Thursday, November 24, 2016

Flopped

I titled this 'flopped' because my original subject matter was going to be very different. A month or two ago, I went through the whole backlog of this blog and deleted probably the bulk of it. I decided it was all way too personal, irrelevant, and silly, especially when a lot of it was based on an emotional motivation.

Originally, having been struck big by a song I discovered yesterday, I was going to analyze it along with several others over my life that have really had an effect on me - 'Our House,' 'Millennium,' etc. - and see if there are similarities and characteristics between them that say all I need to know about what I absolutely love to hear. However, that's a personal thing I can write in a journal. Why should you care about why I like something or that I like it? Unless it's a song review and I'm using my musical training/background/taste.

Instead I'm going to put a short thing I wrote about the election several weeks ago that I'd written. A friend told me it would make a great opinion piece, so why not, I'll have it here.

-----

Regarding the election, the outcome shocked the world. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t particularly happy, either. Everyone around me knew Hilary Clinton would win the election, and even by a landslide. I didn’t have such high hopes, thinking that if she won, it might be by very little, or not at all. I was right not to invest all my hope; Donald Trump won in a landslide against Clinton, largely for his anti-establishment rhetoric and protectionist agenda. It partly amused me, though – people like my friend Atley were adamant that the Americans would “go forward, not backwards.” They went backwards, and extremely so.

Results like this tell me two things: 1 – being loud, belligerent, apathetic, relatively famous and full of financial resources, and infinitely narcissistic can win you the highest office in the United States – and 2: People’s emotions are probably a lot more cyclical in nature than they are progressive. We might enter a period of little racism or discrimination, but that doesn’t mean we’re in an eternal period of enlightenment. Racism, xenophobia, and many other negative –isms have a way of rearing their ugly heads, and in a vengeful, massive way, all over again from time to time. Regardless of how much effort has been done to educate. Educating can do so much, but it can’t eliminate the hate and evil that persists in our very imperfect species. I’ve read in more than one book that the best enlightenment can do is keep evil at bay (but never successfully eradicate it).

Spiritually (and ideologically) fanatical proponents of the positive –isms such as feminism, etc, will immediately label the American working-class of uneducated white men as disgusting animals who cannot bear the idea of having a female president in office. I expect there is some truth in their propaganda, but I can’t disqualify Trump’s fear-based platform as having little to do with their purported main reason. Rather, I think his rhetoric about 'dangerous' Muslims and Mexican “rapists” as well as cutting trade programs and outsourcing to keep jobs in the country (while opposing the all-elite classes against him) spoke a little more to them. Not to mention Trump used very plain, simple language that such a working class of people would probably appreciate – he came off as an everyman more than as a politician.


Either way, it should be interesting how this will play out in the next few months. Trump came off as speculative in an ignorant sense, and I suppose his office may undo some of the better things previous presidents have done in the name of social progression (gay marriage, abortion, etc.) but we’ll see. I don’t see the point in feeling wholly negative and despairing as a large many do. Life is a ride; sometimes it gets bumpy, and when it does, that’s when it gets exciting.

That was the original end of what I'd written. I feel I should go on to point out that in saying turmoil is 'exciting,' I mean that often the ride to success is a lot more fun than the arrival at it. I'm not looking forward to people getting hurt or even killed, etc. That being said, I am not treating everything as a black and white issue; Muslims are peaceful and dangerous just as westerners are the same; there are definitely Mexican rapists just as there are American rapists and Canadian rapists. Living on planet Earth means living with risk. It's impossible to mitigate it. There are definitely base standards - why we have policing systems - and that affords us, in the western world, a reasonable, acceptable standard of safe living. With risks that we can manage.

The world is not a black-and-white place; emotional motivations and judgments are not reflective of logical ones; humanity is not a perfect (or simple) species; one cannot please everyone.
Red Cloud
"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Night Aerial Photography - Redux

Back in September, I tried attempting aerial photography from a plane at night for the first time. Using my Canon 7D, I got grainy, dark, barely-attractive images.



Thanks to that experiment, I gathered my resources and traded in my 7D - as well as nearly all of my lenses - and upgraded to a Canon 6D at a reduced price.

I was specific: I wanted a camera that had the best noise reduction and capabilities for night photography. For Canon, the 6D was the body to for that. My old camera's highest ISO rating was 12,800; the 6D, in comparison, stops at 102,400 ISO.

The camera would need amazing noise reduction capabilities if Canon felt that 102,400 ISO was the point of no return for overwhelming noise.

It didn't matter. I only ended up needing an ISO of 8000 when I went up last Wednesday. The fact the 6D also uses a full frame sensor instead of cropped also reduces the noise, as well as the amount of surface for light to expose on.

Using the same lens, the same exposure time (1/125th), and the same f/stop (1.8), at a higher ISO rating (I never ventured beyond 6400 on my 7D) I got this:

Barrhaven - South; Woodroffe towards Strandherd Drive.

There was no sheen of colourless grain; blacks were blacks, and lights were full. There were many, many more sharp images than last time, and while there's noise, it only shows up as non-destructive, small grain that blends in with the colours of the image. It's noisy - but in an absolutely non-destructive way.

I was even able to try some vertical straight-down shots:

Merivale Mall, Viewmount Drive. Light from the blue 'M' logos bleed out onto the ground from the building, as does red light from the large Harvey's sign on the restaurant.

Strandherd Drive; looking straight down on the Barrhaven Wal-Mart and surrounding Chapman Mills Marketplace. White light from the parking light standards dilute the orange-lit RioCan Ave as well as fall across the roof of the buildings.

Of course, I had my pilot fly me at a much lower altitude - 2,500 feet rather than 5,000 feet as last time - so lights on the ground probably came out brighter. I was also impressed by the way cars and vehicles appeared - very insect-like, their head and tail lights not very noticeable unless they braked or appeared on low-lit, or unlit, roads. What I couldn't believe is that my camera was actually, despite the lack of light, able to pick out objects on the ground or just the ground in general of areas that weren't lit at all.

My neighbourhood; I can actually see roofs - and lawn lights - this time.

My old neighbourhood. If you look closely you can actually see unlit streets and the tennis court. Geez.

This flight is the one that properly proved that with a good camera you can really make things look amazing at night. I traded in a lot to get my Canon 6D - I only have one proper lens (my 50mm) as well as my fisheye (which requires I crop each image I take with it thanks to the full frame sensor) and it was obviously worth it. Noise is evident but not in a horribly, destructive way that renders the whole flight pointless, and I can focus now on other issues - such as aiming for a slightly smaller aperture, a slightly faster exposure time, and more all-around sharpness. Thanks to both, quite a few of my images had some camera shake in them (though not as much as I expected) and many had very small areas of sharpness due to the tiny depth of field. I tried an ISO as high as 56,000 and even then, while the noise was very obvious, it wasn't destructive - not in any way my old camera was at a mere ISO 3200.

The only difference here is altitude and ISO level. Every other variable is the same - save for altitude, ISO (bottom one is 8000; top one is 6400) and camera body. And the LED lighting on Meadowlands Drive and Fisher Avenue.

This goes to show that night photography, as I'd hoped, can be quite a fun, interesting, artistic, new way to see things.


The accompanying video:

All images here.

Red Cloud
"

Monday, November 7, 2016

Red, White and Blue - Oh, the funny things you do, America, America...This is you...

I haven't said a single thing about the American election, and typically, I wouldn't. I'm not interested in having a say about a country I don't live in or have real reason to talk about.

But, considering this past year and a half, perhaps I should be a bit vocal.

I'm not usually very forthcoming with my own politics, unless I disagree with something, like the focus of my last post. Most of them weren't well developed until a couple of years ago, when I read a couple of great books.

While I don't have the right to vote, being a Canadian citizen, etc., I would - without much to need to think about it, really - check Hillary's name off on my ballot.

There are a haze of reasons why I would not go in Donald Trump's direction, but I'm just going to focus on one. Aside from Hillary Clinton having years of political experience and policy knowledge, Trump suffers from obscene, remarkable narcissism.

I cannot think of a presidential candidate who was so focused on "looking good" and jumping at every single jab at his character; his team of litigators must be massive considering the amount of people he sues because they said something mean or disparaging. I think about some of the things he has said; the obvious xenophobia, paternalism and racist nature aside, he honestly thinks he is invulnerable. He thinks he can grab a woman's genitals with no negative repercussions because he's famous; he thinks he can shoot someone and people will applaud or look the other way. His own singular beliefs that he is a 'genius' and essentially perfect in every way, to me, is what makes him unfit to run a country.

