Notre-Dame, Medium, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water

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The main image for my Medium feature “My Creative Brushes with Notre-Dame de Paris”. It’s about drawings I had created before the fire, actually during my public drawing in Reykjavík in March 2019.

18th APRIL 2019 — I have started moving most of my online writing to Medium.com and I may eventually switch completely over there.

Having said that, I’m finding it difficult to let go of this little blog and I appreciate the connections I’ve made here — sincere thanks to everyone who’s reading this.

You can find my writings on Medium under my full name. Recently:

Plus, yesterday I also launched a full day-by-day serialisation of my first book as a Medium series. This innovative Medium form is designed for viewing on smartphones. You tilt your phone to look from side to side. You can also subscribe to this. Here’s the link.

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Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923

Gramophone 1923-10
From an ad for a Decca portable gramophone.

NOVEMBER 19th 2018 — A report from one of the London gramophone societies discusses Italian composer Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (“RUSTIC CHIVALRY“). The writer comments:

“[…] probably the most original point is the INTERMEZZO — which even the errand boys know — played while the curtain remains up and the stage is empty. It is a refreshing lull between the various passionate episodes of the drama.”

This INTERMEZZO is one of those pieces I listen to every available recording of mentioned in the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE. I believe I first heard it in two episodes of NORTHERN EXPOSURE: 3.23 “Cicely” (1992) and 5.22 “GRAND PRIX” (1994).

In the former, it accompanies a beautiful dance by town co-founder Cicely, and in the latter it plays as Ed Chigliak physically fights “the demon of external validation”. But no recording available is mentioned in this report, so no playlist item of this for now.

An article about a visit to a record-pressing factory of His Master’s Voice (HMV) mentions in passing a musician who was to die at the age of 35 later this decade (the 1920s) after a short illness:

“We saw the whole process of record-making. We heard an orchestra, with Max Darewski at the piano, in the recording room, and heard the piece instantly returned from the wax.”

I also mentioned him in the previous entry in this series in connection with a ragtime piece of his.

Also interesting to note the word “robots” already being used in this 1923 article (“automatic machines which worked like Robots at the making of screws, etc.”), considering that this word was coined only three years earlier, in 1920.

The review pages quote Debussy’s delightful comment on Grieg (many of Grieg’s pieces are among my favorites):

“Grieg is like a pink bon-bon stuffed with snow.”

I’m not sure whether Debussy meant this as a slight or not, really, but to me it’s quite charming and creates a vivid sensory impression. Also, like most northern kids, I’ve eaten snow more than once in my life — just for the taste or because thirsty when playing outside as a kid.

This issue was short of any references to recordings that hold special appeal for me. But rather than skip the Spotify playlist for this entry altogether, these would be my choices from an unexciting selection this time:

  • Two takes of the same Chopin piece by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch: IMPROMPTU NO. 2 IN F SHARP MAJOR, Op. 36 No. 2. The difference in tempi makes one of the takes ten seconds shorter than the other.
  • Tenor Roland Hayes singing the American spiritual “SIT DOWN”.

Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923”:

This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

Earlier entries in this series:

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 4 — September 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 3 — August 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 2 — June 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923

Music in the air

Starscape 2015
From 2015.

OCTOBER 23rd 2018 — All the entries in my “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland” series now come with playlists of all the recordings mentioned and available on Spotify.

As this series progresses, the variety of music will grow ever wider, since my interests in music extend to all types of music and since for decades THE GRAMOPHONE covered all types of music, not only classical, as today.

The quality of recordings will also soon improve radically, since the late 1920s marked the switchover from the much less advanced (and so-called-then) acoustic process to the (again so-called-then) electric process of recording.

From my rudimentary reading on this topic, this basically meant that microphones started being used for recording. Up until that time, music was recorded by singing and/or playing into a kind of tube.

Here are links to the entries so far:

No. 1 — April 1923

No. 2 — June 1923

No. 3 — August 1923

No. 4 — September 1923


The issues covered in this “Let’s read” series are available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

Chopin, Paris, Bradbury, happiness

Chopin tomb
Paris, October 2017, and his music in the air.

OCTOBER 16th 2018 — I visited Chopin’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris a bit over a year ago.

And the greatest thing was that there was his music in the air just then, just like in an episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER that had a scene actually filmed there: “On the Orient, North”. Someone was playing it from their phone. I almost couldn’t believe it.

Also wonderful was how the apartment I rented happened to be located literally just down the street from this cemetery (and I mean, Paris is huge), which I always knew I would want to visit. But I didn’t even realize this when arranging for the flat. It was the only one open to me, really.

It was on rue du Chemin-Vert (“Street of the Green Path”). And in Paris I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. I treasure some of those memories.

