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Wagner: Highlights from The Ring Cycle - Essential Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen with Ride of the Valkyries, Siegfried's Rhine Journey & More
Wagner: Highlights from The Ring Cycle - Essential Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen with Ride of the Valkyries, Siegfried's Rhine Journey & More
Price: $7.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible recording quality, December 19, 2014
Very annoyed, it sounds like this has been recorded on someone's iphone sitting at the back of the auditorium. The sound quality is simply terrible, it's not just the coughs and constant shuffling from the crowd that annoys but the entire bass range of the orchestra is barely audible, it sounds like its in mono, the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in 1890 not 2013 - should never have been released to be honest. The previews on Amazon are such low quality anyway that it was difficult to tell there'd be no improvement at a higher quality download!


Harmonielehre for Orchestra:  Full Score
Harmonielehre for Orchestra: Full Score
by John Adams
Edition: Paperback
Price: $52.23
33 used & new from $40.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many repeat signs ruin a great study experience, December 30, 2012
As a score for study purposes and an expensive 'full score' at that, this is a big disappointment for the simple fact that instead of actual printed music, half the time the bars are replaced with repeat signs. And there are lots of them. This makes it far more difficult to study whether along to a recording or on its own as you'll find you have to continuously refer to previous measures which do contain the actual notation to see what the other instruments are currently playing. And it's not even as if this was to save space as the measures with repeat signs are often the same size as measures with actual notation. I feel this was just lazy or maybe to save ink, who knows. Do the publishers expect readers to have photographic memories of what each and every instrument was playing previously? It seems they do.

When I study a score along to a recording, I like to look over, up and down and across the page to get an essence of the orchestration and articulations being played. And on such a large sized publication as this, it's a lot more difficult to be able see what the flutes are doing at the same time as say the basses so you'll rarely be able to see what all instruments are doing at any one time and so you will find that when you gaze from one instrument to another you will need to see actual printed music, but here instead you'll more than likely see a repeat sign, meaning you'll have to pause the recording, look back a few bars and then continue. In my opinion, repeat signs are fine for conductor's scores or individual player's parts but for relatively expensive 'full' study scores, this is not acceptable.

However, as I think the only printed score out there for John Adam's masterwork, this is better than nothing at all and at least everything is nice and clear and easy to read and I would still recommend it on that basis. But it's often a pain to follow.


We Need to Talk About Kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin
DVD ~ Tilda Swinton
Price: $18.20
11 used & new from $13.66

4.0 out of 5 stars A rewarding take on parental fears, June 8, 2012
This review is from: We Need to Talk About Kevin (DVD)
Trying to depict the state of mind of someone who is both emotionally and mentally unstable and suffering from the after effects of a tragic event is very difficult to achieve in a cinematic language but I think Lynne Ramsay has succeeded well here. From the disjointed and fractured chronological order to the arty and surreal tone of the main character's flashbacks and visions, you get a good sense of what it is perhaps this poor mother is going through. Her mind must be all over the place, burdened by guilt and the memories of her horrid time as the mother of her nasty son. The colour red is very prevalent throughout and is something she cannot escape, from the red paint that she is forever scrubbing from her house, hands and car windscreen to the bloodbath she has to bear witness to at the end and which she will forever blame herself. The guilt and living hell will be inescapable.

There is always a danger in these kinds of films (and books) that they may not be wholly psychologically accurate and raise more questions than they answer. This film, and I understand the book also, doesn't really attempt to answer the nature vs nurture question in any serious balanced way - and how could we expect it to, that is a realm for science and psychology and something which may take decades before they are able to arrive at a more definitive answer. But art has been this way for millennia, it rarely if ever provides answers to big questions but is more about offering up one's own assumptions or take on these issues and inspiring debate.

There is a hint of a suggestion in the film that the mother wasn't quite ecstatic at the idea of being a mother (the scene in the antenatal class where she doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic) but there is never really a suggestion that once the child is born that she is anything but a good mother. The film leans far more towards the suggestion that the child was born bad and there was absolutely nothing the mother could have done about it. We see her trying hard from an early age to bond with Kevin but he seems to somehow despise her and manipulate her emotions even from a very young age - and this is where I question the psychological accuracy? Is it possible for a young toddler under two years old to despise anything and understand how to manipulate emotions in a callous way?

And in this respect, we could see the film as simply a story about the fears of parenthood from the viewpoint from someone who is not yet a parent, i.e. what happens if I have a naturally bad child who I cannot control and have a positive effect on...? And so a psychologically accurate definitive account of the nature vs nurture is beside the point but rather a story that tries to represent these fears, however irrational and they may be, is what we are engaging with.


