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Archive for August, 2006

Existentialism

Rene Decartes had just finished lunch at a cafe. The waiter approached his table.

“Would you like a coffee, sir?”

Rene answered, “I think not.”

Poof…

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These items come from a television series that started in the early 1990’s and which is no longer on the air. With each item are one or more questions. At the end are some more general questions. Personally I’m not that much into trivia, but some of these items appealed to me.

  1. Ancient Egyptian Blessing: “May the Gods always stand between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk”. Who said it (1 pt)? What was the occasion (2 pts)?
  2. Dialogue about a food plan:
  • “But I’ll gain weight!”
  • “Well, briefly, yes.”
  • “Figures. All my life I’ve fought against imperialism. Now, suddenly I am the expanding Russian frontier.”
  • “But with very nice borders.”
  • Who were the two people talking (4 pts)? What was the name or subject of the episode (6 pts)

3. “It was the year of fire, the year of destruction, the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth, the year of great sadness, the year of pain, and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is… (6 pts)?; the place: … (3 pts)?”.

4. “Let me pass on to you the one thing I’ve learned about this place: No one here is exactly what he appears. ” Who said this (3 pts)?

5. “The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.” Who said this (3 pts)?

6. “I know, I know. It’s a Russian thing. When we’re about to do something stupid, we like to catalog the full extent of our stupidity for future reference.” Who said this (3 pts)?

And here are the general questions:

  1. What is the name of the series? (2 pts)
  2. How many years did it run? (2 pts)
  3. Who was your favourite character?
  4. What was your favourite episode?

Good luck, and please don’t use search engines for this.

As a final bonus question:

“Ambassador, it is not my place to speculate on how anything gets in your bed.” Who is the ambassador (4 pts)? Who is the speaker (6 pts)?

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Yet another busker post. This act is a cheeky and slightly dirty humour/juggling/contortionist act. The emphasis is on his contortionism, followed by his humour. At one point he saw a lady shooting him. So he gets on his hands and knees, puts a bullwhip in his mouth, and wiggles his derriere at the shooter (I decided it was a little risque for this post). He’s great at improv humour.

His contortionism looked both impressive and somewhat painful. For example, he performed contortionist pushups to warm up. Then he linked his hands together and without letting go or shifting his grip brought them 360 degrees around his body. Then he takes an unstrung tennis raquet, and despite some small but very painful obstructions gets his entire body through it, without losing any body parts nor his shorts. Al had a good rapport with the audience and was what they call a cheeky bugger, and this combined with his technical skills worked very well.

G'day From Down Unda
“G’day from down unda”. Traditional Australian Salutation

Stage 1
Contortionist Push-ups: remember to keep the body flat, and don’t drop the bum.

Theodore Sneaking Up Behind Al
See the twinkle in Theodore’s eye? Theodore Tugboat docks just behind the stage that Al was using. Al didn’t notice until Theodore tooted his horn.

Both Arms Through
This is the beginning of his attempt to got through a tennie raquet. His right shoulder looks dislocated and bent right over. The trick now is to get the arm back to a normal configuration and the raquet under the armpit.

A little con-chested
His voice became a little wheezy, and his volume dropped for some reason. This makes corsets look loose and comfortable. I wonder what would have happened if someone tickled him, or if he had the hiccups.

Friction and Body Piercings
He has nipple jewelry, and now has to negotiate the two “tripwires”. Ouch ouch!

Twang! Rip?!!
Al gets it succesfully past the left nipple ring. Now he has to get up the gumption to pass the right nipple (twang? rip?). One wonders about contortionists wearing body jewelry, but with that avocation maybe masochism is a plus?

The Great Buttinski
The final major barrier, composed of the two peaks of the derriere range. After what has gone before, it was a piece of cake. Some young ladies were betting Al would lose his shorts. I think he held them in place using duct tape.

a quickr pickr post

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This was an education in the frustrations of action photography. First, my camera does have a burst mode, but it isn’t that fast and it has to pause every 5-6 images to store the images. Second, this was at the Halifax Buskers Festival, which means crowds, highly variable weather, and limited shooting angles because of both. Third, Buskers like surprising you and don’t repeat themselves much during an act.

Solutions include trying to get to a particular act early, finding a good spot and keeping it. You should also see an act at least twice. This gives you an idea of where and when to shoot. For fast action, you need uniform lighting so that there is a minimum of backlighting. However, given the available times (for me after work and before dark) this is unavoidable for some acts.

