All I Know³
Information, transmission, modulation, and noise – 3rd Edition

Hummingbird!

(It’s been maybe 5 years this blog has been dormant. Dreaded FaceBook has taken some of the immediacy away from writing a blog. But I’ve decided, just now, to start anew. This time (maybe) documenting what’s on my mind. This could be interesting, at least to me.)

A few nights ago, I woke up, wide awake, at 4am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. Medications I am taking for an infection was probably the culprit. Doctor said it might mess up my sleep patterns. Luckily the infection and the sleep issues have gone away, except for one disturbing incident.

That night, for some reason still not clear to me, I couldn’t remember the name of those little birds with a long skinny beak and wings that flap so fast you can’t see them, giving them the ability to seemingly hover stationary in the air. Every time I tried to retrieve the name, I drew a blank. Uh oh. Could this be a sign? It kept me awake, trying all sorts of tricks short of getting up and Googling it. But nothing came to mind.

Now, when you’re my age, in that pre-baby-boomer generation that is hurtling into their mid 70s and early 80s, reminders  of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, strokes, and other failures of the mind are everywhere in the media and talked about with friends. Try to ignore it, but you can’t. Besides, after 7 decades, any symptom that hits you that you’ve never experienced before is something to worry about. Like age; I’ve never been this old before.

Well, it kept me up that night. Then I thought: this is silly. So I did get up, sat on the couch and read a math book–my usual recipe for falling asleep. But the book was too interesting, and it wasn’t til almost 6 that I went back to bed. Slept til 9. In the shower, I tried again to retrieve that missing word. Still nothing! Yikes. This is not some obscure thing. It’s that bird out there. We even have a feeder for it. But, I was not going to let me get anxious or worry about the state of my mind, and resolved to ignore it and go on with the day.

Later, at dinner, Victoria was looking out the kitchen window. “Have you seen any hummingbird’s lately? Maybe I need to refill the feeder.”

HUMMINGBIRD!  Of course!

But, then the secondary effect came full force. That can’t be the right word, my right brain immediately told myself. That’s not even a word. It was as if I was seeing the word for the very first time, like some sort of Secondary Effect. Luckily it lasted only a second and my left brain came to the rescue: Of course it’s the right word. And here it is in your memory store, a little messed up and torn, but I’ll just rewrite the mental image and it will be as good as new. No worries.

How strange. Everyone has these sorts of lapses, or so they tell me. Still, I try really hard to keep my brain exercised. I read a lot. And I’m still working in high tech as a freelancer, altho I’ve been careful not to get too deep into it, not being sure about the actual return on mental investment. Still, there are somethings I keep coming back to. I learned calculus and advanced calc 60 years ago. It’s still my favorite subject, and historically beautiful, altho I never needed it much beyond a casual acquaintance in my career as a computer programmer and tech writer. Still it’s that math book I keep going back to. And someday I promise I will understand Maxwell’s equations. But that’s another story.

Clearly, we are no longer who we once were. In my 20s, in the mid 1960s, I wore 28×30 jeans. Now it’s more like 34×30. I seem to have grown horizontally, but not vertically. We start noting the things we once did with ease that are no longer easy and now require some effort, or must be avoided. Last time at Mt Blanc and the Jungfrau, I could barely deal with the altitude. Same with Denver more recently. This was never an issue 40 years ago.

But, no worries.

 

Mahler Seventh!

Went to Thursday’s SF Symphony performance of the Mahler 7th.

It is impossible to understand this work (or any of Gustav Mahler’s music) without an understanding of the context — Vienna 1900. And to my ears, the 7th is all about fin de siecle weltschmerz. Or weMahler7ltschmaltz. But what an amazing work it is, if only for the extreme ranges it covers in any dimension you care to look, or listen.

Northern Europe in 1900 was a contradiction on all fronts that eventually led to two devastating tragedies by 1945. But the breathtaking changes in the arts, sciences, and society that took place in the forty years from 1880 to 1920 seem incomprehensible today.

