Archive for the Sound Category


Posted in Academics, Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal, Sound, Travel on January 20, 2010 by Elephant Talk

There is a compulsion after a long time away from the blog to apologize for inactivity. I’m not going to do that. But this time I have a reason for my inactivity. I was inspired by my friend Tharp, who wrote an excellent post grazing over the highlights (and, indeed, lowlights) of the past 10 years of his life. I decided to write one myself, but it got voluminous and obsessive and turned into a longwinded unfinished project. (I can’t seem to do anything with brevity.) I’m only up to the middle of 2007. I’m into the start of the really good stuff and I just can’t see how I can fill all of those remaining experiences into a small container.

Anyway, that’s the reason I haven’t posted lately. I kept expecting to finish it and pare it down to something digestible for this medium. I will finish it at some point. It’s been an illuminating exercise going through all the joys, heartbreaks, craziness and adventures of the aughts. But by the time I’m done it may be too late to be relevant for a blog. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll post it at some point, maybe I won’t.

In the meantime, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my January.

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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 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.

PIFF: Dust to Dust

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Images, Korea, Personal, PIFF, Sound, Travel on October 15, 2009 by Elephant Talk

In travel, as Spalding Grey used to say, you’re always holding out for that “perfect moment.” With this year’s PIFF festival, I’ve been waiting for my “perfect film” to come along. It almost happened yesterday. For me to really love a film it has to be what I feel is exceptionally well-made and also hit me personally. In short, I want to be impressed and moved at the same time. Dust, a movie out of Luxembourg, accomplished about 95% of each.

Dust is what good cinema is all about. The great thing about movies as a storytelling device is the way they reveal a story through images and sounds. Film is not really about dialog; it’s about presentation. Books can’t do this, and neither can theater. Director Max Jacoby utilizes the full spectrum of what is available in the form to his advantage. Little is said in this movie because the camera and soundtrack take up that narrative role more than any dialog could. Jacoby, through cinematographer Fredrik Bächar, is an expert in blocking and framing. Every shot seems intended to give you a clue about what these three characters are thinking and feeling. It could be choice in focus, a slow dolly into one character’s face, someone intentionally cropped out of the frame, or someone moving in or out of the frame. The sound design also plays a strong role, with liberal use of offscreen sounds. We hear a door open and we wonder; we hear the crackling of glass under footsteps and realize something happened here; we hear the arrival of a car and we feel what that means.

In essence, Dust is a post-apocalyptic love triangle. But the setting is not simply a device. The environment and situation almost acts as a fourth character. It’s something the other three must contend with. It has a say in their decision-making and it forms the particularites of the relationships that have developed and will develop. Jacoby presents the landscape as monumental in size and scope, both containing and reflecting their own dilemma. This space and setting, combined with the sparse dialog, also gives the audience plenty of headspace to wonder how all of this is going to work out. I found myself a lot of times thinking “well shit, they can’t…” or “oh right, so how…?” The slow pace kept me in suspense and kept me wondering. And when that happens, when you realize how involved you are, that’s when you know you’re watching a great movie.

Which brings me to the remaining 5% of this movie that I didn’t like, that being the ending. Again, it’s revealed by the camera, and it was… not hugely disappointing, and not unexpected. But it wasn’t enough. We needed a third act and we didn’t get it. The director had done such a fine job of telling this story and creating an atmosphere of tension, and three minutes before it ends I’m thinking, oh crap, now they have to deal with x. But Jacoby let me off the hook. He had me in suspense and I was gearing up for an interesting final 20 minutes or so, but then he let me go. In short, we needed a conflict and we didn’t get one. I warn you that the next sentence is a bit of a spoiler: Yes, the penguin kept the ring, but the spell was broken without the penguin having to face the consequences of that, so it didn’t really matter anyway.

Still, good lord what a beautiful work of art this movie is. Unfortunately, the movie I saw afterward, The Dust of Time, wasn’t. It was horrible. Seriously, my god, I hated this movie. That wooshing sound you hear is the sound of this movie going right over my head. I had no clue who these people were and what was going on. Well, I did eventually, but by the time I caught up to what the director was trying to do, I didn’t care. Willem Defoe is laying it on so thick that it’s almost campy. This movie has so much melodrama — heavy moments, crying, slow motion — that was empty because I didn’t give a damn. It’s so strange to be watching actors on screen pouring it all out and I’m just empty. And I had to endure this for over two hours. I kept thinking “it has to end sometime it has to end sometime it has to end…” but it just kept going and going and going. After a while I’m just staring at a point in the center of the screen like a laser, not looking at anything, just waiting for the damned thing to end. When that didn’t work I tried to open up some latent telekenetic ability so I could peel the corners of the screen in order to make a paper airplane out of it. Anything just to end the damned thing.

Every movie experience is like a relationship between the maker and the audience member. And in this relationship, maybe it’s not about you, it’s about me. Maybe I just missed what all this passion was about. I’d like to give some benefit of doubt and think that. But I could see other people squirming. And when it finally faded to black and those first text images started to roll onto the screen, people practically lept out of their seats heading for the exits. Usually PIFF-goers will wait for the credits to end, clap, and then leave. But not here.

Luckily this isn’t my final film. I’m seeing my last one tonight, the one I was hoping to see — Paju.

PIFF 2009 – Day 1

Posted in Academics, Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, PIFF, Sound, Travel on October 8, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I’m sitting in the second-floor guest lounge at PIFF Center, which at this time of the day, 4pm, is very active. It’s the first day of the 2009 Pusan International Film Festival. Or, as I like to think of it, the best time of the year to be in Busan. People are greeting and meeting, perusing the catalog, reserving tickets, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, taking pictures, and doing business. As a media professor, I get a guest pass every year. So for a whole week, I watch as many free movies as I can squeeze in and enjoy some prime people-watching.