The most important thing is to take lots and lots and lots of pictures, since you can only prepare and compose a shot so much. Also, the acts will change from show to show. And finally, if it gets too frustrating, sit back and enjoy the show. At least you’ll remember what it was like.

The busker act Team Ryouko was a case in point. They perform something called extreme martial arts; I’d call it a hyperactive Jackie Chan style. The techniques they used are a combination of a number of conventional martial arts (Tae Kwan Do, Karate, Capoeira, Kenjutsu, etc), gymnastics, and breakdancing. The idea is to do combat sequences that would fit into movies and other performances.

The first time I saw them was at night. During their warmup they were doing kicks and spins as fast as anything I had ever seen in the movies (including CGI). This was under bad lighting, so I put my camera away and had a ball. After the warmup they did a light-saber sequence that was phenomenal, then they demonstrated various martial arts weapons, including some of the more unusual Chinese Wu Shu weapons. They finished with formation martial arts that at one point turned into country line dancing, to general merriment. I would have had two chances of getting anything useful; fat or slim.

The next weekend I saw them twice in daylight. One occasion was a grey day and I didn’t get a great place to sit. The other occasion was sometime between 4-7 pm and while the surroundings were bright, the performers were in shadow. To expose properly for the fighters would have required too slow a shutter speed to capture the motion, and would also have blown out the background. To expose for the surroundings would have produced silhouettes. I tried my best, and got an education. From about 180 shots, mostly in burst mode, I obtained about 20-30 interesting shots, but less than 10 presentable ones. Many of the shots were standard shots seen too many times before, some of the good compositions and captures had bad exposures, etc.

So these are first tries. Some are conventional, and for others I concentrated on mood and emotion rather than spectacular stunts. One note: all of these images were taken at 1/350th to 1/500th of a second, so any blurs are due to extremely high speed.

Six Feet in the Air
Spin kick with fighter 6 feet in the air

Kids Loved This
…and the parents didn’t look bored either. It was a spin kick with the body horizontal in the air.

Just a Little More... (note the shoelaces)
I think the laces are strong evidence that I caught the kick on the way down. I don’t think this guy has problems with doing splits.

Introspective
I like the expressions of concentration and introspection

Classic Bruce Lee Pose
He does a half-decent Bruce Lee.

a quickr pickr post

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According to the email from PanArt, Hangs are only being custom-made, and you have to go to Switzerland to get a new one. You arrange for an appointment to discuss what you want. Then they build them and you can try them out there as well. The current cost is 600 Euros for the instrument with an extra 60 Euros for a “Swiss-made” bag. In Canadian funds this is $850 and $85, and in American Dollars about $765 and $76.50. The cost doesn’t sound that bad, but touring in Switzerland is not cheap.

After reading the email below, it almost seems like a pilgrimage. Considering the type of music that can be evoked from the Hang, maybe it is appropriate.

Email:

Welcome to Hangbauhaus in Bern, Switzerland

After 5 years of experience with the Hang and its music, the Hangmakers
are no longer working with various standard models, but are creating
their own instruments. These creations are based on our knowledge of
the acoustical properties of the resonance body, our studies of scales
and our musical experience. Each Hang is a unique work of art. We don`t
ship them.

Hangbauhaus

In Hangbauhaus, PANArt`s new workshop space, Sabina Schärer and Felix
Rohner, the two Hangmakers, create their Hang instruments. After the
treatment of the raw material and tuning, the hanghang are brought
down to the Hanghaus, by the riverside.
The Hang tuning is based on D2 (GU-side, Bass), when played on the lab,
D3 (DING, central note) A3, D4, A4 in the outer tonal ring. The other 4
notes are tuned in artistic freedom, creating a bipolar scale.
Example: D2, D3, A3 B3 C4 D4 E4 G4 A4
The GU side is tuned in D to a Ghatam-like sound

Hanghaus

In this old wooden building, where the Hang was born in January of
2000, our guests can play the instruments in a quiet atmosphere. If you
would like to spend a night at the Hanghaus, there is a guestroom with
a kitchen.

Bern

Major train routes, including the TGV, the Euro-City and the Cisalpino
pass through Bern several times a day. Hanghaus sits on the bank of the
river Aare, 20 minutes walk from the main station. Bern is also
reachable by road from all directions.

Hang, signed and numbered including protective shell
Euros 600.- / USD 750.-/ CHF 900.-
(incl. VAT)

Bag (swiss made) Euros 60.- / USD 75.-/ CHF 90.- (incl.VAT)

Are you interested in purchasing a Hang?