The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
Price: $11.88
39 used & new from $1.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Williams shines, May 23, 2012
It's great to have John Williams back after 3 and a half long years since his previous score. And what a return it is! This score sees Johnny on blistering form and has everything that you love about his music; great themes, an abundance of great little musical ideas springing forth every few seconds and intertwining with each other, exciting, dazzling action writing and complex and colourful orchestrations.

As ever, Williams demonstrates that rare ability to write music that matches the scene perfectly and still be a great listen to away from the film. He must be so immediately attuned to what a scene needs in terms of instrumentation, style of sound and pace that he can just get down to work straight away and deliver such mind bogglingly complicated music that would take others months longer to write - if they could at all without an army of orchestrators on hand! It's simply a joy to witness the end result and dispels any concerns you may have had with his nearing 80 years of age. If anything Johnny is getting better with age!

So the score starts off with a quirky jazzy number for the opening credits mainly for clarinets, harpsichord, accordian and jazz percussion. It's a somewhat out of place piece in that the style is never replicated again at any length again in the album but it is fun and introduces some of the Gallic flavour.

Next up is I suppose a concert arrangement of Snowy's theme, a fantastically fun energetic piece with a great catchy melody and exciting flurrying orchestration. It then segues into a scurrying piano development which darts all over the place and reflects Snowy's character perfectly.

Later cues introduce more character themes, some silly like the one for the Thompsons, the two dim-witted policemen and others more heroic like the theme for TinTin himself . And there are some more great themes that reach full development in the action cues.

There is a lot of action writing here and since this is one of Williams' fortes, he rises to the challenge with obvious ease. His trademark virtuosic use of the orchestra never lets up, fleeting musical ideas and motifs flit between sections numerous times a second it seems yet never seeming contrived or strained, always flowing perfectly. And he interweaves it all them with the great melodic flourishes and trademark sounds he is known for.

In this new era of the film score sound, where the minimalist scores of Hans Zimmer and his legions of clones dominate not just film but TV and adverts and where the emphasis is very much on sounds and atmosphere rather than music, it's a relief to have some real superior musical talent on display. The things this man can do with an orchestra is very special and rare and there are only really a handful of other composers I can think of who could possibly go some way to take over the reins when the time comes. But for now, we should cherish the fact that John Williams is still around and able to write to this amazing standard. And let's hope that there will soon be another paradigm shift back towards a more rounded orchestral sound where composers have to use actual musical rather than mixing talent.


No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars A rewarding take on parental fears, March 14, 2012
Trying to depict the state of mind of someone who is both emotionally and mentally unstable and suffering from the after effects of a tragic event is very difficult to achieve in a cinematic language but I think Lynne Ramsay has succeeded well here. From the disjointed and fractured chronological order to the arty and surreal tone of the main character's flashbacks and visions, you get a good sense of what it is perhaps this poor mother is going through. Her mind must be all over the place, burdened by guilt and the memories of her horrid time as the mother of her nasty son. The colour red is very prevalent throughout and is something she cannot escape, from the red paint that she is forever scrubbing from her house, hands and car windscreen to the bloodbath she has to bear witness to at the end and which she will forever blame herself. The guilt and living hell will be inescapable.

There is always a danger in these kinds of films (and books) that they may not be wholly psychologically accurate and raise more questions than they answer. This film, and I understand the book also, doesn't really attempt to answer the nature vs nurture question in any serious balanced way - and how could we expect it to, that is a realm for science and psychology and something which may take decades before they are able to arrive at a more definitive answer. But art has been this way for millennia, it rarely if ever provides answers to big questions but is more about offering up one's own assumptions or take on these issues and inspiring debate.

There is a hint of a suggestion in the film that the mother wasn't quite ecstatic at the idea of being a mother (the scene in the antenatal class where she doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic) but there is never really a suggestion that once the child is born that she is anything but a good mother. The film leans far more towards the suggestion that the child was born bad and there was absolutely nothing the mother could have done about it. We see her trying hard from an early age to bond with Kevin but he seems to somehow despise her and manipulate her emotions even from a very young age - and this is where I question the psychological accuracy? Is it possible for a young toddler under two years old to despise anything and understand how to manipulate emotions in a callous way?

And in this respect, we could see the film as simply a story about the fears of parenthood from the viewpoint from someone who is not yet a parent, i.e. what happens if I have a naturally bad child who I cannot control and have a positive effect on...? And so a psychologically accurate definitive account of the nature vs nurture is beside the point but rather a story that tries to represent these fears, however irrational and they may be, is what we are engaging with.