He pounces on anyone who proves his imperfections or his faults; his reactionary nature is so childish he might as well be a bully on the playground. How can this demeanour translate into diplomacy on the world stage? While he has actually committed to developing a small (very small) framework of policy, 95% of it is likely all show and grandeur. I haven't observed, over the past ten years, the U.S. to be particularly smart with its economy. Spending billions on an impractical wall based on inflated statistics - no doubt brought into existence by strong emotions than logic or stats - won't help.

The hypocrisy is overwhelming. I don't understand why someone's personal life should be considered in excess when running for president, but apparently having your husband cheat on you may influence whether people will vote for you or not - while the other candidate, who threw wives away or disregarded them while talking about groping women without fear of consequences maintains a strong level of support.

I am not putting any extreme hope tomorrow evening for either candidate. Some people are convinced Hillary Clinton will win. I'm not going to be absolutely sure about that. Donald Trump has stayed with little to no issues in the race, keeping it very close. It was easy for people to joke about his running from the first day he announced it two years ago. Then he campaigned and won primaries and knocked every other Republican nominee out of the race. No matter how many new scandals (however serious, evidently) pop up to bring Trump down a level, he recovers without much problem. He has almost no support from his party yet he's mere single digits behind Clinton. I will be ready to see the results when I see them. It should be very interesting.

If Trump wins, I will admittedly be quite amused at the kind of values and leader our southern neighbours actually want. As far as I'll be concerned, we've got a country-wide election version of America's Funniest Home Videos. Where American citizens actually believed in the commercial Trump created featuring the slogan "Making America Great Again." Except when he doesn't work, they can't return him to the store. He's non-refundable.

Red Cloud
"

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Can We Regulate Speech? Really?

I'm quite impressed with the attention this university professor, Jordan Peterson, has been receiving for his defiant stance against proposed regulation for a smorgasbord of alternative gender pronouns. It's him (him), a guy who looks like a younger David Byrne of the Talking Heads, versus proponents of social justice.

Social justice has its grand ideals, but I find that ideals always remain such. An ideal is a vision, an expectation of something that doesn't align with reality. Social justice has a noble aim, but it over-reaches itself so ludicrously. There is no amount of perfection attainable when you're referring to the species of humans, just based on their very nature alone.

I haven't watched the man's videos, but I have seen enough of the debate. I completely understand where he's coming from and why, and I feel an almost disgusted shock when I hear the other side accuse him of "abusing" and "attacking" others merely for not labeling them as they prefer to be labelled, whether the situation in the moment actually requires it or doesn't.

They say that inventing this whole new list of z-words will accommodate those who are non-binary and eliminate divides between these people and everyone else - as well as lower or ease the likelihood of violence towards such groups.

I don't understand how that brings people closer together and eliminates violence. To me it sounds more like it would escalate it and widen people via their differing, actively promoted identities.

Regarding death threats and violence, perpetrators of such heinous acts should be dealt with. That is a reactionary approach, yes. But this proactive approach is too far-reaching. You just can't regulate what people say at all times. If you start classifying everything as hate speech, people start wondering what they're allowed to even think because everything they say is apparently offensive. Someone says "she" instead of "ze" or "zur" or whatever it is, and suddenly the person - that shameful abuser - is fined. Being this proactive is the same, to me, as an anti-graffiti bylaw requiring you to move your entire shed inwards from your back fence, beyond the reach of aerosol paint cans, and if you leave it there and it gets graffitied, you get fined. Never mind the artists out there running around tagging sheds, having your shed away from the fence lowers its visibility and discourages the taggers. What if they see the shed regardless and hop over the fence? Doesn't matter, even if there are virtually no graffiti epidemics in your area to begin with. Your shed must be moved - no, we're not paying to use heavy machinery, it's at your expense.

The professor was defiant in abiding by that proposed regulation, but he did not say "I will never use those pronouns;" he said he'd have a discussion with the student. That sounds reasonable. Having a blanket law imposed? That's ludicrous because you can't categorize everyone, specifically or by new blanket terms like 'ze,' etc.

People can laugh at Peterson's ideas that this is all led by left-wingers. But he's really just warning people early about how life can change over time into the future if we go in this idealistic direction. It may not be a slippery slope yet (I disagree) but it can quickly become one. Having the government regulate language to this degree eventually leads to other things traditionally considered free to being regulated (you cannot possibly please everyone, yet social justice aims to), until we end up turning into categories, rather than humans, in a dystopian system. I don't want to be known by name, gender, sexual orientation, skin tone, and many other things, and therefore classified into a group. I don't want to be referred to that way. I want to be an individual who reveals what he wants to you at his own discretion and freedom, and be able to choose how I paint myself independent of classification by a system or others.

Language has to evolve naturally; it was once not considered dishonourable to use racial slurs, and now it is generally agreed that it is. That didn't change because a law was imposed right away; it evolved over change of social opinion as it took its course. There are harassment laws against such slurs now but they never really need to be used.

That's how things should work - people choose what they want, but they don't have the entitlement to force others or everyone to verbally recognize them singularly, merely because they're in some way different, obviously or beneath the surface. If one wants to be recognized otherwise, we can choose to politely try to accommodate them or be lazy and disregard the request. At the same time, discrimination should be considered when someone says something negative or defaming to someone - how is using the wrong pronoun defaming and verbal violence? Is it irreversibly damaging to a person's psyche to be called 'he' when he feels more like neither her nor she? I highly doubt that, unless they are unbelievably narcissistic and full of self-entitlement, to feel special and set apart as such. Is it irreversibly damaging to be physically assaulted and told one doesn't matter or is disgusting constantly because he doesn't identify as either male or female? Absolutely. But how one is referred to? What an unusual way to try to fix the problem, however big or small, of gender discrimination. Someone physically assaults a non-binary person. Okay, let's refer to that person with new pronoun - that'll stop the assaults and make them feel relevant, even if they already were relevant just by living and existing. People who think they are special than everyone else (and I am not referring to any community or group, but any one person in general) are always the loudest speakers.

It seems like just a new way to promote who is who obviously, limiting their entire self to just their special identity and nothing else, and therefore making that who even more visible to the sad demons that discriminate or target them. I don't care what gender you are or what pronoun you use. I care about who you are underneath - what interests you, what makes you tick. Why should I consciously have to consider gender at all, and focus on such a limiting, narrow aspect of someone?

Everyone has a legal given name; why not just call people by their name? Gender pronouns are probably way more often indirectly used to refer to someone who isn't there or part of the conversation. Is it that huge of a deal? Geez.

Red Cloud
"

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

City Lights

Last night was my first experience flying over Ottawa during the night.

It was supposed to be the biggest night of the year for me. I anticipated it for a very long time. I've never seen it from the air at night before, save for the odd satellite image I've scavenged off the Internet over the last couple of years. Yet, when I got off the ground, having found a pilot to take me, it was similar to my first solo flight: Largely anticlimactic.

From the circuit - 1,200 feet. Gatineau.

I was expecting bright city lights, obvious road patterns, the ability to see a lot of things I can see during the day. I quickly realized I'd been fooled by those pretty images captured by photographers with truly current, high-end cameras, images that exacerbated the brightness and beauty of city lights from above.

After seeing Ottawa, I don't think we're in danger of really emitting that much light pollution.

5,000 feet. Looking south. Fisher Ave. in the middle, Baseline Road and Huron passing through.

Streets and roads looked amazingly like they actually do from the ground, if not a little dimmer. Lights don't overcrowd each other or mix like paint does in a painting; they coalesce smoothly and subtly. It's dimmer from above no doubt because street lights point at the ground, not at the sky, so you're not under the direct light of a lamp, looking up or out at it; you're above, looking at the surface from which its light is reflected, and not very well. Nearly the entirety of the ground is reflected light.

Prior to going up, I anticipated being (almost) able to capture photos similar to a photographer who has done an online exhibit of some of the world's largest or brightest cities from the air. His images are beautiful, exaggerating the clash of orange sodium vapour with bluish LED lighting, almost over-saturating his sharp, clear images with colour from the ground up. But my camera is not his camera. My camera is five years old, using a sensor that has an ISO rating capability of 12800 - at the cost of absolutely image-destroying noise. I'm pretty sure I had the noise reduction working when I took the pictures, but it couldn't do enough.

Zoomed out, looking at Strandherd Drive in Barrhaven - through a colour-destroying veneer of noise.

Seeing objects and buildings like houses and trees were almost impossible, even to the naked eye. I tried staring down at my street from 5,000 feet and couldn't make it out at all. I live in a neighbourhood that depends more on lawn lighting. The only orange street lights are the ones situated on corners or the entrances to streets. I couldn't even make out the light of my lawn light! If I stared long enough I could just dimly (dimly) make out the reflection of LED light on the sides of the houses in my row, being adjacent to a major arterial that recently got LED lights. The real bright things at night are sports fields, really. 

Barrhaven. Fisheye lens, with a longer exposure time. That made the lights come out more...

The other problem was focus. I alternated between several lenses, the only real sharp one being my fisheye - the focus is manual on that one, so I just keep it at infinity and it's fine. Otherwise images were blurry in certain spots or soft overall. The only truly sharp image is the first one I put at the top of this post. The lens would focus, and the scene would appear focused, only to be soft or entirely blurry or overwhelmed by globes of light; I usually aimed the lens at bright plazas. Ironically, focusing on darker neighbourhoods produced sharper images.

Greenbank and Strandherd. Neighbourhood streets using lawn lights are invisible to the dark...

The bottom line is that my camera's image sensor is a dinosaur compared to today's camera sensors, and can't deal with the required fast exposure times needed for aerial photography at night. The ride is smoother, but you're still moving, and if you have the window open (which you really do need), the air still buffets the lens once you aim it out. An exposure time of at least twice, if not triple, the focal length is needed, which means your sensor won't be able to absorb any light unless it is so powered up, literally hot, that it can make out the city lights and anything else without any camera shake or blur. Can it do that without overheating and being so electrically influenced that you get absolutely nothing but the brightest lights and grain? Mine can't, not really.

The not-as-bright-as-I-expected Merivale Road.

The city isn't that bright. Not brighter than the naked eye sees it on the ground, and not that distinctive either. The patterns are very neat, though, and the differences in light are interesting enough; from the ground I can see every house on my street at night, standing out there. From 5,000 feet, I can barely make out any lawn lights, let alone houses. That's pretty interesting.

Eventually, I will get myself a real high-end camera, a current one that has real night photography capabilities. Then I'll make the city shine. Noise not included.

Before I forget, I shot a video of the whole thing using a suction cup on the back window and my Sony camera. Will be uploading that soon. That camera did a good job showing the lights pretty much as they really are from the naked eye. My pilot also took a few cell phone pictures - his phone appeared to do a better job than my dSLR camera.

Red Cloud
"

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Same as it Ever Was

Here's a very specific example of how a setting can paint a mental image, or expectation, or prejudice, of what you might be hearing:

In the final days of August, 2008, I was on what I felt to be a slightly impulsive last-minute vacation in San Diego, California. It was my first time in the United States, and I didn't particularly want to be there (not really, even if it was the Sunshine state). On our first afternoon, we walked over to a nearby mall.

Malls in southern California aren't exactly the same as malls in the nation's capital of a northern country. This was a huge complex that was half-outside; escalators went from indoor to outdoor plazas. There was a McDonalds, but the food there tasted largely the same as any McDonalds here in Ottawa. Maybe slightly more seasoning on the burger?

Eventually my mother led the way into a clothing department store. Not a fun place to hang out or be, not for a teenage boy anyway. Out of the speakers came this song:



I must stress that I only realized this was Talking Heads a few months ago, when I heard it on my car radio. When I heard this in the department store, I had a very different idea.

Byrne's vocals - in the chorus, particularly - sounded at first like several men. Hearing it that afternoon in 2008, I immediately connected it directly to my specific place and location. This was southern California, where you had places like "Fashion Park" and models walking around. I was in a clothing department store, a place of fashion. Therefore, the vocals (and simplicity of the song's progression) gave me the image of several male models singing, men who may look somewhat like Freddie Mercury and be flamboyant, if not in a fashion model-like way. And as a result this was a 'California song' or at least something I would only likely ever hear there. I placed it in the same style and category as 'Vogue' by Madonna - something you might hear as girls strut down a catwalk at a high-end, publicized show.

The song left my mind very quickly. Fashion and modelling weren't my thing in the least. I forgot about it until I heard it on an episode of Chuck, a show my mother watched. I didn't expect that; wasn't that some local California band-type thing? I could never hear it up here in a serious, level-headed place like Ottawa. That's absurd.

When I then heard it on my own car radio and saw it was by the Talking Heads, I was extremely surprised, but it made sense.

The song has absolutely nothing to do with fashion, nor does it sound like or mean to be similar to a song like 'Vogue.' It's more of an existential song, a wonder at how things came to be as they are while fitting into social ideals and constantly referencing water. It's funny how those male models coalesced into one David Byrne, a figure I've always known as the singer of 'And She Was' and 'Burning Down The House.' Incidentally, when I first heard 'And She Was,' I found the voice singing sounded like my eighth grade math teacher. That's a long leap from math teacher to male model, all because of where I first heard a song or who I knew at the time.

The sound of this song is unusual. It makes me think of both keyboards, computer noises and phone dial sounds. It was produced by Brian Eno, which on its own might as well explain nearly everything considering his widely experimental recording techniques. Byrne took a bunch of cliched preachy-like phrases starting with "and you may ask yourself," etc. and molded them together into a questioning song. It could make you anxious or calm you down. "Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down."

The video has Byrne dressed smartly against a digital background. The somewhat random scene near the end of him looking serene as he sits on a black background looks kind of hopeful and pointless at the same time.

Music: A-. I like the result of Eno's experimentation. In the department store I thought it was a current song.
Lyrics: A. I almost want to give it an A+ just for its intriguing, questioning nature, the seeming glance at typical life it gives. The whole song sounds unconventional, different, experimental and absolutely relevant. And I thought this was some male model fashion thing when I first heard it.

Red Cloud
"

Friday, August 26, 2016

This Must Be The Place



In 2013 I read a novel called The Humans, an interesting read, and near the end of the novel, this song is referenced, and several lyrics are included. It ends the novel.

Because I've been listening to a bit of Talking Heads recently, this song showed up in the 'recommended' sidebar on YouTube, and remembering the novel reference, I gave it a try.

It's awesome.

This is highly reminiscent, for me, of the cassettes my father would play in the truck when I was very young. He brought African reggae tapes back from the continent, and the guitar playing in this song essentially emulates it almost. There's a feeling of nostalgia and comfort in hearing it thanks to its old familiarity.

The drums are simple, but now and then they take on a different beat that puts the snare in between the bass drum. It reminds me of when I was obsessed with 'Our House' by Madness, which uses the same drum rhythm - leading bass drum, snare falling in the middle.

One thing I really like is the band's own acknowledgement in the song's title - "Naive Melody" - that this song's music is simplistic. The same three notes are used: D, E, C, then back to E. They had the apparent mentality that rotating around one progression is naive and not stimulating enough to be a good song musically. Of course, all the keyboard accents and additions are further examples of this: One looped progression while David Byrne and keyboard player Jerry Harrison literally messed around on a couple of keyboards. They do it well, however. There's a real world sound in it, and bassist Tina Weymouth played the guitar. What's funny is that she apparently knew how to play neither instrument and just, as the other two did, messed about.

This was David Byrne's honest attempt at writing a love song, which he did "almost completely using non sequiturs." This isn't unusual for Talking Heads, with 'Burning Down the House' almost entirely uses random phrases. There are a few notable lines I really like: "You got light in your eyes" and "You got a face with a view." The music is upbeat, happy, dynamic yet naive, and sometimes exuding cuteness. The high-pitched keyboard parts you hear just before the vocals always gave me an image of something small, like a kitten, looking up at something with interest, or, more personally, the face of a girl I liked. When I heard that riff, I actually realized I used to hear it occasionally at Wal-Mart. It was the only audible bit of the song I could hear in the store.

Thanks to the idea behind the lyrics, the music's nostalgic familiarity to me, and its dynamic, happy sound, I think I would consider it an appropriate song to dance to with my girlfriend if I actually had one. Especially if we married. That would be the wedding song, or at least one of them. Most people appear to like 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police, which is ironic considering it's a post-breakup obsession song.

The music video features the band and their session players happily watching home videos on TV before going downstairs to jam the song with easy happiness.

Music: A
Lyrics: B+

Red Cloud
"

Friday, July 29, 2016

I'm a Sinner, I'm a Saint

It's been a busy time these days for me. I haven't felt the need to really write here. I still have to finish writing my D song reviews. I've started but haven't finished.

Right now, though, I'm adding a new song to the list, and thankfully, if I go by her first name, it'll be in the 'M' reviews, so this isn't added after the fact.