Scott Murphy & DeForest Kelley

Kelley, DeForest
The unsolicited photo I received in the late 1990s from Mister Kelley, not long before he passed away.

OCTOBER 2nd 2018 — Scott Murphy is one of the legends of adventure games. He co-created SPACE QUEST for Sierra, and he’s also a really friendly, approachable, and down-to-earth person.

He wrote back when I messaged him in my earlier Facebook days, and we chatted from time to time, and I was lucky enough to even Skype with him once.

Then later Scott also provided a crucial voiceover — lines written by our leader Agustín Cordes — for our game SERENA.

I feel fortunate to have had some contact with Scott.

He is now dealing with a serious health issue and could use our support. He deserves it. The GoFundMe campaign for him is here.

I hope you may consider sharing the link on social media, and contributing if you can. It all helps and really makes a difference.

* * *

Scott once told me an anecdote on Facebook about DeForest Kelley— Dr. McCoy in the original STAR TREK — whom he saw in the early 1980s.

Our mutual friend and colleague Agustín Cordes — creator of horror adventure game classic SCRATCHES and of the upcoming ASYLUM — went on to comment that this exchange should be preserved for its historical significance.

And it’s true — a very human anecdote with two legends (Scott might squirm at this description) having a close brush.

So I thought, why not actually do that — preserve it? So here it is.

It started when, back in 2010, I shared the above photo from De, with these words:

“I wrote to DeForest Kelley towards the end of his life and received this unsolicited autographed photo. Thank you so much, De. I never had the honor of meeting you in person, but to me you will always be the real McCoy. A true gentleman and hero.”

(In that letter, I made a point of praising his fantastic voice acting for the two Interplay STAR TREK adventure games — available on GOG.com — that feature voiceovers from all of the main cast. I believe that was the last time he played McCoy, and he really did amazing, completely authentic work for them — likable, enjoyable, and funny to an almost unreal degree.)

See the end of this post for screen caps of the exchange between Scott and me, but here it is as regular text for easier reading:

Scott:

“Simo, shortly before his death, DeForest Kelley kind of staggered into the restaurant I was cooking at just before I joined Sierra, a place called The Broken Bit in Coarsegold, California. I actually cooked a meal for him. (No, he didn’t die within the next 24 hours, bitches!) Unfortunately, we were quite busy, as it was a Saturday night, so I was unable to go out and stroll by his table. Oddly, he was alone, and word from the waitresses and busboys was that he seemed very sad and depressed. Poor man. In front of the camera, though, he was a true professional who will long be remembered. Quite admirable in that regard.”

Simo:

“Thanks for sharing this, Scott. I treasure every anecdote about DeForest, even sadder ones like this. They all add to the reality of the man and only increase my sympathy for him… I have gathered that he drank quite a lot, but I wonder if something specific was weighing on him at this particular time. Do you remember about which year this would have been? When I read the biography [FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST by Terry Lee Rioux] again, I could try to see if there is mention of what was going on in his life at that time. (The death of a pet or other loved one was always a terrible blow to him, for example.)”

Scott:

“I can only guess, as I have barnacles on me older than you. It would have been between the beginning of 1982 and March 1 of 2003 [see below for clarification of these dates], which was when I began my career at Sierra. He seemed someone well acquainted with alcohol. It may have been a stereotype, but he did look that way according to the floor staff and my personal distant view of him through the small window in the kitchen/dining room door. It could even have been in 1981. My memory is a little suspect. I’d lean toward 2002–2003. I know it’s very difficult to have been someone of his celebrity, relegated to the occasional reprising of the role for the new ST movie, as well as making a living attending STAR TREK fan conventions. For some, that could have been, and quite likely was, psychologically crushing. Then there’s the alcoholic’s genetic predisposition. I hope the time frame helps.”

Simo:

“Definitely — although did you mean 1981–1983 rather than 1981–2003? A quick flip through the biography reveals little about what he did in that time frame apart from the first STAR TREK movies (the first one was released in December 1979, the second in June 1982, and the third in June 1984), so probably it was not a particularly active time for him. From what I have read, I get the impression that he saw the McCoy straitjacket in an increasingly positive light as the years went on and he accepted the lack of other roles. Of course it must have been bitterly disappointing after steady employment for year after year before STAR TREK — but by the mid-80s I think he was saying he was retired from acting other than for STAR TREK. And he seems to have also valued the quiet life he led with his wife and their many animal companions. He was a very private individual anyway. If I remember right, I think none of the other original cast members were ever invited to his home. But aside from the sad decline of his own and his wife’s health towards the end of the 90s in particular, he seems to have had a solid strength in him (of course disturbed badly at times and certainly not helped by his generally frail health) and quiet convictions that he revealed rarely but that came across when he played McCoy. A fascinating man.”

Scott:

“Yes, 1983. D’oh! Just woke up after a long night of trying to migrate my Outlook files onto my newly installed replacement laptop hard drive.”