Please call us and we can fix a date to meet. If you like, we can
reserve the guest space for you. Details can be discussed by phone or
by mail. Payment cash or with cheque.
If you are looking for a hotel nearby, we recommend The Landhaus
(www.landhausbern.ch)

Tel/ Fax: 0041 (0) 31 301 33 32
email: info@hang.ch
Engehaldenstrasse 131
3012 Bern

With greetings from Hangbauhaus

Felix Rohner Sabina Schärer
Hangmakers

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Since I discovered the Hang Drum at the Buskers Festival, I found out a few things about it. First, the name is pronounced as in the title, and is Bernese Swiss German, meaning hand.

Second, PanArt (the maker) has reduced its distribution to the point that you have to go to Switzerland to get one, or buy one used. The instruments are so popular that people have been hunting for used ones for over a year; they feel like they’ve been left hanging. It seems that many try it, then get fanatical about getting their own. On the other hand, if you want to visit Bern anyway you will get a customised instrument, where you choose the 7-9 notes on the Ding (top) side, and the fundamental base note on the Gu (bottom) side.  And on the third hand, if you own one and hang onto it you could get a pretty penny for it.
Third, if you play it with the Gu side up, it plays like an Udu and can act as a talking drum covering almost a full octave.

Bottom line: If you get a chance, hang around and listen to one. There aren’t that many in existence. With a good musician who is a bit improvisational it can be good to unearthly. Accompanied by a Didgeridoo and some strings it can get downright mystical. And it looks elegant, partially like a Wok and partially like a flying saucer. Since I like stir fry, science fiction, and unusual music with chimes, I was sold.

It will be interesting to see if it stands the test of time. The Hang sounds great and works well with other instruments, especially traditional ones. It also is one of those instruments where you can get the hang of it quickly, but is very open ended (sorry) in how far you can go with it.

Just for curiosity, I’ve emailed PanArt to find out what is going on. I’ll let you know, so hang on for a little longer.

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This was the last act I saw at the Halifax Buskers Festival. Two young men dressed in strange clothes set up some instruments that I recognised (didgeridoos and dgembe drums), and a sound system running from an iMac Power Book. There were also some conventional and unconventional fire show devices. However, the setup didn’t look too complicated. The music was a combination of live playing and pre-recorded music prepared earlier by the musician. It was a wonderful mix of traditional Aboriginal, African, Caribbean, and a bit if electronica. It was mystical and melodious.

Didgeridoo-dah Didgeri-day

Then Jesse Lethridge, the musician in the show, started playing an instrument that reminded me of either a flying saucer or two shallow woks welded together. He laid it in his lap and started playing it like a drum. The sounds that came out of this instrument were totally unexpected. At first it sounded like wind chimes, then it sounded like a group of tuned steelpan drums, and then there were harp-like sounds. It was not visibly electronic, nor was it connected to any amplifier.

I went hunting for information on the Hang, and it took a while, because I wasn’t sure how it was classified; was it a drum, a chime, some sort of bell, or where there bells, chimes or other devices inside? What culture originated it, and how old was it?

It turned out that it was invented in 2000 in Switzerland. It seems that the Swiss became fairly fond of steelpan drums in the 1970s (maybe it goes well with cowbells and alpenhorns)? But they found that the drums deteriorated quickly because of the quality of the steel used, and so they lost good tonality. Then a group of metallurgists, musicians, and scientists looked at percussion instruments around the world and accomplished two things. First, they developed a steel that had very good tonality, and which didn’t deteriorate. Second, they developed a new instrument that is partially drum and partially a chime. The top of the saucer is solid and has nine regions with their own tones. The base has a hole in it and has a rich base tone. By hitting or stroking different sections, you can create the rich variety of tones describe above.

Here are examples of the sound.

Focus Right

Then there were the fireworks. With the mystical and driving beat from Jesse, Alan Star proceeded to create magic, first with devices I’d seen others use at the festival, but with more skill, rhythm, and a more fluid motion. Then he started using some staffs that I hadn’t seen before. Finally he picked up a silver staff that had roman candles on the end. Then it really became interesting, since I had never seen this before outside of a major fireworks display.

Candles Lit
Alan Star from Indijika .

Spinning Up

Fireworking

Spinning Down

Ensemble
Alan and Jesse from Indijika . Theodore Tugboat is checking thinks out from backstage (since he composes a significant portion of backstage…)

45 RPM Single
Alan and Jesse from Indijika .

Wrapture
Alan from Indijika .

a quickr pickr post

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