I heard this song when I was around six or seven, and I always kind of liked it. I never knew what it was called, only that it sounded good. For the first time since then, today, I heard it on the radio again.



Thank god my radio lists the artist/song in the car, and the radio station lists their recent airings online as well.

I can listen to this now objectively, from a lyrical standpoint and a (more importantly) musical standpoint. It didn't take me long to discern that the song is in A major. I'm kind of pleased to hear something in a major key for once, as minor keys are over-used in pop music. Of course, as a kid and now, I like the song for its chorus. As a kid I mondegreened the line "I'm a sinner, I'm a saint" as "I'm a sinner, I'm a sink."

To describe it, I want to first make a couple of comparisons. Take 'Feels Like Heaven' by The Cure, and take this song's first chorus line. The two progressions match identically: A major, E major, B minor, D major. The difference of course is one is light, easy New Wave, and the other is hard-edged rock. Of course, the second time the chorus plays - "I'm your hell, I'm your dream..." - the B minor is replaced with an F sharp minor.

The second comparison I must mention is between this woman's voice and temperament and Alanis Morrissette's. Both sound very similar. Alanis has 'You Oughtta Know;' Meredith has 'Bitch.' Both were released within two years of each other, both are rock-oriented, and both have strong female vocals that reflect strength and independence. Morrissette's lyrics may be more vengeful compared to Brooks' bright acknowledging, but both sound like women you do not want to mess with or consider as traditional in any way.

The music comes across as straightforward and completely unapologetic, which sets the stage perfectly for Brooks' lyrics. The gem for me? The B minor chord. In my head, in the way I see it, the chord - played right as she sings that very 'I'm a sinner, I'm a saint' line - wholeheartedly exemplifies invitation to challenge, strength, confrontation. It comes across as "You have a problem with this/me? Deal with it." It is rare for this chord to come across, to me, as a personality that stands its ground with a firm expression on its face. The only other example of this is 'Walk Like an Egyptian' by The Bangles, and I'm uncertain whether that's B major or B minor. All I know is it exemplifies a girl who doesn't take bullshit partly thanks to the lyrics, and I find that highly attractive. It's used in moderation, however - an F sharp minor replaces it every second time. That comes across as aligning and submissive, rather than B minor.

The lyrics, in short, refer to acknowledging in a relationship that she is naturally strong, refusing to apologize for anything or defer to the traditional subservient feminine image, and yet, happily, her boyfriend wouldn't have it any other way. That's where the positives come from, compared to Morrissette's anger over a failed relationship. I like that. It's how the B minor works so well. The song exudes female strength and independence, which makes it loud and necessary. I just love that strong B minor...

Music: B+
Lyrics: A-

I love finding these childhood gems. The best part is analyzing what I knew I liked so long ago and figuring out why. Plus I know she's not a sink.

Red Cloud
"

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Done With Circuits

I've got enough time in the circuit on my own now, so after today I'll finally be moving on from that. But I made sure to record a video of as much of my alone time in the plane as possible. The original was almost forty minutes (after which either the battery died or the memory card got full). I've cut it down to eight minutes, ending on a time-lapse of sorts of the rest of the footage.


I overshoot the first time but land the second; you'll have to excuse the silly poses I made, which I did in thinking I could make a neat profile picture and/or journal cover.

Moving on from circuiting. Finally. Also, all the cuts at the beginning of all the checks I make in the cockpit on the ground covered what was actually over sixteen minutes of checklist stuff, re-checking the checklist, fumbling with the keys, writing down times, etc. etc. etc.....

Hope this is inspiring in any way for those who want to learn how to fly - it's really pretty easy.

Red Cloud
"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Waterloo

Well, I must admit I've been away for a while. Away from writing on here. I don't know why. The interest just comes and goes. I've spent the month sometimes opening up this page and thinking about maybe writing something, and then doing the opposite.

But hey, it's after midnight and I turn twenty-five in ten hours and fourteen minutes (12:46am) so I might as well quickly write about this anomaly that has happened. This won't help the time I'll have for sleep as I have to get up at 7am for a solo flight, so I'll be quick. Hopefully I won't create too many typos.

Ever since I first heard this band's stuff, over time, I have not found any song of theirs to my liking. I just had absolutely no positive feeling from anything I heard from them. Some of their songs I can't listen to at all, while others just sound mundane or not to my taste. They were huge in Europe and to this day they refuse to reunite for any reason whatsoever, no matter how much cash is offered. Their name consists of an acronym made of the first letters of their given names.

Oh, Fernando, mamma mia! It's ABBA.

Aside from Celine Dion and some oddly British character named Butch something, these four have the rarest distinction of being the first of these Eurovision champions to have guaranteed success after their appearance and win on the contest. And they're part of a quirky mix of individuals in sharing this distinction, because one is Canadian yet won for Switzerland, and the other sounds like an obscure American redneck from the deep south. ABBA sounds like the only European act to fit this combo. They're one of the first of Sweden's great musical exports, with acts like Roxette, Ace of Base and Robyn to follow later.

I don't like 'Mamma Mia' - it sounds overly contrived, like they're pretending too hard to emulate a stereotypical Italian drama, and 'Voulez-Vous' is interminable and outright annoying. 'Dancing Queen' sounds too effeminate for my taste, and 'Fernando' simply doesn't raise my interest, though it sounds admittedly pleasant. 'Super Trouper' sounds like a song a mother might sing to her little boy as he fell asleep. Up till recently, the only thing I enjoyed listening to that was written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus was 'One Night in Bangkok,' a silly, kitschy soundtrack thing they wrote entirely apart from ABBA for the benefit of a West End musical an associate was creating called Chess. That song is performed by Murray Head, and it's simply fun to listen to.

I don't really like discovering songs through film soundtracks, but this turned out to be the case for this ABBA song, the name of which is obvious thanks to the title of this post. Thank you, character from the Martian film that likes 70s disco music that Matt Damon has no choice but to listen to. I forget your name (it's not important for me to keep it in my head) but I've finally heard an ABBA song that's not half bad.

Ironically for me, I happen to enjoy the actual song that enabled them to have the legendary popularity and lasting legacy they have today. The reason they're infused into pop culture (for older people probably) is because they chose to submit this song for their performance at the 1974 Eurovision contest. Had I been a panelist for one of the broadcasters then, I likely would have given them a top mark. Hearing this seems to justify why they got success - and not temporarily, like every other winner, but permanently.

'Waterloo,' like Boney M.'s 'Rasputin' chooses a historical perspective for its lyrics. This time it's Napoleon's surrender at Waterloo, a place in Belgium. It still exists, and of course, it exists elsewhere, including as the title and lyric of this song and as a college town in south western Ontario. There are no doubt other Waterloos out there. This is the second 70s pop song from continental Europe I've heard that uses history to outline a narrative or story. I find it to be an interesting comparison to American pop and disco of the same time. Eric Clapton sung about Cocaine; most prominently, the Village People sung about hanging out at a gym, and Lipps Inc. wanted to go to 'Funky Town' (probably a disco). Turning my ears to Europe, I get a sensationalized story about a Russian Tsarets-turned-political-manipulator and references to a historic battle from 1815 concerning a major French conqueror. Obviously these are fun, jocular things that distort or dilute the details or take the focus towards something else that aligns with it, but it still inspired me to look these characters up.

The musical progression follows a simple progression in the key of D major. The verses start with a nice one-time addition of what sounds like 12-string acoustic guitar. D...C sharp-B-A. You could say the basic building blocks are D-A-B. The chorus follows this same exact movement, except a tone down on the second note, so it goes D-G-A. I like the pre-chorus line the most, which sits in B minor. Those dramatic high descending notes? That's simply Bjorn or Benny (I don't know who played piano) playing a descending, broken B minor chord note-by-note high up, playing each note an octave apart. BB-F sharp-F sharp-DD-BB! B minor from B to B an octave lower. Those are fun.

What do I like? It's simple yet fun in a carefree way. It just sounds nice to listen to, catchy in a natural feel-good way, not melodramatic or overly effeminate or outright annoying. I like the female vocals and how they simply say 'Waterloo.' I think most people enjoy songs that reference or verbalize familiar or notable places. I've never been to the Canadian version of the town, but it's familiar in name so it's appealing to hear. The only downside? I think the sax is okay but not totally necessary - I feel like it's there because it was perhaps traditional or typical. Nearly every 80s pop song of notability has a sax in it, because 80s songs had saxes in them. And drum machine effects. Sax was often present in disco and pop music of the 70s as well. At least there wasn't strings. That was the big thing with music in the 70s. Here's something current (for the time) yet not absolutely conforming to every typical standard.