Simo:

“I figured it was something like that! 🙂 Thanks again for sharing this story. I have only slowly gathered over the years how much DeForest imbibed… No disrespect intended, we all have our weaknesses and it never made him harm anyone around him. Official sources have naturally been discreet about it, and the biography does not dwell on it either.”

Epilogue: Two years later

Agustín:

“This post should be preserved for its historical significance.”

And so it was.


Below is the exchange as it appeared on Facebook. Read from left to right like a series of comic book panels. Not sure why Facebook shows 2008 as the date, as I only got on Facebook in 2010.

Chopin & Leisure Suit Larry

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Track 33 from LEISURE SUIT LARRY IN THE LAND OF THE LOUNGE LIZARDS (AGI) (Sierra On-Line, 1987).

SEPTEMBER 29th 2018 — As a little exercise, I turned a “chip tune” ditty from the first LEISURE SUIT LARRY game into sheet music.

This is one of the most famous themes in the world, from the 3rd movement (Marche funèbre) of Chopin’s PIANO SONATA NO. 2 IN B FLAT MINOR, Op. 35 (FUNERAL MARCH).

Anyone who grew up playing computer games in the 1980s heard this theme in dozens of games, and it probably appeared in hundreds, typically as the game over music. A lot of classical music ended up in games in those days in particular, as various creative adaptations for often highly limited sound chips or synthesizers.

Chopin wrote this theme in B flat minor, but for this game it was transposed up a whole step (two keys on the piano keyboard, whether white or black), to C minor.

As the first step, I extracted the sound file from the game, then used a free program to convert it into MIDI data. But it turned out that — whether the problem arose from the original sound file format, the conversion process, or the eccentricities of the MIDI standard — the resulting MIDI file was unusable as such. It looked nothing like the above orderly notation, the score instead being full of 64th notes and rests and so on, and the measure breaks were all off.

I could always have gone to sheet music of the sonata as Chopin wrote it, but I wanted to follow this particular adaptation of it. So I wrote the above based on the messy data from the MIDI file, correcting the timing and other issues to create this still very faithful result. It follows the rhythms and of course exact notes of the piece as it appears in the game.

Finally I analyzed the piece for the chords and added those. I’ve done this kind of analysis of hundreds of pieces and I find it a great way to learn. It means going through every note and rest and every other detail in a piece of music and seeing how it all fits together.

And one of the nice things about it is that no piece of music is too short or simple for this type of analysis. Every piece is rewarding to do and can teach something.

Chopin is one of my favorite composers. But I want to write more about him in an entry of his own. So that’s another story.

Let’s listen to Bob Dylan in Iceland: 1959

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The bible for this occasional series. I bought my copy from the University of Iceland bookstore on campus.

SEPTEMBER 26th 2018 — Welcome to the first installment of “Let’s listen to Bob Dylan in Iceland”.

Prelude

Join me on this journey through all of Dylan’s recorded and officially released tracks in chronological order — the order in which they were recorded, as listed in the massive, useful reference tome BOB DYLAN: ALL THE SONGS: THE STORY BEHIND EVERY TRACK (2015) by Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon.

I’ll be sharing Spotify playlists of all these songs, to go with each entry. I have no particular agenda with this series other than to enjoy, educate myself, and see what thoughts occur. I also welcome comments and thoughts from my readers.

For those looking to go deeper, I recommend the book mentioned, and likewise a free PDF that can be found online, THE BOB DYLAN SONGBOOK by Eyolf Østrem. It includes background information, lyrics, tabs, and fingerpicking patterns.

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From THE BOB DYLAN SONGBOOK by Eyolf Østrem.

Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 in recognition of the enormous contribution to culture he has made with his songwriting. I was actually in Iceland the day this was announced, visiting the Icelandic family that were my gracious hosts, and chatted about it with them, between bouts of the middle sibling of the family strumming his guitar (a musically gifted family).

But now we rewind back to 1959 and a soft start for this series, since only one song from this year is part of our syllabus:

“WHEN I GOT TROUBLES” (E major) — May 1959

Bob Dylan — born Robert Allen Zimmerman — has just turned 18 and remains undiscovered and without a recording contract.

At the home of a friend in Hibbing, he sings into his friend’s microphone and tape recorder a blues song of his own, “WHEN I GOT TROUBLES”, accompanying himself on the guitar.

The recording is of poor quality and cuts short, but for anyone interested in tracking his progress, this is of course gold. As pointed out by the authors of ALL THE SONGS:

“His voice remains in a lower register, almost confidential in style, and the guitar playing is quite poor. Yet an impression of depth emerges from his interpretation.” (p. 13)

Young mister Dylan is on the path.


Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s listen to Bob Dylan in Iceland: 1959”: