Archive for the Music Category


Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Music, Personal, Sound, Technology, USA on January 3, 2010 by Elephant Talk

We’re not immune to entertainment hype over here in Korea. We may not get the same deluge of advertising, or have our faces shoved into the trough of the ‘next great thing’ — for which I’m grateful — but hype travels across oceans. It seeps through internet tubes, it buzzes through Facebook status updates. I could feel the hype about Avatar. But I intentionally closed it off. I never saw a trailer, never (intentionally) looked at images, shunned interviews, shut people up during dinner conversations. I did everything I could to wait until it was real. Because I could feel it. I didn’t know what it was. But I could feel that something amazing was coming.

When I finally sat down in the theater and fixed those 3D glasses on my nose, I was going in blissfully ignorant. So I’m not ashamed to say this: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this movie, for that experience. We’ve gotten close in the past 30 years, but nothing got to that place that Avatar got to. All during my childhood, I stared at images of otherworldly places in the pages of Heavy Metal, in the art of Vallejo, Giger and Dean. I’d stare at them and imagine a culture within and beyond the frozen image. What’s beyond this moment? What happened before and after, what’s going on outside the margins? That’s the great thing about geeky fantasy art. The static images allow your mind to fill in the rest; they free you to wonder and imagine. It’s the reason I started drawing pictures, making up stories in my head. But all the time I’d be frustrated because my imagination wasn’t good enough. I kept thinking, “dammit, when’s it going to MOVE?!”

Now it has, for the first time ever in my life, in the way that I’ve been waiting for. I saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977, but I was too young to get it. I soaked up every frame of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. But Avatar, in 3D, was the first time that cinema took me there. I almost cried a couple times and I’ve never cried in a movie in my life. When they first started flying on the dragon creatures, oh my god. Many times in the movie I let out little unconscious, unintentional sounds, little tiny orgasmic sounds. I couldn’t help myself. They finally did it, and I lived long enough to see it. I’ll never get my own personal space ship, but I have this.

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Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Music, Personal, USA on December 31, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I walked into a Japanese ramen restaurant a couple weeks back and saw another foreigner I know. He’s not a friend, but I see him around on occasion and we chat whenever we run into each other. So we sat there at the counter, ate our noodles together, and talked about that subject that foreigner acquaintances talk about when given a small chunk of time: What’s your current situation here? Are you staying or leaving? When’s your contract up for renewal? And then, if given more time (as we were), you move to the next stage (as we did): Compare and contrast our perspectives on life here — or put another way — our life not being there.

When it comes to talk of contracts, work situations, and the familiar threads of frustration that come with it, there’s common ground. But when it comes to talk about life here, that’s when divides occasionally emerge. He and I couldn’t be more different. And it’s probably why we’re not anything more than acquaintances.

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Posted in Academics, Culture, Expat life, Korea, Music, Personal, Sound, Travel on November 21, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Time is, without question, the most valuable resource we have. It is a fixed entity. We know more or less how much of it we have (at the most, anyway), and we are aware of the milestones along the way. Once we get to a certain age, these points become marks of incremental regression in ability, facility, energy.

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately, because I’ve been living primarily in the future for the past three or four months. It seems like everything I do lately is geared toward doing the next thing. This happens when you live by one-year contracts, and every cycle brings about a different signing scenario. I was profoundly disappointed by the last go-round, so I’m pushing myself even harder toward the next thing.

I’m applying for doctoral programs. This is an incredibly time-consuming process. It’s a bunch of maddening details made more insane by the vast body of water that separates me from my native country. Communication lags and takes the form of text, and there are certain things that need to be done in person that cannot be done. There is research, massive amounts of research. There is contact with advisors and students and program coordinators. There is contact with past professors for recommendation letters and advice. There are transcripts to be ordered (this simple thing being a strangely murderous process from my current location). There are statements of purpose to write, things to collect and package, things to consider including. And, of course, my big obsession right now: the GRE. I’m studying like a madman. I don’t know if it will help, but I’m dedicating myself to giving it my best shot. The exam requires a trip to Japan, which requires hotels, air travel, a big plan.

I also have, of course, my regular life. This involves teaching undergraduate and graduate classes, grading quizzes and projects, planning lectures, considering end-of-semester deadlines. It involves musical projects to which I’ve devoted myself. Everything else, including Korean language study, I’ve put on hold.

So this is how I exhaust my time. I’m burning that non-replenishable tank of fuel by preparing. The truth is, I’m not convinced that it will amount to anything. I don’t know yet if a) I’ll be accepted to a good PhD program, and b) I’ll accept an offer that comes to me. I haven’t decided whether or not I’m ready to leave. I like it here. Korea gives me time… to work, travel, write, play, experience. I like my friends, I like my life, I like what the place gives me. But I’m approaching that critical three-year period. From what I’ve seen of the foreigners here, this is the threshold. People who have been here two years talk about a future back home. People who have been here for three don’t. And if I do decide to stay, Plan B involves me staying for a very long time.

This mindset is what’s playing with my brain right now. It’s what has me thinking about time. Even if I wasn’t applying for doctoral programs, I’d still be using my time living in the future. I’d be studying Korean language (a long-term future endeavor), or I’d be re-writing my textbook (for future publishing), or I’d be thinking about new job opportunities.

It’s also got me thinking about the other things I could otherwise be doing with the time I’ve been given. I could be learning to play guitar. I could be expanding as a drummer. I could be mastering MAX/MSP. I could be writing a novel. I could be creating an ambient soundtrack to a non-existent film. I could be… Dancing Nancies.