Now I really need to get some sleep. I'm losing more and more the more I type.
Music: A-
Lyrics: A


Red Cloud
"

Friday, May 27, 2016

Going Solo

Well, for the first time ever today (May 26) I went up and flew on my own.

Going solo in flight for the first time is a big milestone in the flight training process. There is no instructor, no one next to you available to ensure the flight is safe and monitored and guaranteed to end well. It's all up to you.

Today, or really yesterday, I left this planet on my own for the first time, even though it was only for several minutes and I'd remained above the surface at a height of only a little over one thousand feet, and only briefly (considering take off ascent and approach to landing).


I've been approaching this stage for a long time. I started doing circuits around Rockcliffe airport in late December.
The circuit pattern for Rockcliffe airport, as flown by me yesterday.

This followed with circuits at Gatineau airport, Ottawa airport, and Carp airport. Take-offs, crosswinds, downwinds, bases, and finals. Flare-outs. Overshoots. Slips. All winter and spring I've been doing rounded rectangles on the ground and in the air.

Part of the reason it's taken so many months is partly due to lack of money (especially thanks to the demise of my Mac and having to replace it in March) and partly due to the change of instructors partway through. My original instructor wanted me to get going on solo quickly and may have had me doing so a month ago had he not gotten a better job elsewhere back in March; my replacement, a senior person at the club, has a more all-around, experienced, perfectionist approach, and I'm largely glad he does. I went up and down with a lot of ease and no anxiety.

I spent late April and this month perfecting my approaches, flare-outs, and landings. Thanks to money I've made selling things on Kajiji, I went ahead and booked my lesson for yesterday, and it so happened to be the perfect day for me to go on my own for the first time.

It went as usual: I went up with the instructor and did several circuits. Almost no issues whatsoever. But when we took off again after this, he took control and had me fish my documents out of my bag. As a routine I've always kept my documents in my bag and brought it with me, because they are required on any solo flight, so as soon as he asked to see them, I knew what was coming next. I slightly screwed up the landing after that circuit as I dealt with a bout of anxiety, but resolved it afterwards to ensure I would do fine the next time. Doing fine meant that I wouldn't do a touch and go, but rather a full stop in order for my instructor to leave the plane for me to continue on one more time.

After he left...it all became somewhat easier.


I had to redo the run-down part of the checklist before taking off, but that was fine because I was simply using a list. Then I did my 360 look-around, taxied past the hold short line, radioed traffic about my intended take-off (back-tracking to the end of the runway), back-tracked, and then added full power. I took off.

Everything came with ease. The plane took off as it usually did, but it felt slightly lighter, and because everything is set up as a repetitive list of actions, it was all very simple. The controls felt easier to use, particularly the rudder pedals, and there was no expectation of approval or monitoring because everything I had to do was straightforward and set in pace, without being watched. I climbed, got to the required altitude, radioed my position, did my pre-landing checks (which I've done so many times it's all quick and memorized) and simply did the same things I've been doing every single other time. I set my airspeed and descent, and simply completed the circuit, very softly coming down to the runway easily and lightly. Landing felt a lot easier without the additional weight of a passenger next to me. I coasted down the runway, reducing speed, exited, radioed my clearance, and taxied back to the pumps. Taxiing felt so much easier. I didn't expect the lack of one person (who is not overweight or heavy at all) to make such a difference.

Of course, I got wet afterwards. My mother took video while my instructor took the traditional picture, which will end up on the club's Facebook page probably by tomorrow. My friend Alex, who elected to stay behind after his shift at dispatch and watch, did the soaking. It's almost entirely thanks to him that I decided I was going to learn to fly at the club; he happened to be on dispatch when I walked in on Canada Day last year, full of questions. He's since been the source of encouragement and warm advice.
The only unusual thing about all of this is that I can't muster up the feeling of how grand this milestone is. My close relatives are very happy for me, and even those I have on Facebook that I'm not close friends with have responded to the videos and pictures. When I was in the plane, even before taking off, I felt extremely excited at the fact I was taxiing on my own, or taking off or climbing on my own, but it was all in the moment. Now that it's all over with, I can more or less shrug it off. I try to think why, but I have little answer other than that it was pretty cool. It happened to take place on the 26th of May, a day I typically see notability for because I asked out a girl for the first time that day seven years ago. It just so happened to be that that day had the most perfect conditions for my first solo: Calm winds, directed perfectly straight down the runway - no crosswind at all - and perfect temperatures. Not too bad for moisture, and when I got soaked, I didn't get any chill afterwards.

I've been told that those who make solo are almost definitely on path to get their license, in the sense that a lot of people may attempt flight training only to find that they are physically or mentally incapable of dealing with it. It's why they structure the training to include lessons seen as the most frightening - spins, stalls, spirals, etc. - almost as early as possible. Able to take the feeling of lazily rotating vertically through the air in a spin? Okay, can you land an airplane given enough practice then? If so, no problem. What I find ironic is that as a kid I was afraid of most of the faster or active rides at midways and the Super Ex that used to come to Lansdowne Park each summer. Perhaps the difference here is nothing is nearly as startling in a plane; on a ride like a roller coaster you're often very suddenly subjected to G-forces, and that's what I was always fearful of. You don't get sudden G-forces that high in a plane, unless you happen to enter moderate to severe turbulence, and one of the objectives of flight is to avoid such circumstances.

What's next? I'll be soloing from now on in each successive lesson, to the point I won't have my instructor with me at all. The idea is that he'll be in the plane less and less.

That will be pretty awesome. Not as awesome as flying at night will eventually be, but great enough for now.

Red Cloud
"

Friday, May 20, 2016

Micro-Reviews, The - Artists Beginning with 'C'

Here's my next round of micro-reviews, containing all the artists in my list whose name starts with 'C.' I should point out that when I compiled the list, I put it in alphabetical order by not just the group name, but if it's an individual's name first and last, via that individual artist's first name. "Peter Gabriel" is in the 'P' section, not the 'G.' I just found it more straightforward that way, I guess.

Here I go.

The Cars (1976-1988)
This is a band that I find largely lighthearted in their musical approach. Their stuff is usually moderate-paced and somewhat easy-going. I like more than a couple of their songs, starting with 'Magic' (1984). I do like how the band can be versatile in their usage of guitar rock and synthy keyboards throughout their songs, so that they can sound like a traditional rock band ('Just What I Needed') or a soft New Wave ballad ('Drive.') Then there are songs that are right in the middle, such as 'Tonight She Comes,' 'You Are The Girl,' 'Magic,' etc. The band were around a decade older than most of their contemporaries during their heyday, spending their late twenties to the end of their thirties on the charts. I wish Benjamin Orr sung a little more than he did; Ric Ocasek was a lot more prolific and probably a little more marketed in general, making Orr something of a carefully-used treat you had to wait for. His vocals on 'Drive' have that emotional depth while he sounds young and carefree on 'Just What I Needed.' He died almost sixteen years ago, in October of 2000. He was only fifty-three. The Cars, minus Orr, continues today and has been since restarting in 2010 after years of Ocasek adamantly refusing any reunions.

Good Times Roll (1978)
One of what I'd call their 'feel-good' songs, largely with the larger-then-life refrain of 'good times roll!' This song starts in the chord of B major and largely stays there from beginning to end, moving a step down to A and another to G, The refrain bounces from E to its dominant, B, than down to the next E, an octave lower, on the bass. At the same time the chords of E major and D major are played to harmonize with the dominant B.
The title and premise of the song is simple, and I expect that it doesn't mean much other than letting things be what they are without worry. A carefree attitude, just to let the good times roll. There are also bits that sound anxious or uncertain, such as the bass's repetitive meander through B-E flat-E-E flat and back. Thanks to the guitar riffs, the synthed strings, and the general sound of the song, I get the impression and feeling that it sounds like something I would have heard played during an episode of That 70's Show. I wonder if I did. It does have a 70s rock sound to it.

Drive (1984)
This really differs from the song above. I don't know its musical progression, but I do know that it's a soft ballad that moves very slowly and sounds very sad. The model that features in the video for the song, the girl on the verge of tears, ended up pairing up with Ocasek. Good taste, I guess. Benjamin Orr wonders when the subject of the song will realize they're largely alone, and not in a good state. His voice is both outreaching and tender. I want to hope that he helps out whomever he is talking to, and 'drives them home' tonight. It's an emotional song that works, and it sounds full of depth. I say that because I've heard covers and they don't sound nearly as believable and raw as this does. Great emotional song that demonstrates the band's versatility.