I discovered Mahler’s symphonies when I was about 9. My dad had an early LP of the 5th conducted by Scherchen (probably the best performance). And the 4th with Walter and soprano Desi Halban. I was amazed by the sheer sound of the full orchestra, and immediately became a Mahlerite. It wasn’t until my teens that I discovered the 7th. Rarely performed, I think it is too often overlooked.

The 7th ranges from the deeply profound to the heights of bombast in the blink of an eye. It’s got all the typical Mahlerian traits: brass band marches, yodeling and faux country-folksy music, klezmer dooby-dooby-dos, cow bells, church bells, and even a mandolin solo. In five movements, the orchestral writing is staggering. I keep imagining Gus sitting in his summer composing cabin in the Alps writing furiously all those notes. So many many notes! How is this possible? To anyone who’s looked at the score, the effort seems almost inhuman. (http://imslp.org/wiki/File:SIBLEY1802.16651.a3b6-39087009455132score.pdf)

The 7th is extremely manic, obsessive, hyperactive, turgid, and oceanic all at once, switching back and forth without warning. It leaves you breathless.

The full orchestra was on stage. 8 double basses, a full complement of brass, including the wonderful baritone tuba that, along with trombones are featured as solo instruments throughout. There were so many people on stage that the layout was very different — 1st violins to the left, 2nds to the right, percussion all along the back wall; basses on the left, brass on the right, violas and cellos in the middle left, woodwinds middle right; and in front of the percussion in the center, the mandolin and guitar players. And everyone got to play! It’s a fantastic piece for orchestra. And what a sound they made!

Mahler unashamedly borrows from his earlier music and even from the music he hadn’t even written yet. I could hear ghosts of the 10th symphony in the fourth movement, and just about every other symphony splattered here and there. There even seemed to be a quote from Richard Strauss! Incredible! Mahler was the Charles Ives of MittelEuropa. At any moment I expected to hear Columbia Gem of the Ocean! (Altho the 7th was the only work on the program with no intermission, I kinda wish MTT had programmed the Ives 4th for the second half! )

MTT conducts a “young man’s Mahler”. It’s swift and full, not plodding or self-reflective. Much more extroverted and athletic version than Walter or Scherchen,or even Bernstein’s. I have to say that I do prefer those more introverted interpretations. I would want to hear a softer, more nuanced performance. But MTT and the orchestra got the work done. And everyone jumped to their feet at the end of the last movement, where everything is whirling around and suddenly it all comes to a full stop!

Seventh symphonies have a great lineage. Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, and Sibelius sevenths are all masterpieces. Thanks to MTT and the SFSO for a spectacular evening. I tried to imagine what it might have been like walking out in the Vienna streets after the premier of the 7th in 1905. I tried but I couldn’t. Van Ness is not the Ringstrasse. And we are so far far away in space/time from Vienna 1900.

Testing 1-2-3-4

Just updated this blog to the latest WordPress version. And one never knows for sure if it will still work.

Seems to be ok. Can you tell the difference?

I admit, things have been very quiet over here.

Maybe it’s time to pull the plug. Run out of things to say.

Nonsemble 6 : Pierrot Lunaire!

Pierrot Lunaire: Cover
These days I’m rarely blown away by a concert, especially new music concerts. Same old folks in the audience, musicians on stage staring befuddled and morose at their music stands. Nothing new, really. No electricity. Nothing to talk about later.

Not last night, however. Something different happened.

The local SF ensemble called Nonsemble 6 performed a staged version of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1912 Pierrot Lunaire. And it was over the top and beyond remarkable.

