Thursday, 30 April 2009

On The Same Wavelength

Hazy memories from the 70s: Me and my mate Lars sitting in the boys' room with an old radio, tuning through the short-, medium- and long-wave bands. In between crackling and distorted signals we occasionally hear voices in foreign languages. A taste of the world outside parish pump.

Today FM, DAB and all sorts of newfangled ideas have taken over most of the radio medium. And thanks to the internet all the stations of the world are just a click away. With a little, inexpensive gadget you can turn your computer into a world radio. Or just download some freeware that serves the same purpose.

Despite the superiority in quality, however, this still can't beat the good, old wireless; crackling signals from a transmitter in another part of the world, coming through the ether. These days radios with more than an FM reception are amnost obsolete, but lately I've decided to find a radio with all the classical wavebands. And finally I discovered an obscure distributor offering a good, old-fashioned world radio.

Now I've tried it out for a couple of days, and ascertained that my concrete apartment block doesn't exactly offer ultimate conditions for radio reception. On the roof, however, things work better. The short wave has a lot of rubbish, of course, but that too has a certain charm. On the medium wave, however, I sometimes receive signals that I guess you could call radio transmissions. In any case, you get a peculiar feeling tuning through the wavebands a late night under the stars...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Launching The Dictionary :-)

Today (on World Book Day, even) I finally got a chance to behold my dictionary in all its glory, as the publisher sent me a copy - along with a nice bouquet to celebrate the launch. It has become a neat little thing with an appealing appearance. (Fortunately they managed to fix the dubious flag in time...)

At the same time I hardly dare opening it, worrying that it might explode in my face. Or at least be filled with silly mistakes. If the publisher is responsible, I'll be annoyed. And if it's my fault, I'll be embarrassed. I don't know what's worse. But at least it LOOKS good! :-)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter Fright

Easter is sort of an indefinable festival. Christmas is less complicated in that respect. Then there are Santas and pressies and candles and cosiness and the company of family and friends. Plus a bit of Baby Jesus and Nativity sets for those who believe in the stories in the Holy Scripture.

As I said, Easter is a bit more difficult. Sure, you've got the religious part, with suffering, death and resurrection. There's also the typical Norwegian mountain Easter, going to the cabin to ski, eat oranges and drink hot chocolate. But neither of these is really my kind of Easter.

For those who neither feel like carrying crosses nor going to the mountains, there's also a third alternative, i.e. the kind of Easter characterized by fear and fright. Detective stories have for a long time been part of the Easter tradition over here, and it's probably also not a mere coincidence that the metal crew have made Easter the arena for their shock rock festival, Inferno...

Speaking of Easter fright: Last year I was rather pleased to see that the scariest of all Disney stories was republished during Easter. Ghosts, skeletons and Gothic castles are perfect for this festival. And this year I found it quite fitting to air Tim Burton's animated movie Corpse Bride by the beginning of Easter.

I actually hadn't seen this movie before, but since its predecessor The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my all time favourites, it was actually about time. Some might say that its sequel is just more of the same, but when "the same" is as good as this, who cares? The humour of these "scary" movies fits me like knuckle hand in glove. Skeletons are awesome. There's something about the way they walk...

The plot, the imagination, the details, the characters - altogether it's almost ingenious! In its macabre way Corpse Bride have actually got more comedy and romance than most other "rom-coms" - and Burton's puppets more soul than most Hollywood actors in flesh and blood. (In this movie Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter do some of their greatest performances...) Frightful and delightful Easter entertainment.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Ultimate Easter

Easter is sometimes referred to as "the silent week". Silence is good, but can sometimes get a bit boring. I probably should have travelled somewhere on holiday, but instead I'm stuck here in the capital. And although I suppose Easter in the city isn't that bad, it does require a certain ability to busy oneself. Fortunately, I've got a long experience in this matter.

A quarter of a century ago, I remember spending great parts of Easter down in the basement. Our family had just got our first home computer - a technological wonder with breathtaking 32 kilobytes of memory! As a consequence we also got access to various computer games. These seem totally obsolete today, of course, but back then they generated hours of entertainment and adrenaline kicks.

I've got particularly nice memories about the games from the game manufacturer Ultimate. Despite the technological limitations this company made several legendary games with a peculiar atmosphere. Sure, I've encountered games with a hundred times better graphics later on, but none of them can compare with the experiences once generated by these 8-bit games.

And this Easter - 25 years later on - I've once again returned to these games, as it's possible to download most of them from the internet! Consequently, I've had several great re-encounters with classics like Sabre Wulf, Knight Lore and Underwurlde the last couple of days. It's almost like returning to the '84 volume of Computer & Video Games.

Besides, I've also encountered various PC-remakes of these classical games. Some people may be a bit sceptical about this kind of revisionism. I guess it's a bit like relaunching Casablanca in colour and with digital special effects... But at the same time it's a bit cool seeing classics like Atic Atac, Alien 8 and Lunar Jetman in slightly updated versions. All in all, fun pastime during Easter.

PS. Tonight I dreamt that I was in a 1st person/3D version of Sabre Wulf. Cool in many ways, but also a bit tiresome, constantly being hunted by spiders and Indians. I guess one ought to reduce one's PC-playing somewhat...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Everything and Nothing

One of my all time favourite records will always be David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive (1987). It contains several melodious and acoustic gems, often with a hint of jazz that makes even someone like me feel benevolent towards this genre. (It also a plus that the cover is made by 23 Envelope, usually known as the house designers for the 4AD label...)

A lot of Sylvian's remaining work is a bit too ambient to my taste, though. There's probably a reason why my iPod automatically recognizes his tunes as "General New Age"... Some songs are also characterized by disordered art rock and wailing Robert Fripp guitars.

All the same, when our man released his first solo album in twelve years in 1999, Dead Bees On A Cake (the guy seems to have a fixation on bees...), I was curious to see if he'd got back to the vibes on the Beehive record. Well, at least the album shows that the then 41-year-old Sylvian was pretty happy with his life at that time. He'd got a pretty wife, had become a family man, and obviously had discovered spiritual harmony. (In other words, there's hope for all of us...)

Musically, however, I find this record sleep inducing rather than evocative. In this respect it reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd's notorious sleeping medicine Ummagumma (although the listener doesn't wake up in a state of panic by a diabolic tritonus chord midway through side 3...)

After this little disappointment I haven't really paid much attention to David Sylvian's later musical achievements. But the other day I dropped in at the library's musical department and started browsing through the ST-SY category of the cd rack. I was actually looking for a totally different artist, but suddenly I came across a Sylvian record I didn't know about, Everything and Nothing (2000).

It turns out that this is actually a compilation cd with several songs from the Japan era, his solo career, as well as various collaborations. For me it was a reminder of how many great songs the man has made. Never commercial, but often fascinating. Several of the tracks were also previously unreleased material, and made me realize that many of the best tunes from Secrets of the Beehive and Dead Bees On A Cake are actually those that never were included on the original albums...

When music is concerned, I'm primarily focused on the melody. The lyrics are usually subordinate. (It's not a coincidence that my all time favourite band is the nonsense babblers of The Cocteau Twins.) But although I haven't performed an in-depth analysis of David Sylvian's lyrics, I still intuitively feel that they have a timeless, classic quality that's substantiating the moods of his songs. Right now David feels both real and right.