Magic (1984)
This is likely the first song by them that I heard that made me look them up and take notice. The first song of theirs that caught my ears. It's simple: It's a catchy song. The keyboard is bright and appropriately wondrous-sounding. I haven't quite figured it out, but I know the basic structure of the song is a simple A-D-E, with a little extra E-F sharp-E picked low on the bass. It probably fits the definition of the simple catchy pop song really well, complete with lyrics about love and relationships. It is your typical Cars-style blend of naked guitar power chords with multiple different keyboard synths and riffs. One thing I find hinders the song's pace: The drum fills, which sound awkward and too eagerly added. They don't sound very cohesive, just random and played without too much prior thought to how they'd be executed. Not all of them are off, but I think that the band might have wanted to emphasize the big drum sound they created for the song, and they didn't execute it that well.
One other thing I want to mention is the music video. The band must have cast every single character they could find. There's a man on stilts, a crazy-looking bearded man, a portly guy who appears to be hungover, a mime, and two women that stand together at all times, in matching dresses, looking off into space and otherwise appearing nonchalant. They're rushing to gawk at Ric Ocasek, who is walking on the surface of a pool. Perhaps the idea was for the circus types to be the spectators. Reverse it so that a normal guy like Ocasek is now the attraction while the peculiar ones are the audience. It's just that they overdid the excitement and amazement to the point he's almost like Jesus walking among them, there to be touched and patted on the shoulder. Everyone takes a turn to leer or make a face at the camera for some reason. Expose their weirdness? I wonder if anyone noticed the mime on the diving board in the background as Ocasek passes the admiring queue. The sad thing is I used to imagine the video as the occasion of my birthday, and instead of all the people, the crowd was full of friends. A few in the video do actually look like a couple of them, and the two women reminded me of (now aforementioned) girl friends I both liked. As such they were my favorite characters in the video, because of how they looked, and that they didn't go crazy like everyone else. The video was filmed at the Hilton family's house in Beverly Hills, and Ocasek did get wet on the first take, thanks to the collapse of the plexiglass platform that stood in the pool.

Original Reviews (combined) of 'Magic' and 'Tonight She Comes'

Tonight She Comes (1985)
This is another typical-sounding Cars song with a blended use of keyboards and guitars. I recall that most of the reason I listened to it was thanks to the redhead that featured in the video thumbnail on YouTube. The song turned out to be good enough in the end, though when I think about the redhead now, I feel that the video put her up on a pedestal somewhat while simultaneously making her appear to act like a little girl here and there, which I don't particularly like in regards to my personal taste. But she's still kind of cute. I liked the simple progression of F-C-G-B flat. Wikipedia says it's in F major. Probably. I like that and its Cars-like sound, complete with backing voices, an element they employed in virtually all of their songs. A couple of things I don't like: The accentuated guitar power-hits during the big guitar solo. Unnecessary. Some of the higher-pitched keyboard synths make it sound too decadent. But otherwise, a good enough song.

You Are The Girl (1987)
Original Review
I heard this at Wal-Mart. I was attracted to what appeared to be a sustained A note on a keyboard. If I were you, I wouldn't really go and read my original review - reading it myself, it's embarrassing how much I talk about personal experiences that made me relate riffs in the song to them, or excited words about how notes make me see 'my face.' It would have been so much easier to write that particular notes such as the sustained A gave me personal self-reflections that were nice. I was determining that that musical note was what I personally related to the most at the time.
This song is in exactly the same vein as all the others aside from 'Drive' and 'Good Times Roll,' though the reason I like it is different. It's a combination of lyrics and timing. I finally determined enough of the song to be able to look it up the same night I was experiencing emotional let-down thanks to one of those aforementioned girl friends, who worked in the same building. The song came at the right time. "Why don't you dream anymore? What's in the way?" "Why don't you talk anymore? What did I say?" As I did manage to mention, I like the additional voices adding to certain lyrics, such as the 'why don't you stay for awhile?' line. Altogether, they make the words sound refined.
I failed to mention in my original review (as I would have at the time) that this song notably uses a moterik beat. The bass drum drives the every note except for the 2 and 4, which falls to the snare drum: _ _ - _ _ _ - _. 1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&. I first heard about such a rhythm when I read up on both a Wikipedia article and a separate magazine article on the Devo song 'Whip It,' which is incorrectly stated to have a moterik beat (it has a constant beat: 1-&-uh-2-&-uh-3-&-uh-4-&-uh). The bass is constant on only the quarter notes - 1-2-3-4 - no additions on the &s or uhs, while the snare is again on 2 and 4. Maybe the tight hi-hat rhythm confused everyone, as it plays every note save for the snare, but again at a constant rate, with an open hi-hat on 1 and 3. The idea behind the moterik beat, including its name, is that the beat 'drives' you through the song on the bass drum. 'You Are The Girl' is a good example of that.

The Chemical Brothers (1989-Present)
What I know of the Chemical Brothers is limited, but I would think it would be right to say that they are probably part of a group of pioneers of the 1990s that made house and big beat music popular - pioneers along with Fatboy Slim, Moby, and others. I also happen to know that they are English, and that they started out by calling themselves the Dust Brothers until an already established music production duo with the same name put a stop to that. The two who had claimed the name first had done so four years prior, and like the Chemical Brothers, they produced acts that sampled music. They also happened to produce Middle of Nowhere by Hanson in late 1996, which turned into an enormous breakthrough success for the three teenagers on the cover. In terms of The Chemical Brothers, I happen to know them thanks to the music video for 'Let Forever Be.'

Let Forever Be (1999)
I think I saw the video first, in a program about influential or notable music videos regarding their visual effects or creativity. This one happened to pop up. I think it actually serves as the main influence behind a clip video I created seven years ago while in high school. It's still on YouTube. I need to take it down or make it invisible. It's embarrassing for me to watch now because it looks so silly and amateur - and it uses 'In The City' by Madness, which just exacerbates that. Regarding this music video, it uses a lot of really neat visual transitions from on-location settings featuring a female character to studio-based choreography featuring duplicates of the character. A drummer also shows up here and there, sometimes mirrored, and by the end the woman's alarm clock has magnified hugely.
In terms of the song itself, it's an interesting bit of sound. I describe it that way because it comes off as an experiment in sound production rather than musical harmony. The backing drums are a good accompaniment. The song almost sounds like something you'd hear in a video game, in terms of the lower sounds. Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher sings the lyrics, which sound dreamy and distant but also versatile. "How does it feel like to spend a little lifetime sitting in the gutter? Scream a symphony."


Chicago (1967-Present)
All I have to say about these guys is that I like one of their songs, and that's about it. They sound good in general, but I don't have enough interest. The band features as a background running joke on the main character of the film Clear History, and they also appear in the film.

25 Or 6 To 4 (1970)
This song starts out very interestingly and continues that way, though I don't like the ending too much as its reliance on all the horns reminds me of the sounds of 70s TV show themes - particularly M*A*S*H. But I like the chorus and the very simple subject matter: Should I keep doing what I'm doing despite the time? The song's title is a ponder at whether it's 3:35 or 3:34 in the morning, and the question is whether to continue to try to write or go to bed. I often have that dilemma when I write my journal, or write on here - particularly as I write these micro-reviews, which is normally done in the early hours of the morning. It's currently 10 to 2am.
The band fuse horns with rock really well, in much the same way Electric Light Orchestra fused strings with rock during the same period. Why do I like this one song by them? I guess I like the sound of the vocals, the progression and the fast-paced rhythm. 'Saturday in the Park?' Kind of boring to me. Appropriate sound for the subject matter, yes, but boring for my ears.

Chilliwack (1970-1988)
Another Canadian band, this time from the west coast, namely Vancouver. I moderately like them for a song or two, and that's about it. While it's not on my list, I like the musical progression and sinister sound of 'Secret Information' (the verses).

My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) (1981)
When I looked up the music  video, it appeared to be taken from a program of music videos of songs named 'My Girl,' because for a split second you can see a shot of Chas Smash of Madness drinking tea in the final scene of the music video for the Madness song 'My Girl' before it cuts to the introduction of 'My Girl' by Chilliwack.
This isn't a very happy-sounding song, but it's very hopeful. The music sounds bleak and hopeless, and makes me think of the sun having just set extremely early on a frigid winter's afternoon. Yet you're still in the mostly empty office with lots of work still to do. However, I like it because of the hope exhibited in the lyrics, and the refrain of 'gone gone gone she's been gone so long...' After the first verse, which has wound itself up into a climax of music and vocals, it suddenly falls apart, stops...and then the vocal refrain immediately re-starts. It's quite funny to listen to at first. But this vocal refrain ends up building up the final coda of the song. It's interesting.