First of all, Pierrot  is one of my favorite pieces from that era. And, it’s 100 years old this year! (1912 was a remarkable year, because it’s also the birthyear of John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Peggy Glanville Hicks, and Alan Turing, in addition to Pierrot Lunaire!) Pierrot marks for sure the end of the 19th century and the beginning of modernism and the 20th C. It is cast in the shadows of  fin-de-siècle Vienna, bordering on the hysterical and histrionic. But it also makes a big break with the past. The music has no tonal center and defies analysis according to any system. And the text, German translations of the poems by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud, goes beyond symbolism and Dada into some Freudian nightmarish pre-surrealism:

Valse de Chopin:

Like a pallid drop of blood
Colors a sick man’s lips
So reposes in these tones
A charm seeking annihilation.

Wild air’s accords disorder
Despair’s glacial dream-
Like a pallid drop of blood
Colors a sick man’s lips

Hot and jocund, sweet and tasty
Melancholic dusty waltzes,
Never come into my senses!
Hasten me on my conception
Like a pallid drop of blood.

The other remarkable thing about the work is that Schoenberg requires a speaking voice that sometimes sings, but mostly mondestrunken.jpgspeaks, and the score notates the spoken text. This sprechtstimme, spoken voice, was intended for an actor, Albertine Zehme, and subsequently it has always been performed with a female voice. Schoenberg was very specific about how to perform the vocal part, but subsequent performances have taken liberties. Even Pierre Boulez has stated that it might be impossible to perform Pierrot exactly as Schoenberg requires:

In the Preface to the score Schoenberg provides the following instructions relative to Sprechstimme.

The melody given in the Sprechstimme by means for notes is not intended for singing (except for specially marked isolated exceptions). The task of the performer is to transform it into a speech-melody, taking into account the given pitch. this is achieved by:

I. Maintaining the rhythm as accurately as if one were singing, i.e. with no more freedom than would be allowed with singing melody;

II. Becoming acutely aware of the difference between singing tone and speaking tone: singing tone unalterably stays on the pitch, whereas speaking tone gives the pitch but immediately leaves it again by falling or rising. However, the performer must be very careful not to adopt a singsong speech pattern. That is not intended at all. Nor should one strive for realistic, natural speech. On the contrary, the difference between ordinary speaking and speaking that contributes to a musical form should become quite obvious. but it must never be reminiscent of singing.

Moreover, I stress the following concerning performances:

It is never the task of performers to recreate the mood and character of the individual pieces on the basis of the meaning of the words, but rather solely on the basis of the music. the extent to which the tone-painting-like rendering of the events and emotions of the text was important to the author is already found in the music. Where the performer finds it lacking, he should abstain from presenting something that was not intended by the author. He would not be adding, but rather detracting.

That said, Nonsemble 6 probably broke everything Schoenberg cautions against. But, as Boulez indicated, it’s probably totally impossible to satisfy the composer’s intentions here. The vocal part was sung more often than spoken, and the musicians added  more than detracting from the text. Other groups have tried to follow Schoenberg’s admonitions with little success, and so many recordings I’ve heard fail due to excessive singsong speech patterns.

Still, the performance was far more engaging, far more theatrical and powerful than anything I’ve heard or seen since! And what made it all even more incredible is that all the performers MEMORIZED their parts. They played without music stands, or sheet music, and therefore were free to move about the stage as part of the scene. And, they were costumed and face-painted!p41.jpg

Memorized their parts! That seems so impossible. The work is over 30 minutes, comprises 21 separate pieces with different instrumentations and complexities. And some of the pieces are extremely dense and complex, as shown on the right.

One has to wonder if this is really possible. I know I’m incapable of memorizing anything, especially music. But with memorization, especially something as complex as Pierrot Lunaire, how do we know the performance was note-perfect? (Does it matter?) It would be so easy to sorta make it up, and a player could have convinced themselves that they were playing the right notes, but, in fact, they’re not. Only a recording could tell for sure.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, so lets assume it was 90% note-perfect. Still, that is quite an accomplishment. And even tho I thought I heard some things that I’d never heard before in the four or five recordings of Pierrot I own, ultimately these musicians created something totally spellbinding.