This spot always brings out an odd combination of young hipster types (filmmakers and film buffs) and older dudes in black suits (producers and other money people). This is like my little slice of Seoul. A good chunk of these folks are down from Seoul, but it also brings out the rare artists within our own relatively humble cowboy town of 4 million. You can usually tell who the directors are — something about the choice in eyeglass frames and sweater pattern. Creative people also, for whatever reason, have that look about them. They carry themselves differently. Outside I mostly see college students hanging out on the beach, laughing and gathering into small groups, just wanting to be part of the action I suppose.

I’ve got four tickets for tomorrow. I like to gravitate toward Korean offerings, or those films that seem weirdly constructed, or have a possible sound design angle to them. Tomorrow I’ll see Scandinavian film Metropia (“Roger hears voices…”), Korean films Dear Music: That is, their fantasy heading for the sea (seriously, that’s the title) and Like You Know It All, and Sleepless by Italian director Dario Argento, a guest at this year’s festival.

I’ll be carrying my laptop around all during the festival, so I hope to post a good supply of updates and reviews over the next eight days. Happy PIFFing!

The Uninvited

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, Sound on September 22, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I guess I’m enamored by the dark stuff. I just finished watching a fantastic Korean horror film called The Uninvited. The Korean name is “A Table For Four,” or 4인용 식탕. Adding to the multi-title confusion, there’s also a U.S. film called The Uninvited, a remake of, not this Uninvited, but a different Korean movie, my favorite so far, A Tale Of Two Sisters, or in Korean, 장화, 홍련.

Confused? Nevermind. The point is this Korean movie is called, in the English world, The Uninvited, and it’s outstanding.

Korean horror films are not really horror films. I would call them scary, psychological dramas. What makes U.S. or European horror different from Korean “horror” is that in the former style, the terror exists outside the individual; in the Korean style, the terror resides almost fully inside the mind. This makes it fun because you’re never sure what’s real and what’s imagined. There is no supernatural boogey man out there. What’s out there is the all too natural world, a world that is sometimes cruel and tragic. What’s horrific is how these characters cope when tragedy strikes.

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Acupuncture v2

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal, Sound on July 14, 2009 by Elephant Talk

My shoulder is turning into an ongoing medical experiment. There are too many previous blog posts to link to, so I won’t do that. I’ve been pretty open about how the damn thing is rotting to the core and nothing shows any hope of saving it. I did a round of physical therapy at one hospital (limited success), another round of physical therapy at another hospital (less success). I’ve taken meds (against my wishes), gotten two x-rays, diligently done exercises, stopped playing music, and tried my best to sleep only on my right side. Evil is winning over good so far.

I’ve stopped short of doing some things my doctors have recommended. I don’t want to do the cortisone injection, because it sounds like it’s more about pain relief than a cure. I don’t want to get an MRI because it’s expensive. So I haven’t gotten a conclusive diagnosis. Rotator cuff strain seems the most likely, as three different doctors have mentioned it. Bursitis is also a likely cause. The pain has shifted and evolved somewhat. The epicenter remains at a small, tender point on the front of my left shoulder. But I’ve got a host of other ailments: muscle strain from compensating, neck pain, nerve problems in the left elbow, and occasional tingling in the last two fingers of that hand. Most of the doctors and therapists say most of these things are probably not related. My body gives me a different message. I can feel something shifting around in there—muscles or tendons or whatever, swimming around, clicking, fighting for space. When I feel that, I feel it in my fingers, and I feel it in my neck. I’m not paranoid; it’s all connected.

So the new adventure in treatments is acupuncture. I’ve done a bizarre version of it before, but nothing happened. This time I wanted to go someplace with some reputation. Dong-eui Hospital has an Oriental Medicine center, which is offered with English translation. So I decided to give this a shot today. I got my blood pressure tested (110/70), met with the doctor, and then sat on a table. He showed me the needles. I, being a wimp, asked if it hurts. “Oh yes,” he said, “we have at least two or three deaths a day.” Ha ha, I laughed. Very funny.

He walked around to my left side, talking to me, and tapped my shoulder casually with the first needle. No pain, no problem. Then he did another, and I’m thinking, this is easy. Then he went in with a third, at a spot far down on the back of my shoulder, near the shoulder blade. A jolt went through me like nothing I’ve felt before. The weird thing that came to mind is that it felt like a sound reverberating around my body, but if the sound were a form of pissed off electrical energy out for revenge. It was as if this jolt, at light speed, hit my right side, then settled somewhere in my midsection. Something shuddered, my lungs or my heart, I’m not sure. I gasped from the shock and felt for a moment like I was going to fall over. He did this weird kind of vocal “coo” like I was a baby who just spit up some milk. And then he drove the damned thing further in, sending these waves of… something… inside my body.

This interplay of benign pokes with the occasional shocking one went on for the next 10 minutes or so. Then his nurse hooked the needles up to a machine and sent some voltage into me. My upper shoulder twitched aggressively. “Is this normal?” I asked. He told me it should feel weird but not hurt. I told him that this was the case. Then he left me and my quivering body alone for the next 15 minutes. A nurse came, detached the metal and electronics from my body and that was that.

The doctor gave me an exercise to try and then asked me: “Do you still feel the pain?” I thought about it. “Well, the pain seems to be better (I thought, unsure), but I feel a little stiff.” He told me to do the exercises and come back Thursday for my next session.

So here we are, in the next round of treatment. The thing I like about the idea of acupuncture is that it’s not a cure, but it helps the body cure itself. In theory, anyway. If it works, great. If not, I’m on to harder drugs, an MRI, and possibly, last on the list, surgery. I’ll give nature a shot at redemption, and save the magnetic resonance and scalpels for when I’m truly desperate.