Drive
Drive
DVD

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shallow, shallow, shallow, March 3, 2012
This review is from: Drive (Amazon Instant Video)
What a disappointment. Thought this would be a thrill ride with intelligence. However, it's just a dumb ride with one or two thrills. Look elsewhere if you want intelligence.

Basically a few car chases, slasher type gore, another hackneyed mafia-owed-money crime plot, an intrusive 80's soundtrack to make up for the lack of dialogue and another bad-guy-wants-to-settle-down `protagonist'. And that's it. Horribly shallow, devoid of anything meaningful, the men are all pathetic and uninteresting and the key female may as well be a mannequin with a face painted on for all she has to say and do in the film. Shame. No real character inspection of the main guy. Who is he? Why is he? What's his background?

The tone is confused; the retro 80's style is only there make it seem a little different, it adds nothing of importance; the violence is horribly unnecessary, graphic and nasty; it seems to want to be seen as artistic, introspective, even poetic...ha ha ha! - watch something like the terrific The Assassination of Jesse James to see how that's done.

Three stars for the enjoyably suspenseful beginning and the tense heist. After that, you may as well turn off. It starts off well and interestingly and main character seems as if he will be interesting to be around but isn't, and the whole thing soon degenerates into dumb crime gangster mafioso movie territory with only a retro styling to try and separate it.


Sennheiser HD595 Dynamic High Grade Performance Premiere Headphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Sennheiser HD595 Dynamic High Grade Performance Premiere Headphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
14 used & new from $130.00

2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too quiet and was expecting more from them, July 12, 2010
The HD595's are classed as audiophile phones on Sennheiser's website but they're not really. I needed a second pair of good quality phones for my home studio and decided to get these as they were within my budget. I already own a pair of the Sennheisers HD25-1 Mk II which are fantastic and only £20 or so more expensive but I decided on these as I thought the soundstage would be larger due to them being `open' phones.

The first thing I noticed when I plugged them in is that they are rather quiet. It wasn't too much of a problem with my Cowon mp3 player as the volume goes up very high but when I plugged them into my (high end) PC, even the maximum sound level was not loud enough. It seems you'd need an amplifier to get a higher output but at a low 50 ohms, it should not take much at all to push these phones. And strangely, the HD25-1`s are 70 ohms and have no problems being played at a decent volume through my PC or mp3 player.

Secondly, whilst the sound quality is mostly good, I found the mid frequencies rather recessed and that was the deal breaker for me. Instruments that I could hear very clearly through the HD25's sounded muffled and almost nonexistent with these. And to top it off, the soundstage was not better at all, the HD25's also beat them in that department.

The good qualities are the bass which is very clear and well defined and not overly punchy and all other ranges are good but overall they're just not good enough for somebody who considers themself an `audiophile' and who wants to hear all ranges very clearly.

In the end I returned them and bought another pair of the HD25-1 Mk II's as for just a bit extra cash, they offer a far more accurate sound (they are classed as monitor headphones) with a better soundstage and work just fine off your PC or mp3 player.


The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover
178 used & new from $2.95

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing link!, October 5, 2009
The Greatest Show on Earth is a fascinating and comprehensive account of the wide array of evidence for evolution. It is still quite astonishing that in the US alone, 40% of the population profess to a denial of evolution as a fact, and Dawkins takes this worrying figure as his impetus, to set out straight why we can be confident in the factual veracity of evolution. As he says in his foreword, his previous books on the subject took for granted the acceptance of evolution, little realising that there would still be in 2009 such a strong need to go back a few steps in order to convince large proportions of the population that evolution really does explain the rich variety we see in nature. In that respect, The Greatest Show acts like a solid foundation for Dawkins' other works (and any book about evolution) and anyone who is still on the fence would probably be best off reading this book before any others.

As ever and as you'd expect from someone who held the post of Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, Dawkins delivers an account that is somewhat easy to understand for the layperson, effortlessly juggling metaphors to facilitate what can sometimes be quite daunting science. For instance, the chapter on embryology where he delves into the workings of proteins and enzymes I feel was greatly helped by his use of the origami analogy, or the metaphor of the police detective at a crime scene piecing together the many clues - which in turn led to the use of the spy camera analogy to explain the crafty `god of the gaps' argument so loved by creationists.

I'm glad the book began with an explanation of the word `theory' as used by scientists as this seems to be one of the most pervasive and unfortunate misunderstandings surrounding evolution and it's not solely the fault of mischievous creationists - it's not difficult to see why one would conclude that evolution is `only a theory' in the unsubstantiated sense of the word and therefore reserve their judgement on its ultimate veracity. Whether Dawkins' new term `theorum' to replace `theory' will take off remains to be seen but I think he is absolutely right that a new term is needed.