One recording I have is with Schoenberg conducting members of the Julliard Quartet and friends, recorded in 1951. It’s a scratchy transcription of the original disks, in mono. The voice is frightening. Not something you’d care to listen to for more than a few minutes. But I’m sure this is pretty close to what the composer intended.

My favorite rendition is by the Schönberg Ensemble with Barbara Sukowa, from 1994. Sukowa is an actress  and a singer, and in all the concert performances I’ve heard, this is the one that seems to convey Schoenberg’s intentions the best. And, it’s wonderfully recorded. (And out of print.)

The group Eighth Blackbird is touring with their production of Pierrot, with actors/dancers and speaker on stage. You can see some of their production here. Apparently they too have memorized the score and perform and act. Maybe this is where Nonsemble6 got the idea. Still, memorizing Schoenberg!?.

Again, Wow! What an event. What an experience!  Nonsemble 6 needs to videotape this!  There is a rehearsal on the first piece, Mondestrunken, on YouTube. But it’s just a rehearsal, even tho they are playing from memory.

SF Symphony :: Adams/Mahler

Sam Carl Adams

This weekend we heard the SF Symphony perform a new work by Sam Carl Adams, a young (27) composer from the Bay Area now living in Brooklyn. (He’s also the son of Berkeley composer John Adams and photographer Deborah O’Grady). MTT conducted a remarkable program that also included an exceptionally excellent performance of the Mahler 5th.

But Sam Adam’s work, Drift and Providence,  was the more remarkable. We tend to expect that, given the chance to compose a piece for full orchestra, a young composer will use that opportunity to throw everything they can think of at you, resulting in quite an unbearable mess. However, what I found remarkable about Sam’s piece is how restrained it was. Definitely a work of sonic colors and not tunes, it had a fairly wide palette, and with a vague reference to the sea there were some recognizable reminiscences of Debussy’s La Mer in the midst. But this only added to the mystery and flow of the piece.

There definitely was a flow, an inertia, that moved the ear along, traveling from one space to another. The SF Symphony is an extraordinary instrument to work with, and the sound colors Sam was able to extract from them here were fascinating, from the very first note (which MTT described as sounding like lighting a match), all the way thru its 20 minutes. And, I suspect that being a bass player, Sam’s ears are tuned to the lower registers better than most, so there were some great subsonics to savor and enjoy.

The words I jotted down on my program at the intermission were just these: colors, restraint, flow, and undertow. Bravos, Sam. And I’d love to hear this one again.

And now for the Mahler: The 5th is certainly a major work, and I’ve heard it many many times. It is one of my favorite Mahler symphonies, altho I tend to drift towards the 7th as being my personal favorite. The 7th is rarely performed, which is good.

trauermarch.jpgI first heard the 5th some 50 years ago in an old mono recording that my Dad had with  Bruno Walter and the NY Phil (or was it the Vienna?). I think it was recorded in the 40′s. I always considered that to be the definitive recording, altho Bernstein, Haitink, Scherchen, and MTT and others could claim the same. At least Walter knew Mahler, so maybe there was some special sauce in that early lo-fi recording. But I loved the “fat” sound of that trumpet in the first measures.

Still, the 5th does hold a special place in my own personal musical history, and I revere it highly. I’ve owned a study score most of my life, and take it with me to any live performance, as I did today. I’ve found that following the score definitely keeps one focused on the music and doesn’t permit the mind to wander. Besides, after buying a recording of a piece of music, I’ve always figured that also buying the score is the highest compliment you can pay to the composer.

And, what a score. So many notes! It always amazes me to think of the effort that Mahler made here, as in all his symphonies.

There’s not much I can say other than it seemed to be a flawless performance, which is what we expect from MTT and the SF Symphony playing Mahler.  One could quibble about a few things, but that’s what makes a live performance different and more exciting than a recording that has been edited and processed ad inf.  I will say that I’ve never quite understood the last movement. It seems to stick out as something having little to do with the emotional turmoil and anguish of the preceding four. It’s very odd, a real rousing and long, repetitive circus piece with a Hollywood ending. I tend to just focus on the impeccable orchestration when listening and try to ignore the basic question of why it’s there. (Which is why I like the 7th more, because it all seems to fit together better).