Chumbawumba (1980-2012)
These guys are probably the most radical group on my list. The band, which had all sorts of people come and go, have deep anarchic roots, preferring to do what they want without much regard for any kind of system or authority. They spent all of their early years gigging at minor things as a sort of rag-tag group of instrumentalists with various stances on issues. Only when they finally signed with a major record company - EMI - in 1997, finally choosing an option that was financially plausible while receiving the potential to reach a major audience (and simultaneously alienating all of their anti-corporate, anti-systematic supporters, contemporaries, and following) did they make a mark on the charts. And while they did release further singles afterwards, I haven't knowingly heard any of them but for their first breakthrough hit, which I'll write about below.

Tubthumping (1997)
This has to hold the notability as the very first song I heard on the radio that I actively liked and looked forward to hearing. Sure, there was what turned out to be 'Gangsters Paradise' which I kind of liked when I first heard it at a young age, but this was a song I really wanted to hear. I remember when I first heard it. I spent my summer being watched by my friend's mother, who was a neighbour, and one of the routines of the later afternoon was driving to Nortel in Kanata to pick up my friend's dad from work. I'd hear it on the car radio during these commutes, in the back seat with my friend. I guess I liked the refrain: "I get knocked down. But I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down." When I think about it, the family that babysat me was highly religious, at least the mother, and considering the potential tone or lyrical suggestions the song could hold for that sort of mindset, I'm kind of impressed she didn't change the channel or turn it off.
The song uses a basic musical structure for the refrain - D major to G major, over and over, on guitar and keyboard, and then a simple E minor, G major, D major and A major for the little 'Danny boy' verses. I've taken the song apart, and it's interesting. Lyrically it appears to be about sitting in a bar virtually all the time, living life as an alcoholic. On the other hand, the title apparently refers to sensationalizing politicians. I like the Arm & Hammer-influenced cover art. The trumpet is a sorrowful, but relevant, addition.

Citizen King (1993-2002)
This band, like a lot of the others in this list, was a one-hit wonder. They had their song 'Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)' and that was it. It was fronted by its bassist.

Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out) (1999)
I liked this song when it played on the radio when I was eight. It just sounded catchy, and it still does now, though it has its derivative progression to thank for that. Most songs use this progression in D minor, but they upped it to E minor. E-D-A. However, this song uses scratch and sound effects, with the choruses always dissolving on this keyboard effect. I liked the unusual sound they used during the second verse. I don't know what it is. It just sounds different and interesting. It made me laugh many years ago. The acoustic guitar is nice. It sounds appropriately uninterested. The one thing I don't like is the very random "I've been a star of many plays" line in the chorus. It doesn't work to me. It sounds like something used for the sake of rhyming with 'days.'

Coldplay (1996-Present)
I kind of wonder why they're called "Coldplay." It sounds somewhat different to all the typical band names I've seen. I don't particularly listen to them, but 'Clocks' did make an impression on me. Other than that, I've heard their other song, the one with the interminable string rhythm (I forget what it's called) and I've seen the music video for their single 'The Scientist' (largely because it plays entirely in reverse) but nothing else they've done has appealed to me than the one song they came out with in 2002.

Clocks (2002)
I think I like it for the same reason everyone else likes it: Its piano arrangement. The progression and arrangement is extremely simple and only makes up three chords. It sounds so bright yet only the first chord is a major, the second two limited and sad-sounding minors.
The exact style and way it's played goes like this: The first chord is played in its second inversion, the second in its third, and the last in its first, and they're played broken, in a descending manner from the tonic of the first (E flat major), the mediant of the second (B flat minor) and the dominant of the third (F minor). This descending rhythm is played twice per chord, and broken off halfway on the third round of the first and second chords (the F minor plays a whole three times). It's really that simple, even if my long sentences don't make it seem that way. Furthermore, the bassist does a nice compliment by ascending to the second note rather than descending as the piano does.
Lyrically, I'm not entirely sure what the vocalist is trying to get across, unless the song is really just about letting things go. I don't know. I get the impression there's romance in there, probably longing. It just happened to be the song the DJ decided to put on when a girl in my class prompted a dance with me that she'd asked for minutes earlier, causing me greater discomfort than I already felt as we held each other's shoulders - this was a song I liked and I was with a girl! This was an end of school dance. I was finishing grade six. Too shy and awkward and not nearly confident enough at pairing with someone, a nice girl did it for me, just as a song I felt embarrassed to listen to and like started. The dance lasted half a minute. I couldn't look her in the face and to help I kept repeating the phrase "I can't wait to tell Duncan." She very quickly suggested I go ahead and do that. I haven't really danced with a girl since. Probably a good thing. As for my brief dancing partner, she's happily married these days, and living far away from here.
Clocks is a good song, though I do wish it could be, at least in my eyes, perhaps good for more than just its piano and to a much lesser extent its bass. It's a happy song for a second. The rest is melancholy.

Counting Crows (1991-Present)
Nothing to say here, other than I kind of like the lead singer's voice.

Mr. Jones (1993)
I like this song for its well-executed style and lyrics. It just sounds well-done. You get a lot of minor chords throughout, though it sounds happier on the chorus. The lyrics are well-written and well sung. I love how the singer changes the refrain in each chorus: "Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales" "Mr. Jones and me look into the future" "Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrio," etc. The lyrics make me think of me and a friend of mine to some extent, particularly in terms of looking at girls. That's about it; my guitar is black and white, not grey, and while I want to record music, most of it is for the record of my ideas and creativity rather than 'seeing myself staring back at me' on the television. Apparently, it was written with a real-life Mr. Jones, who was a bassist in another band separate from the Counting Crows, in mind.

Hanginaround (1999)
Very nice guitar in this one. It sounds deep at first, while the bass, when it comes in, sounds exactly the opposite, extremely bright. It has a catchy progression. I haven't heard it in awhile. I recall the music video - the vocalist waits for a bus and lets all pass until a cute woman shows up to wait with him. One particular scene I remember is a shot of the rest of the band smiling through one of the bus windows. It looked kind of funny to me. There's a nice piano in it too, and it ends with everything either stopping, fading out, or just falling apart. Another part of the attraction is just the singer's voice, which I've mentioned. I don't really know what else to say about this song. No real negatives. It's nice to hear the snare drum without any snares on it once in a while.

The Cult (1983-1995)
I have nothing to say about them other than their lead singer looks like an older woman who works in the dry foods section at work (at least he did in the 80s).

Rain (1985)
Original Review
I heard this on a music channel on TV. It just sounded welcoming to hear. But, as I mentioned for 'Better Days' above, it uses a derivative progression - the exact same one - and, like everyone else, on D minor. But the guitarist found a way to be creative with his instrument, so there is something refreshing there, and it sounds somewhat rejoicing to me, which I also like. I admire the idea of a beautiful woman embodying rain, as I also like rain, albeit on a hot sunny day, in refreshing bursts, or the soothing sound of it at night. But there are very obvious things I dislike, largely visual things. I'd simply say don't watch the music video, as there are repetitive close-ups of a mouth pouring saliva on a microphone. And as I mentioned, the singer reminds me of an older woman I know at work. That's specific to me, but I'm sure other people may find he looks effeminate. Apparently, the band don't find this song to their liking very much. I wonder why. Either way, in some of its lyrics and its rejoicing guitar, it does sound refreshing in its way.

The Cure (1976-Present)
These British guys were probably one of the obvious examples of New Wave Gothic style. I only know one of their songs, and I'm glad I do. I think they have a very recreational attitude towards recording, which helps their creativity and performance. My paternal aunt once knew, or met, lead singer Robert Smith. I can't remember exactly, but there's no reason not to believe her.

Feels Like Heaven (1987)
Original Review
Song De-construction
This is a great song right from the introduction. It's a nice build up starting from drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard synths, and lead guitar line (vocals finally starting after). One thing I originally thought was that the lead guitar notes, the descending line of happy notes, is actually played by the same guitar that plays the deeper melodies that are constant throughout the song. Overall, it's this guitar melody that makes me love its sound. Not to mention that in the proper recording the electric guitar stays on one channel while the acoustic keeps to the other, as if their players are on either side of you. It's in A major - a rare thing, a major - and it's something I easily relate to personally based on the progression and the notes used, and the melody. Lyrically, it appears to be about nostalgia, the happy memories of the early stages of a relationship, which are based on singer Smith's memories of his courtship with his wife. These memories are particularly routed in the setting of the Beachy Head cliffs, and the music video is appropriately set there. The music sounds joyful, happy, endearing and, in places, kind of sad in its nostalgia. I just think the gentle guitar melody is beautiful.