I also found many examples simply fascinating; such as the tadpole in a lab that had a small square cut from its back and grafted onto its underbelly which then grew into a frog that would itch it's back when that patch (now distinct from the rest of its underside) was tickled! (Actually I still can't quite fathom why this happens since that patch of skin I'm assuming still has its own nerve endings and I would have thought the frog would have learnt over time from where the sensation occurs - and does scratching the back alleviate the itch? Anyway, it does occur and I guess that's what matters!)

I also enjoyed reading about some of the examples I already knew about such as the laryngeal nerve and the vestigial leg bones in whales - actually Dawkins mentions in the book the Channel 4 documentary he took part in where they dissected a giraffe and removed the laryngeal nerve but on a previous episode of the same show (Natures Giants I think it was called) they did a dissection of a beached whale and uncovered the vestigial leg bones. Fascinating stuff. I also enjoyed revisiting Dawkins' full uncut interview with Wendy Wright which I think you can find on YouTube - slap the head frustrating for sure!

There is of course a whole lot more science and evidence in the book and feel it amounts to a well rounded and useful reference.

However, I do have a couple of minor issues. Firstly, when outlining the procedure for radioactive dating, I found myself still lacking understanding over one key point which I don't think was explained at all and that was how we can be certain of the fact of the decaying half-lives that are millions or billions of years. I don't doubt for a moment that this dating method is well verified by scientists but I don't recall Dawkins pointing this out, I think he said something along the lines of "...and we know that the half-life of such and such is x billion years...". It is a key point and means I'll have to do some additional research for an answer - perhaps I need to re-read that chapter...?

However my main criticism is the way Dawkins often used the imperfections inherent in nature (e.g. immense suffering, arms races between predator and prey, the laryngeal nerve detour, the eye,) as `evidence' against an intelligent designer. I am not for one minute saying that I believe there is a divine creator because as an atheist myself, I think it's unlikely but I still find this line of reasoning highly flawed if only because it presumes to know the mind / intentions / capabilities of said supposed creator. The argument also leaves itself open to a wide range of easy simplistic answers from creationists (i.e. `even if nature contains flaws anything that can create all this life is still intelligent'; `he works in mysterious ways'; `we can't understand his ultimate plan'; `maybe there are many gods creating life, some better at it than others' and `they use each other's templates'!!!) - the list could go on. I found myself wincing each time Dawkins used this argument only because I feel it is very weak in that it doesn't constitute actual evidence against a god like he seems to think it does.

Despite those two niggles, Dawkins has written another great book, full of fascination and awe. It's no doubt a much needed book and has filled the gap brilliantly - highly recommended for those who want a solid grounding in the wide range of evidence of evolution.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 5, 2009 7:17 AM PDT


Religulous
Religulous
DVD ~ Bill Maher
Price: $9.96
68 used & new from $2.45

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satire is probably the only way..., August 17, 2009
This review is from: Religulous (DVD)
Satire is probably the only way....

Religulous (a humorous merging of the words `religion' and `ridiculous') does exactly what you'd expect. It's a very funny (in a very depressing sort of way) account through the eyes of comedian Bill Maher and crew of the boundless ludicrousness that is organised religion, mainly focusing on Christianity and Islam. Another reviewer was disappointed that it didn't delve into other religions / spiritual traditions but it didn't need to - you could view it really as a general critique on irrationality through ignorance (usually wilful) and an unmovable adherence to wholly unfounded belief systems - and therefore automatically criticises other religions by default.

There isn't really much in the way of sophistication here, the big questions are not delved into; instead the approach here was simply to ask questions to an assortment of religious folk - some lay people, some higher up the chain such as the US senator and then rebut them with a quip, an expression of dismay or a sardonic smile or to highlight their misinterpretations and flawed thinking. And kudos to the film's team for bringing forth such an eclectic assortment of `believers'.

Bill obviously knows his stuff and was always able to come back with an instant rebuttal (from what's on screen anyway), however, what seems to be the film's biggest criticism is that it only goes for the easy targets and doesn't take on the more learned theologians. Well apart from the fact the whole pertinent point of the film was to show just how worryingly ingrained religion and irrationality is in the Western World - from tacky religious theme parks to fraud to politics and fundamentalism and so by extension to ultimately bearing a threat to our very existence - this is where I would have to say that there really wouldn't be any point in doing that.