The first four movements are all, of course, infected with the dit-dit-dit-dah theme of another 5th, Beethoven’s. But how Mahler turns that motif around and around, from funeral march, to silly Tyrolean ditties, to the most serious and dramatic outbursts — it’s total magic. And, then there’s the 5th movement … oh well. It’s a mystery.

Bravo to MTT, the Symphony once again, and to Sam. A great time was had by all.

For a much more professional review of the performance, see Tommasini’s

Dizzy

Disneyland 9/2012

More at Flickr

Change of Plans

So here’s some news. Last week I quit my job. From now on I’ll be working as a freelance, independent tech writer/editor, web designer/photographer etc. Here’s my datasheet.

After some 47 years working full-time as an employee, it will take some effort getting my mind around the concept. Yesterday I deposited my last regular paycheck.

So we’re taking the rest of the month off to let it sink in, flush out the bad thoughts, and celebrate a few weeks of unstructured time before starting some new projects.

It’s a big transition, long overdue.

I Know, I Know …. , What Do I Know?

yes, I haven’t posted much here in almost a year. Perhaps I run out of things to know.

However, you can find me at

White House Photos on Flickr

P072511PS-0543

Pete Souza is the official White House photographer, and a steady stream of his photos are on Flickr. Considering the nature of the subject matter and the situation, Souza’s work is incredible. And, the fact that this daily stream of images is available and public is equally amazing. Those not-so-professional photographers among us can learn a lot by looking at these images! Also, having these pictures, all digital, on Flickr means you can look at the EXIF metadata and see all the details. For instance, Souza uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 800 ISO, a 50mm f/1.2 lens. You can view the EXIF data of any image from the Actions pull-down menu.

For example: P070711PS-0386 (click on image)

These images are amazing, because none are posed or staged. This is life as it is happening. Amateur photographers should look very carefully at these images. There is a lot to learn about framing and, from the EXIF data, the actual mechanics of taking pictures. Notice for one thing how few of these indoor images are taken with a flash. Souza sets his camera ISO to 800 indoors, 200 on a sunny day outdoors, 400 on a cloudy day, and 1600 to 4000 at night or in dark rooms. My favorite (so far, since I haven’t see all these images yet), is this one:

P052511PS-1491

Exposure	0.017 sec (1/60)
Aperture	f/1.6
Focal Length	35 mm
ISO Speed	4000

I know, I know … I don’t know.

So what’s with this blog? Nothing new in months.

I think I’ve lost my appetite for blogging, at least for now.  It’s been hard to come up with verbiage. Work’s been hard. My brain seems to be on “idle”.

Suffice it to say that I have been reading. And this is good. Here’s some that I can recommend, if you’re interested:

Ok. That’s what I’ve been up to, in case anyone’s been wondering.

PLAY BALL!

PLAY BALL

 First game of the season at AT&T Park in S.F. The Giants vs Oakland A’s.

It got quite cold after the sun went down (night game started at 7:15pm).

But the Giants won: 4 to 3. Ex Yankee Hideki Matsui, now on the A’s, made an appearance as the last Oakland batter. He flied out.  Then everyone ran home to get warm.
We were in the bleachers. Everyone had a good time!

Go Giants! Go A’s.

Other Minds 16!

OM 16presented in association with the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and the Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Featuring these composers:
Louis Andriessen (Netherlands)
I Wayan Balawan (Indonesia)
Han Bennink (Netherlands)
Kyle Gann (USA)
Janice Giteck (USA)
David A. Jaffe (USA)
Jason Moran (USA)
Agata Zubel (Poland)

Tickets & Information
Thursday-Friday-Saturday, March 3-4-5, 2011
7pm Panel Discussions / 8pm Concerts
Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF),
3200 California Street (at Presidio Ave.), San Francisco

 

(more…)

My Life As A Programmer – The Early Years

My Forty Years With Computers

Spring (2005) was the 40th anniversary of my first real job.