Ten cinematic observations

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Korea, Music, USA on July 6, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I’ve been watching a lot of Korean movies these days. I’ve seen a dozen or so over the past couple years, but lately I’ve been watching them in bunches.

Korean movies are big on melodrama and heartbreak. Filmmakers want to take you to the heights of joy and the depths of grief all in under two hours.

If a culture can be observed, at least tangentially, through its filmmaking, then Korean cinema reveals a series of distinct and interesting patterns. These observations are based on all the movies I’ve seen, but primarily those those that I’ve watched within the past 10 days or so — A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon), Time (Kim Ki-duk), My Little Bride (Kim Ho Jun), My Sassy Girl (Kwak Jae-yong), and Happy End (Jung Ji-woo).

So here they are: my 10 themes of Korean culture as depicted in film:
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Eight days of music

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Music, PIFF, Politics on June 29, 2009 by Elephant Talk

This sounds fantastic. An eight-day festival of international music.

The festival is set to be staged for eight days in late August at Busan Cultural Center and several other venues, with the city-run philharmonic orchestra performing curtain-raisers in collaboration with world-renowned musicians, he said.

A variety of fringe music events under consideration are a concert at Haeundae Beach, the largest summer resort in Korea; the Moonlight Music Station in Jangsan; a temple music concert at Beomeosa Temple; a Beach Music Festival at Gwangalli Beach; and Classical Music at Chungnyeol Shrine, the official said.

So, kind of a PIFF for music. If they do this right, it could be a real blast. With all their boastings of being a film center, the city organizers actually have been successful in putting Busan on the cinema map. Do the same for music, and Busan could really take off as an arts center in Asia. Everything in Korea is so Seoul-centric. This could help spread things out even more. Back it up with some business support for more studios and facilities and you could start pulling some creative jobs down here. Then everyone wouldn’t have to bolt for Seoul once they graduate college.

Someday I’ll be mayor of this town. My first order of business will be to build a massive underground parking structure in the Kyungdae area, close off all those little alleys to cars, and pave the whole area with bricks. My second order of business will be to take that newly built area kitty-corner from the Megamart in Namcheon, that vast plot of land by the canal there, and support a open-air business park with upper-scale outdoor restaurants. Eat a nice steak, listen to some live jazz, and look out at the lights of the Gwangan Bridge.

I guess that’s all Dayeon-dong. Maybe I’ll start with city council.


Posted in Academics, Expat life, Music, Personal, Sound, Travel, USA on June 21, 2009 by Elephant Talk

It’s not necessarily neglect, more lack of followthrough. I started a few posts, as I can see in my drafts page, and then failed to complete them. It was mostly political stuff, with one big personal one. But on both fronts the winds changed and the news — both out there in the world and inside my brain — quickly became outdated.

Junes and Decembers are strange months for me in Korea. At the ends of semesters there’s always a ramp-up of activities and emotions and confusion that seem to magnetize and explode into… events. It’s different every time, but the feelings are eerily consistent. It all leaves me both exhilarated and depressed. So in the come-down stage, where I am now, I hide a little more than I normally would. Lately I’ve been watching a bunch of movies, playing with sound, reading, and spending a lot of time re-writing my textbook. I seem to be constantly tired lately, but I’ve got a nice little inspirational burst going. It feels good to have time, and it feels especially good to be productive.

Summer plans are set, barring any more last-minute drama. I’ll be in the States late July to late August. It’s my third trip back to the U.S. I’m mostly looking forward to family and food. Mexican food, Indian food, Thai food. We’ve got all that here, but it’s done so poorly that I don’t even bother. I will return a fatter man.

The trip will climax with a wedding in Portland. Two friends whom I miss dearly are tying the knot. It’s gonna be a great week. We’re putting the band back together yet again. We’ve hit the stage in Busan, Gimhae, Singapore, and we’re now set to conquer America.


Posted in Academics, Korea, Music, Sound, Technology on May 19, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Wolfram|Alpha was unveiled today. I’d heard about this a few weeks back — a search engine of computational knowledge. No banner ads, no “supported links,” no… capitalism. Ask it a question and it will do its best to answer.

Google, for all its power and reach, is great. But you usually have to sift through a lot of crap to find what you’re looking for. To me, the two best things on the web are Wikipedia and Youtube. The former is, of course, a communal encyclopedia of just about everything. The latter is a treasure trove of media, letting you see and hear just about any kind of content, from obscure songs to drum lessons. The nice thing about both is you can go in there and find what you’re looking for very easily.

Wolfram|Alpha appears to be trying to take the next step, not beyond Google or Youtube, but beyond Wikipedia. It compensates for Wikipedia’s weakness, in that it can extrapolate what information you’re attempting to seek. Wikipedia’s good when you enter a specific subject. Wolfram|Alpha handles questions, comparative data, events, computations, etc. It’s more like the computer in Star Trek. Ask a question and it will compute from its knowledge database and provide an answer. What’s creepy cool is that it makes assumptions based on what you’re trying to ask.

So it sounds great. Unfortunately, my first attempts didn’t lead to much success. I tried “Korean language outside Korea” and various other combinations, trying to find out how much Korean is spoken outside Korea. It sort of gave me an answer. Ninety-three percent of Korean speakers are in Korea. So that means 7% are outside Korea, but it didn’t tell me where. I also tried “sample rate” and it just gave me an equation without any additional information. “All major scales” returned no results. “D# major scale” did, complete with sound, but I already knew it could do that.

Its creators admit this is a work in progress. I’m excited about it more for its potential that what it is now. Check out the excellent video introduction, and you’ll get a sense of what they’re trying to do.