Richard Dawkins and other well known atheists have said that theologians are experts in a field that ultimately points to nothing (or something to that effect) and that their knowledge is at most an expertise in a realm of anthropology and history, nothing more - they simply don't have any proof of their particular deity and have no good reason for accepting that they do. A learned theologian may be able to guide / run rings around you through the different aspects of scripture, translations, quotes from other numerous biblical scholars and weave a complex tapestry of `correct' interpretation - but this is simply complicating a really rather simple issue - the small matter of evidence (or lack thereof)!

There is no shortage of in depth debate easily accessible in books, articles, videos, lectures, conferences and the internet (check out Sam Harris vs Rabbi David Wolpe on youtube, very stimulating) but time and again there is not one shred of plausible evidence offered despite how much the theologians try to blindside with their vast knowledge of scripture and pseudoscience. So to have taken that approach here in Religulous would have made it an altogether different film and would not have worked to its advantage. At the end of the day, there really isn't much difference between the faith of those daft evangelical truckers and learned theologian - one simply knows vastly more about the aspects of their faith.

And this leads me to my conclusion that perhaps only ridicule in the short term (perhaps science in the long) will have any success in causing the dissonance and the impetus to really drive someone to look deeply - and most importantly critically - into one's beliefs and by extension needs and desires. There have been the powerhouse debates, there have been the bestsellers highlighting the flawed thinking, there have been the science breakthroughs and yet still people cling to their religion in vast populations - and how many of the average joe believer will bother to read or watch them anyway? But people do respond to ridicule, to smug confrontation, to wilful offense and humiliation - perhaps satire is the only way?


Let The Right One In
Let The Right One In
DVD ~ Lina Leandersson
Price: $7.99
87 used & new from $1.56

7 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretty terrible actually, August 7, 2009
This review is from: Let The Right One In (DVD)
It's rare that I'll use such a strong term as `hate' having watched a film, mainly because I'm very choosy in the first place and try to weed out the abundance of claptrap out there by way of going with established filmmakers and critics reviews. It's also quite rare that I will go so completely against the prevailing opinion when I find myself disagreeing with it, but I find myself utterly in that situation here - I actually hated this film and I'm all the more confused when I look at the mass of rave reviews for Let the Right One In.

So let me try to explain why I feel this way. Firstly, I love slow burners, meditative films that take their time and don't resort to a big set piece every ten minutes to cover emptiness - however, usually what these films offer are interesting characters and plots to maintain interest and to have a point to them. Let the Right One In had neither of these. In fact I found the whole film completely devoid of suspense, drama, intrigue, atmosphere, in fact anything that could be considered impressive or make the whole exercise worthwhile in the first place.

The acting from the two main kids was utterly awful, very stilted and awkward. There was a general lack of dialogue in their scenes, they tended to just walk around each other, mutter something or hug and it quickly got very tiresome. And I'm sorry if this sounds a little heartless but why would the director assume that the largely adult (at least intended) audience would be interested in the development of a friendship between a couple of kids, even if one of them does happen to be a vampire?

My second problem with the film was that it had a major problem with it's flow. In fact, I would sum up the film as three of four dramatic set pieces linked by a lot of very mundane scenes of a lot of very mundane characters talking a lot of very mundane dialogue. And I feel the director may have also felt this, which would explain the reason for including the other character who begins to turn into a vampire after being bitten by Eli. Other than providing an opportunity to reinforce some vampire stereotypes and a dramatic death scene, there was no point that I could see to her even being in the film other than to perhaps offer an explanation (you know for the benefit of those who don't know what a vampire is!) as to why Eli doesn't go out during the day and does what she/he does to people. Her narrative thread otherwise had no relevance to the friendship between the two leads which was the main focus and `point'.

And the `dramatic' set pieces were downright silly - the scene where Eli kills the man in the bathroom was embarrassingly bad - not because it was low key but because it looked like a guy was playing a prank on his mates from behind the door. Even the swimming pool scene at the end didn't make sense - would the bully still bother to keep Oskar's head underneath the water while the rest of his gang were being butchered and decapitated around him?

I guess my last main reason for disliking the film was because it seemed to think it was a lot more profound and artistic than it was. In fact, throughout, when there was any dialogue it was extremely mundane - take the example in the hospital scene where the guy is at his wife's bedside - he starts talking to her about a stamp collection! What? It seems the director was just filling in dead time with hot air - and there were many many scenes like this. I'm sorry, but at the end of the day, this film said nothing remotely interesting about friendship or adolescent growing pains - sad lonely faces and handprints against the glass are not enough!

I suppose I'll have to remain bemused at the wealth of rave reviews for this film but for me it didn't work on any level and had absolutely no redeeming features.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2011 5:31 PM PST


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