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Apology for no posting

I didn’t post yesterday because I was doing the State STAR Student selection committee thing all day and all night—such a great time with great kids!  About half of them were GHP alums, and in fact the State STAR was from last summer.

She proceeded to send me a lovely note on Facebook about how much the program had meant to her in general and me in particular.  She took a great many of my seminars, and the one on Licthenbergianism she said had a profound impact on her.  So the idea that I’m cut off from that part of life made me very sad.

And then today is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and I’ve been out in the labyrinth all afternoon getting ready for that.

So no blog post yesterday or today. Sorry.

A Lesson for Peter Jackson

In which I continue to guide and correct filmmaker Peter Jackson

The other night, we were watching nothing on television.  I left the room to get a snack, and when I returned, Cartoon Network was showing The Wizard of Oz.  We settled in, despite the fact that it would have painful commercials and we own the 75th anniversary DVD.  But the DVD was downstairs, and we were not so energetic as to retrieve it and then watch it from the very beginning.

Dorothy and company had reached Oz’s great hall and were making their requests, and then we were off to the West. As I admired the craftsmanship of the moviemaking, I felt curmudgeonly enough to comment that it had all been done without a stroke of CGI.  Matte painting, of course, but there was nothing that was not present in our physical world in that movie.

The scene which prompted this get-off-my-lawn remark was the climb up the crag by the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow, following Toto back to the Witch’s castle.  Like Sam, Frodo, and Gollum’s climb to Cirith Ungol, the set is a simple plaster mountain, backed by fake landscapes.  However, it occurred to me that we didn’t get swooping camera shots showing us the vertiginous peril our heroes found themselves in (despite the fact that Victor Fleming was addicted to boom-shots: remember the Confederate wounded at the depot in Gone With the Wind?); nor did we have to deal with someone falling and having to be rescued; nor did we have to suffer the Lion abandoning the quest only to return at the last minute on top of the castle.

You see where I’m going with this.

No, it was all very business-like: our heroes are risking their necks to climb that crag—we’re not even shown a scene where they have to decide to climb instead of using the road—there’s the “I hope your tail holds out” gag, and ta-da!  We’re hiding out somewhere over the entrance to the castle.

It didn’t take much for me to imagine what the sequence would have looked like in the hands of Peter Jackson.  Besides the aforementioned swooping, fake rescuing, and cowardly betrayal, we would also have had to endure an extended fight sequence with the Winkie guards when they jumped the Tin Man and Scarecrow.  There probably would have been hundreds of guards in the marching sequence, not to mention interminable CGI shots of the castle.  The charming detail of the Lion’s tail swishing through his guard’s coat would be gone, of course, since he would have fled way back on the crag.

Then, with a shudder, I thought of the other scenes that would be completely bloated and overblown: the flying monkeys attacking the heroes in the forest; the entrance to the forest—who knows what other perils they would have had to fight their way through before being attacked by flying monkeys?; the actual rescue of Dorothy from the room; and sweet Cthulhu! the chase around the parapets.  And that’s just in the second movie, Oz: The Desolation of the West.

And for what?  The story would not have been advanced one bit by any of this.  We would end up exactly where we were to begin with.  The mood would not be enhanced: hello, “flying monkeys” is already universal code for creepy/scary/terrifying.  (Sorry, One Upon a Time, making their bites infectious doesn’t up the ante.)

So, Peter Jackson, go back and watch The Wizard of Oz.  Make your notes, give rein to your wildest impulses, flesh that sucker out.  Now go to a nice, quiet place and study why The Wizard of Oz is a great movie.  Look at your impulses and compare them to truly great movie-making.  Then figure out how to make part three of The Hobbit ninety minutes long.  You’ll be doing the world a favor.

For those who think I’m being too tough on poor Peter, here’s a thought experiment.  Suppose it were announced tomorrow that Peter Jackson was doing a remake of The Wizard of Oz.  (You may make casting suggestions in the comments.)  Can you doubt that it would be in two parts, and that all these concise scenes would now be action sequences lasting at least 15 minutes each (25 for the climactic chase around the castle)?

Would you want to see that movie?

(I do however want to see your suggestions for Peter Jackson’s version of The Wizard of Oz in comments.)

New cocktail: the Jellybeanitini

I know, it’s a horrible name no it’s not it’s adorable.