Well, those are my reviews of artists whose (first) names start with C. There were far less, thankfully, and it wasn't as hard and prolonged as all the B-named bands/artists. I will come around with my 'D' reviews, for which there are only nine artists. For that I can be somewhat thankful. This was written over several evenings. Moving on.

Red Cloud
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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Does Pride Mean, Really?

I understand the idea behind pride parades, of any sort, whether it's for the benefit of transgender people, bisexuals or the traditional same-sex couples, or all at once (I'm pretty sure all at once is typical).

I don't understand the groping and the nudity.

I once had an e-mail conversation with a woman who had the personal opinion and perspective that non-traditional sexual relationships should be pitied because they're reduced to that and nothing else. Stripped of any unique individualism aside from that, homosexuals and non-heterosexual relationships are only about the exclusive fact that their sexuality is non-traditional, and that's that.

I don't believe in such a narrow view, but all those pictures I see of guys holding each other's butts and standing together nearly naked sort of illustrates her point. To show your pride, you have to hold your partner's ass, not merely just his hand. That shows you're definitely in a relationship with him, and proud.

My understanding of a pride event is that for the community or category of people it represents, it provides a time and place of well-being for those people, an event for them to feel as regarded as any normal human being should be in the face of their adversities, which have usually been given to them by a hostile social atmosphere, or a limiting government that encouraged disparities in the civil system. As such, people should feel comfortable, which means they should be able to hold their partner's hand, or stand intimately together, without any malice or self-consciousness. They can feel proud in showing this attraction. That's the idea.

Unfortunately, I think that idea went a little too far, because I highly doubt couples behave in public by grasping each other inappropriately or getting so intimate it almost becomes indecent exposure. Being prideful should mean confidently exhibiting who you are by doing typical things - in this case, holding hands or giving a little kiss on the cheek, being affectionate in a way that's not forced or inappropriate. I see heterosexual couples kissing on benches and holding hands, not groping each other; I would expect that in the LGBTQ* community, they probably have the same social conventions. Non-traditional sexual orientations are probably only different than traditional ones on an emotional level - not necessarily a social one, and definitely not only on a mere sexual one. But hey, I don't absolutely know. And I may obviously be judging the nature of an entire event via a few photos and what I've heard. They don't refer to every participant, of course. The simple basis for all of this is my wonder at why a few participants in these affairs like to show their pride by being overtly sexual in their public behaviour - which most heterosexual couples, at least from what I've observed over my life, don't really participate in. Those that do tend to make people uncomfortable, and they get a lot of space. Of any gay couple I've ever seen on the street, they look no different than anyone else, and they behave no differently either. Why, for the few that do, act in such a manner during those parades? Isn't that a bit misleading?

I don't know. But I'd rather not observe that personally. I find it somewhat offensive. This goes for any couple, gay, straight, transgender or whatever. Everyone has private space. And before I get criticized for hating public displays of affection, there is a difference between romantic kissing and being close, and grasping each other with forceful passion, pulling ass and slipping hands up skirts, etc. One is sweet. The other is crude. I have no problem with the former.

The 'C' micro reviews should be coming up soon.

Red Cloud
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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Under a Microscope

Being part of my generation, I've seen and read a few articles and blog posts about us and what others seem to perceive. Most of it is hardly positive. The other night, a page on Facebook I follow posted a viral video of a young woman apologizing for our existence. Hence my decision to write what I think. By the way, I didn't watch the video. I've seen enough petulant stuff in the media to understand the attitude and topic of what the video obviously talks about, and the brief explanation was enough.

Instead of merely listing what's wrong and what I think is right or wrong, at least right away, I'm going to be simple and say this: I believe every generation has the same attitudes and personalities, the same strengths and weaknesses. The only reason those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s are getting the most observed flack about everything is because we're the first generation to live in the digital age where interconnectivity is rich and fully apart of our lives, and we therefore have social media to keep us highly aware of all of this.

There's also the fact that we are the first generation to use smartphones and computer-based relationships. We have such a high wealth of information at our hands. You don't have to go to the library to research a topic in a book or on microfilm, you can just plug into a network and use Wikipedia or countless other online resources; you don't have to phone your friend or knock on his door, you can simply text him or look on your Facebook newsfeed and get information from all your friends immediately. This unfortunately means you get a ridiculous overload of information as kids take selfies non-stop and people track each other on apps, and we come off as self-absorbed narcissistic brainiacs who know a lot about nothing at all. I doubt knowing Canadian Daniel Lanois produced Martha and the Muffins, Peter Gabriel, U2, and Robbie Robertson will get you very far when it comes to useful knowledge.

We are also coming of age at an inopportune time, and this isn't an excuse. A lot of successful people, aside from brains or courage or determination, happened to come along at a very good time. A very interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, discusses this. Computer software pioneers like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, etc. all happened to come of age in the mid-70s when computer software development was just picking up. There was a developing market for what they were born to do, and they came at the perfect time. For us, though, in an economic sense, we have the period of time after the Great Recession. Things are as slow as ever.

Personally, I am not going to apologize for anything, whether it's existing (which makes no sense) or being part of this young generation. It's the Internet and this world of extreme interconnectivity, this environment of hyper information overload, that's slapping us in the face with all of these complaints and opinions and analysis of us as a group. We're under a microscope. There isn't a parent in any previous generation who felt their kids or "today's kids" are as 'tough' or smart or anything else ideal that they envisioned.

Of course, like any other generation, there are the functionally incapable ones, the kids who sit doing nothing for themselves because the online world or their parents will do it for them, the lazy ones and the whiny ones. With us it's perhaps more pronounced - I won't deny that all of those so opinionated are probably right in a sense. It's not entirely our fault. Who raised them? What kind of parents decided to give their ten year old child a smartphone? Who decided video games and Facebook were enough for a child? Who decided schools should have super-important "graduation" ceremonies for finishing senior kindergarten, and that the child is always right no matter what (for fear of hurting their self-esteem?) Team sports are all about smiling at each other and running around, with points for showing up and participating. There's little to no effort required. Connect two and two together. Maybe that's why we have a reason to complain. It makes absolutely no sense - nor is it right or fair - to raise a person a certain way, have it backfire or produce undesirable results, and therefore blame that person for being who he/she is. Or suggest or make him/her feel, ridiculously, that they should be apologetic for 'existing.' It's insane and despicable.

I'm what everyone calls a 'millennial.' I'm a nobody, at least until I've proven otherwise, with my own efforts. I don't expect a medal for landing a job and coming in on time; I don't need my hand held and I certainly have no fear of getting anxious at every little uncertainty. I'm not going to complain that I belong in a 'whiny' generation, because that's what people like to focus on and generalize, and I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon or be so hopelessly narrow-minded. I do believe that at this moment it is difficult to consider any career prospects, and that instead of worrying so much about student debt, we should be worrying about having a market and a need for new grads in the business world so that those who already have that debt can at least get a start somewhere and begin paying it off. After all, you can lower tuition fees and make school a reality for disadvantaged families, but they aren't going to be much better off if their degree, diploma or doctorate will only ever get them a job at McDonalds or Canadian Tire for the next X number of years. At least as long as the economy is slow, the market is dead, and whatever job opportunity that does exist only considers those with years of experience. And unpaid internships don't help anyone but the company; how often does an unpaid internship count to a different employer interviewing the candidate? I don't expect much.

We're overly examined because of the age and technology we live in, and it isn't helped with boneheaded alternative ideas to raising children, whether it's making them feel ultra-self-important, giving them a piece of technology and telling them to sit with it, or helicopter parenting to the point that grown-up child is incapable of surviving without his or her hand being held. The problem is the time we live in, parents, technology, and to a small extent, our own inner natures, all of which are unique, being negatively affected by the latter. No child in the 70s took pictures of his or her own food every day, or face, except for the odd artistic photographer planning an exhibition in some creative vein.

Oh, and we need to stop screaming at each other. Before you finish this and densely decide that I've been complaining about us as a generation, realize I've been avoiding the whole self-loathing shit in favor of a disconnected observation on external reasons that seem a lot more plain in sight to me. I'm not going to tell my peers to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" or stop complaining, because putting someone down in their disadvantaged way by doing so is cruel. We need to help each other out and be positive, not disdainful or comparing.

Red Cloud
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