(This is republished from some blog entries at blogs.sun.com/rchrd. I wanted to preserve these notes, since that blog is now dormant.)

In June, 1965, I started my first full-time job as a computer programmer. I was 21, with a B.S. in Math from Brooklyn Poly. Oddly enough, when I graduated Poly in ’64, I had no idea what I was going to do. I was not a great student, and knew right off I’d never make a great mathematician. And I didn’t play poker, a sign that my career in math would be limited. But along the way as an undergrad I had part-time jobs in the Brooklyn Poly computer center (IBM 650/7044)and learned Fortran and assembly language programming. I even got a teaching fellowship after graduation, the first the Poly computer center ever issued. I taught a course on programming, while at the same time taking Max Goldstein and Jack Schwartz’s Principles of Computation course across the river at the NYU Courant Institute.

This turned out to be a fortunate thing. Because after finishing Max’s course in the Spring of ’65 (I got an A with a term project simulating a Turing machine using a macro language for the IBM 7044), I informally asked Max for a job at NYU. Max was director of the Courant Institute computer center, then run by the Atomic Energy Commission. And I knew they were about to replace their IBM 7094 systems with a “supercomputer” – the CDC 6600.
To my amazement, Max mentioned that someone had just left the group and there was an opening. A few days later I had a job application in the mail and by June an office on the third floor of the new Warren Weaver hall on Mercer Street.

This was probably the most exciting moment in my life. The Courant Institute was world-famous in mathematics. And Richard Courant (a student of the great David Hilbert) was there, up on the 12th floor. I met Courant many times in the elevator. He wore sneakers but was always nattily dressed in suit and tie. There were many other famous middle-European ex-pats at the Institute, and I joined them every afternoon at 3 for tea in the lounge on the 13th floor.

I was 21 and in the company of some of the greatest minds in applied math.

(more…)

Phil Ochs Movie

 Finally, there’s a movie about 60′s folk singer Phil Ochs.

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

And it was reviewed in today’s NY Times.

Two of my Greenwich Village in the ’60′s photos appear somewhere in the film. (I haven’t seen it yet.)

While I didn’t know Phil directly, I did see him often in NYC, usually at rallys, and have a couple of photos of him, altho the film doesn’t use these. They wanted iconic NYC and Village scenes.

Still, I knew people who knew him well, and I heard about his mental instability (this is around 1966), which led eventually to his suicide.

I’m glad he’s finally getting some recognition. A tragic figure of real significance. And apparently this film does him justice.

The film website (click on the photo) lists some show dates.

End of Year Inventory

Here is an inventory of everything Georges Perec ate or swallowed in the year 1965:

Nine beef broth, iced cucumber soup, a soup with mussels. Two sausages Guéméné a sausage jelly, Italian delicatessen, a sausage, four charcutailles a coppa, three pork, a figatelli, foie gras, a cheese head, brawn pork, five of Parma ham, eight block , one block duck, pate de foie gras, a pie, a pie grandmother, a block from thrush, six block Landes, four snout, a mousse of foie gras, pig’s foot, seven potted , a salami, two sausage, hot sausage, terrine of duck, terrine of chicken livers. A blini, a empanadas, a meat of Grisons. Three snails.

(more…)

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About:


Richard Friedman lives in Oakland, CA, is a freelance tech writer/editor, web designer, photographer, is a Director of Other Minds, wrote his first computer program in 1962 for the IBM 650. It played dice. He is also a ham radio (AG6RF) operator, and he also takes a lot of photographs, composes music, and does a weekly radio program on KALW called Music From Other Minds.
He is not Kinky.

View Richard Friedman's profile on LinkedIn

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I started All I Know in June 2004 using Pivot, and
All I Know² Second Edition, in September 2006 using Movable Type.
This is All I Know³ Third Edition, started in March 2008 using WordPress. Read more.


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