For our Easter luncheon gathering, I was requested to come up with a “signature cocktail.”  I was going to be lazy and steal something from the intertubes, but I didn’t like the sound of most of them.  Have you ever considered dissolving jellybeans in vodka?  Someone has, and it’s not a pretty sight.

The idea of a jellybean cocktail was appealing, though, and so I set about creating one.

Lyles’ Guideline #1 for Cocktail Creation is simple: go first for whatever has been flicking about your consciousness.  That would be orgeat, an almond syrup which shows up in several forgotten cocktails but which is not available at most of your Krogers.  When I came across some at the Decatur Package Store (of course), I snagged it.  (The linked article suggests it’s easy to make, but anything involving three layers of cheesecloth automatically becomes “involved” in my book.)

What does one use it for?  Mai Tais and other tiki drinks—of which I am not a fan—use it, and so does the very old Japanese Cocktail, a very tasty concoction.

Long story short: a serendipitous excursion to the grocery store for supplies and a couple of trial runs later, I had the Jellybeanitini.  I’m as proud of the name as I am of the drink.  (A quick googling reveals that the name already exists, so I can only be proud of coming up with the name independently.)

The Jellybeanitini

  • 1.5 oz brandy
  • 1.5 oz cranberry/blueberry/blackberry juice (yes, that’s a thing)
  • .5 oz orgeat
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • almond/lemon sugar
    • to make the sugar: 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tsp almond extract, zest of 1 lemon

Rim the martini glass with the sugar.

Combine all ingredients in the shaker with ice, shake, and pour.  Garnish with a lemon slice or lemon peel.

It’s kind of a hybrid between a Cosmopolitan and a Sidecar.  Yes, it’s sweet, but it also has the citric acid overtones that the really good jellybeans have, plus the mystery of the almonds.  It’s worth having two.

Christmas Carol update

If you thought that I would find a way to avoid plowing ahead and finishing the Finale, and hence Christmas Carol, you would be a winner.

I have successfully distracted myself from that accomplishment by updating the software that runs this blog (WordPress) and by forcing myself to start hammering out abortive attempts on another piece that I have promised to compose for over a year now.

This piece is a simple art song (ha!) for a friend, John Tibbetts.  John attended GHP in 2008 as a Social Studies major and for some reason decided that I would make a dandy mentor as he moved from high school to college.  So he latched on to me, and I’m fine with that.  It’s been a warm friendship through good times and bad for both of us.

John is a preternaturally gifted lyric baritone majoring in opera at Georgia State University, whose program oddly enough is a national standout.  He recently starred as John Proctor in Robert Ward’s The Crucible; both he and the production were topnotch.

Anyway, some time ago I offered to write him a song for his senior recital. Since his junior recital is tonight, it’s probably a good idea to get started on the piece, even moreso because his star is rising swiftly and if I don’t do it now, he will be too far above my skills to even look at performing it.  (He’s already acquainted with much more famous composers.)

I’m using a text that is an intense love song, a song of obsession and frustration, in which the singer confesses that he is so blinded by his lover’s beauty that he cannot be sure he’s ever really seeing or touching her herself.  It’s a text I think young Mr. Tibbetts will understand intimately.  So all I have to do is to match that passion in the music, right?  Right.  Expect this one to be a 6 on the LSCA.

Update: And I’m done with the Finale.  Ha, and also double Ha!

Christmas Carol update

I’m on the final piece of A Christmas Carol, the Finale.

Out of 160 measures, I’ve poured in about 60 of them.  This piece is proving a little more difficult than the rest, because my memory of it is based entirely on the fully orchestrated accompaniment I had programmed back in the 90s.  Now I’m having to reimagine it with a much skimpier ensemble.

At the moment, I’m just plugging notes back into the score just to get me from rehearsal letter to rehearsal letter, and then I’ll go back and make it sound as full as I can.  Fair warning to the synth keyboard player: hope you can divide that keyboard into two separate instruments.

Astrophysics—how does it work?

Remember our discussion about how the brains of conservative humans tend to operate from a basis of fear?  John Hagee, Christianist TV grifter extraordinaire, has exemplified the syndrome for us.

You are probably aware that last night was the first of four total lunar eclipses, popularly known as “blood moons” because of the color of the shadow cast by the earth onto our satellite.  Apparently, having four of them in six months intervals like that is unusual.

