall.

Update (July 10)
The new tenant in the yokai apartment building got a nosebleed nine minutes into the second episode. The hell with it.
The second installment of the restaurant stories was much like the first. Vignettes about the inhabitants of a high-fantasy world who visit the western-style restaurant serve primarily as excuses for food porn. The show remains pleasant and watchable, even for a non-foodie like me, but it’s not particularly memorable.
I sampled a few other new series, none of which are worth naming. This looks like a season to rewatch old favorites, work on your backlog, or do something else with your life.

Stay on the path

In years past one occasionally found such plants as argemone and corydalis in Wichita’s Sedgwick County Park. However, careful management has eliminated most of the pesky wildflowers, so that nothing distracts visitors from the splendid displays of Toxicodendron radicans throughout the park.

The same drive toward tidiness has also simplified the flora of the fields east of the park. Formerly, one would sometimes stumble across Mentzelia nuda, for instance, or Delphinium carolinianum, but gradually such conspicuous species disappeared. A few still remain, such as Oenothera rhombipetala and Dalea villosa, but if current trends continue, eventually the area will be just neat and tidy grass.

Just wondering

Is this true? It doesn’t tally with my observations, but I try to minimize my exposure to popular culture.

Something that is often forgotten about J.K. Rowling’s books/movies is that while they started out being almost equally popular among girls and boys (the authoress chose old-fashioned initials to hide her sex from little girl-hating he-men), by the time the eighth and (sort of) final movie in the series finally came out, their appeal was almost wholly to girls, just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s fans are overwhelmingly male.

The bit about Tolkien fans would be news to the rat maiden at the too-long-idle Quenta Nârwenion.

Idiot dance tune, for 17th-century idiots

Advisory: Survivors of the Society for Creative Anachronism might find this post traumatic.

Here is a set of variations on possibly the most annoying tune ever notated, “Nonesuch,” from John Playford’s 1651 The English Dancing Master. It’s arranged here for virtual guitar, bass and drums.1. For the morbidly curious, the guitar is the AAS Strum GS-2 and the bass the String Studio VS-2. The drums are Logic’s Ultrabeat, augmented with percussion from the VSCO2 orchestra. As always, I’m not completely happy with this, but I want to move on to fresh disasters.

(Right-click on the tune title to download the .mp3.)

The empire strikes out

A depressing number of commentators recently got sentimental and downright gooey talking about Star Wars, which was released 40 years ago this week.

By 1977, I had read a lot of science fiction. Gene Wolfe and R.A. Lafferty, Philip K. Dick, Joanna Russ and Cordwainer Smith were favorites, and I collected all the various best-of-the-year anthologies (and for a while, there were a lot). I regularly visited all the bookstores in town, new and used, looking for interesting new writers and well-written, adventurous stories.

One of my co-workers praised the movie, so one afternoon I rode my bicycle out to the theatre and sat through 17 minutes of commercials in the chilly dark1 waiting to see this magnificent new breakthrough in science fiction. Finally, the movie started.

And it stunk. If you are Star Wars fan, I’m sorry, but I found it stupid. The script was comic-book level. The actors might have been talented, but their lines were drivel. The music deserved a better showcase, and why did Alec Guinness bother with this mess? (Money, I suppose.)

I did sit through The Empire Strikes Back, and found it a little better — having Leigh Brackett on the script probably helped. It was still lousy, though, and I didn’t bother watching any more Lucasian nonsense.

I would hesitate to call Star Wars “life-changing,” but along with a few other disasters like Blade Runner — I left the theater furious at what had been done to Dick’s novel — it was one of the reasons I lost all interest in movies.2

By the way, if you want to see Alec Guinness in roles that suit him, start here.