HOW UNUSUAL, you ask?  Let’s let John Hagee tell us:

“Is this the end of the age?” Hagee asked during a recent sermon, before quoting Acts 2:19-20: And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

“I believe that the heavens are God’s billboard, that he has been sending signals to planet Earth,” he explained. “God is literally screaming at the world, ‘I’m coming soon.’”

Hagee predicted that the four eclipses were signaling a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.”

“God sends plan[e]t Earth a signal that something big is about to happen! He’s controlling the Sun and the moon right now to send our generation a signal, but the question is, are we getting it?”

[from Crooks and Liars, 4/14/14]

I’m surprised he didn’t quote Joel 2:31, but perhaps he’s saving that for today’s live broadcast.  That and its analog from Revelation because of course he will.

Where to begin?

First of all, John, what exactly could you mean by “[god's] controlling the sun and moon right now”?  Are you suggesting that he is causing them to move in a way that is creating these four eclipses at times that they would otherwise not occur?  Because that would indeed be FREAKING AWESOME SIGN FROM GOD, wouldn’t it?  The whole planet would be a-quiver with wonderment.  Tides would be disrupted; sunrise/sunset apps on our phones would be worthless.  Scientists would be roaming the streets in sackcloth and ashes, flagellating themselves for their disbelief.  Dogs and cats, etc., etc.

Because if that’s not what you mean, then here’s a simple question for you, John: How do you know about the four consecutive lunar eclipses in the first place?  That’s like 18 months of seeing into the future, you know?  ARE YOU A PROPHET, JOHN?  Because that would be a FREAKING AWESOME SIGN FROM GOD, wouldn’t it?

Oh, wait.

This is where I want Anonymous to hack into Hagee’s live broadcast and say:

The very fact that John Hagee knows about these four events 18 months in advance is because they are simply natural occurrences, just like sunrise and sunset.  The earth rotates, the earth orbits. So does the moon.  Like your windshield wipers and the song on the radio, every once in a while they will match up at exactly the right moment.  We know about these patterns, and we know when they’re coming.  That is all.  If you think that they are a sign from God, a portent, then you will need to consider the fact that the last tetrad was in 1967/68, and the one before that in 1949/50.  There have been two previous tetrads within John Hagee’s lifetime—did he ignore God’s message those two times?  Why are you afraid?


Oh, Peter Jackson, you scamp

We streamed The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug last night.  You may recall that I had sworn not to watch it until I could fast forward through all the Peter Jackson bits.  Despite all my friends and relations assuring me that it was a lot better than the first one, I held out.

I was right, of course.  It is a lot better than that first installment, but it is still overlong and still too full of Jackson’s signature whizbang/stupid crap.  Did I call it with the barrel escape from Thranduil’s realm?  I did.

Jackson is not alone in loading down his movies with whizbang/stupid.  It was Roger Ebert, I think, who railed against car chases that did not advance the plot, and that has spoiled almost every action film for me since.  What is the point of having the orc squad make it all the way to Laketown when we  know it won’t make one difference in the plot?  If Jackson were a bold storyteller, he might have killed off those children and/or a dwarf or two.  Not the pretty one, of course, we need him for the hot dwarf-on-elf romance (and for the remake of Poldark, YOU GUYS!) but surely his brother was expendable.

Likewise, the entire romp with Smaug through the halls of Erebor was just a time-waster, almost inexplicable in its complexity, completely without purpose.  After all the business with the molten gold, the end result was that Smaug shook it all off and flew off to Laketown, which he was going to do anyway.  Not very evil or clever to allow himself to be distracted from his purpose in that way, I thought.

Here’s the worst part: the entire third movie will be action/fight/battle sequences.  All of it.  Every single CGI frame of it.  A quick check in my copy of The Hobbit shows there are only five chapters left in the book: Smaug attacks Laketown and is destroyed; Thranduil marches on Erebor and besieges it; Bilbo sneaks out with the Arkenstone; Battle of the Five Armies; the good guys win but Thorin dies; Bilbo goes home.  The End.

Now imagine that three hours long.

My worst fear is that, like Éowyn’s scene with the Nâzgul in Return of the King, Jackson is going to screw up the ruin of Smaug, one of the more thrilling paragraphs in all of Tolkien.  I’m betting Radagast will be involved.

So here’s my unsolicited advice for Peter Jackson: hire someone, pay someone huge sums of money to sit in story conferences with you and your team, and the moment one of you says, “Ooh!  You know what would be cool?”, that person says, “No.”

The Lyles Scale of Compositional Agony

My good friend and mentor Dianne Mize asked in a recent letter—yes, I write letters; I’m kind of addicted to it—how hard it was to write the Cello Sonata No. 1, and I joked that on the Lyles Scale of Compositional Agony it was about a 7.  (That reminds me that I actually have to post that letter…)

Hm, I says to myself, Self, that would be an amusing blog post.

And so here it is, my task avoidance of the day.  (Sorry, John Tibbetts II, I really meant to work on your song today…)

[Note: in my letter, the '7' was on a 10-point ascending scale.  On the Revised Lyles Scale of Compositional Agony, composing the Cello Sonata would have been been a 5.]

Lyles Scale of Compositional Agony

1NirvanaYou regain consciousness to find that the piece is done. Angels are singing and small woodland creatures frolic about you adoringly.
2BlissYour work flows from your mind exactly as you imagined it, and you have to work fast to capture all the ideas that keep coming. You don‘t even need that second cup of coffee.
3GroovingYour ideas come easily and allow themselves to be wrangled into the piece without too much of a struggle. Your lovely wife thinks it‘s pretty. Take a break—you‘ve earned it!
4HumanMeh. You‘ve got a piece to write, and it takes a while, but it finally all fits together and is good. You have that second cup of coffee and think about working on a new piece. Soon. Ish. Probably.
5SludgeThe work won‘t come at first, but after beating yourself with a sledgehammer, you finally get something on the page. Maybe it will look better after you ignore it for a few days. Perhaps a trip to the Amazon would help. Eventually you assemble what crap you‘ve come up with into something vaguely resembling a piece of music.
6HellIdeas will not come. You resort to inserting notes randomly onto the screen, hoping that one or two of them will stick. You consider rending your flesh for inspiration. What should have been a simple transition becomes a life-and-death struggle with Satan. You do your taxes just to avoid working on the piece.
7Harsh RealityNo ideas come, and what appears on your paper FELLATES HUGE MAMMALIAN GENITALIA. You are revealed to the world as a complete fraud, and on YouTube people use your past accomplishments to symbolize pathetic self-delusion. Small woodland creatures mock you. You abandon your life‘s work, and the universe breathes a sigh of relief.

You may make suggestions for additions and revisions in comments.

Merciful Cthulhu, Jim DeMint edition

This is what happens when we let Jim DeMint talk: the rise of the Old Ones and the Madness.

This is the kind of thing that drives me into impotent rages, shaking my tiny fists at the universe.

So Jim DeMint, former senator from South Carolina, goes on a Truth* in Action radio show and says that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.

I’m not even going to get into a debate with this person about the historical record.  My concerns are rather with the framework here.  This man went on a radio show and stated point blank a lie so egregious that any elementary student could win that “debate,” and he did so without any fear of being called out on it.  He can say whatever he wants, and no one is going to say, “Hey, wait a second…”

My biggest fear for our nation is that this kind of lying simply breaks our citizens’ ability to remember history and apply its lessons.  A lie of this size simply pegs out the WTF-o-meter in most peoples’ heads; it goes sproing and they can never again distinguish truth from BS.

Indeed, now the right-wing Wurlitzer can use this lie as a statement in their own assault on an informed citizenry: “As Senator DeMint set the record straight in 2014, the federal government had nothing to do with ending slavery, and so the big government liberals should just back off pushing for legal protections for [insert right-wing boogieman du jour here].”

And to think that the Heritage Foundation used to have a plausible claim to status in the policy world.  Mercy.


*for differing values of Truth

P.S. I hope everyone downloaded their paper cut-out My Little Cthulhu

Horsefly Rag, part 2

OK, we’re going to pretend this piece is finished.  For all that I know, it is: it’s 1:45 long, and it has a great ending.  So what if the middle is crap?

I really do like the ending.  It’s subtly different/improved from the original version I posted Monday, including some happy accidents.  I love happy accidents.  They make it sound as if I’m wildly inventive when really it was a slip of the keyboard.

Yes, it could probably use another 20-30 seconds after the surprise in the middle.  For the time being, I need to follow Frank Gehry’s advice to his design teams: “Let’s let that sit there for awhile and annoy us.”

Horsefly Rag, as of 04/09/2017: score | mp3