Saturday, January 31, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "The Oath"

The new episode, "The Oath," confirms the suspicion I had in my last review. This mutiny storyline will eat up a lot of time I would have rather seen spent on solving the mystery of how Cylons can be an older "race" than we were told.

You can watch the episode here, without commercial interruption, if you missed it. And if you missed the other two episodes this season, you can go here for the links.

There is something regressive about this storyline. It would have been a great episode back when they were having stories like the one about Adm. Cain, the Pegasus and how Adm. Adama almost mutinied on her for reasons just the opposite of Zerak's and Gaeta's. Cain was too ruthlessness, she shot her own executive officer (XO) and she let her crew torture and rape Cylon prisoners. She had let them sink so far into savagery that it was doubtful they could ever again become civilized. In fact, two characters from Cain's ship have joined with the mutineers and they seem intent on picking up where they left off, raping the Cylon women.

When Tyrol and Helo killed one of the Pegasus's officers for trying to rape Helo's wife, Adama was ready to launch Vipers and a Raptor full of Marines in order to take them back from the Pegasus brig. Cain was ready to counterattack. Starbuck was ready to shoot Cain.

And there was another mutiny, on the poo-barge. The one that cost Gaeta his leg. As they keep saying, "all this has happened before..." This is the third mutiny. Come on, if even your robots can't follow orders like robots should and they rebel on you, why would you treat people like robots? A soldier's faith in your command decisions still has to be earned and you have to keep your ears open for doubts about your decisions so that you know when you need to explain or compromise.

This story worked in the same way as the other mutiny stories, it was visceral, angry, tense, raw and action packed. Everyone's old resentments and fears were on display. And I think it will be the best of the three mutinies we've seen. Gaeta and Zarek pulled off their mutiny in a much smarter and more devious way than Adm. Adama or the poo-barge mutineers. Gaeta and Zarek were meticulous in their set up. In fact, Gaeta and Zarek are so devious that it may undermine the trust of their fellow mutineers. Everyone on the bridge saw how callously Gaeta lied to everyone who trusted him to set up the mutiny. He's undermining their faith by doing that.

The problem is that we've already been there and done that even if this one is the best mutiny on the show. Another aspect of the show's regression was the way Baltar and Roslin snipe at each other. I thought they had gotten past that after what had happened in "Hub" episode. The writers seem to be slipping back into the old conflicts they know how to write instead of developing the new ones, like the conflict the characters should be concerned about but cannot be now. The conflict between what 2,000 year old Cylon memories and the fact that we've all been told that Cylons were of more recent manufacture. That's a mystery story instead of an action story, at least it could be if someone cared enough to investigate. They need to be thinking "is our whole history a lie?" By my calculations there are only 7 episodes to go and we are no closer to answering that question.

Now the characters don't even have time to think about that and previews for next week’s episode look like the show will still be dealing with the mutiny and leaving them only six episodes left for answering the questions they raised.

I hope they had an end game in mind. These last half dozen episodes shouldn't be retreading old territory like this unless they've got something I'm not seeing in mind. How does all this get us closer to understanding the shared visions of the opera house? How can they answer why Earth was like it was when they haven't left a scientific team there to tackle the questions and report back?

And remember, TV Tyrant has the BG blog carnival:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free music software; MagicScore Classic 5

I just downloaded a free program for writing and playing music called "MagicScore Classic 5." If you're interested you can start here to learn more:

The version I have is a freeware version of "MagicScore Classic 5," it's music composing and composition software and the full package would cost somewhere around $59.95 or $69.95, a more expensive version, called "MagicScore Maestro 6," is selling for $109.65 if you want more advanced functionality.

Both programs use the same common musical grammar you might have learned in any music theory class. The kind of theory you can learn or, like me, brush up on, at Ricci Adams' or at Think Quest.

That means that if you're following Bear McCreary's blog you can copy his little snippets of music notation onto the music bars and play the music in lots of different kinds of virtual instruments and even compose for an orchestra or band.

In fact, someone who can’t read music, The19thNervousCylon, on Bear's blog asked if Bear could do some type of HTML coding whereby the music notes Bear showed could be played as an audio snippet, something clickable. However, Bear said he was swamped just doing the blog and scores, but it was a revision he'd think about in the future.

It would seem that MagicScore has such a feature, an online player I can link through my blog. As soon as I learn how to use it I may subject my poor readers to the next evolution in Metal; Squid Metal. It will come from a band that doesn't exist, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis.

Other than that I'm not entirely sure what else the MagicScore software does, but it apparently does a lot. (I've only played with it for a day or so.) You can import and export scores in MusicXML, MIDI nd karaoke format. The standard editing features are there; copy, paste, delete, and transpose either a single note or entire selected blocks. You can do guitar chord tabs and most of what you might expect for such a program. It's like Microsoft Word for music notation.

I've also grabbed a couple of virtual synthesizers, Tekky Synths' PsYbAsSyX, a new free bass synth for Windows, and Physic Modulation's plug-ins for a synthesizer I don't yet have; Arptron, Meteorite and Pandemonium. Apparently Physic Modulation went out of business and is now giving away its software. Their website is now an archive for the freeware.

Anybody else out there using this kind of software? Got any advice?

Like the other music posts, on Bernard Herrmann, Devil music, and Christmas Metal, this one will probably get updated later with your help.


I got some advice on software from Bear McCreary by asking, on his blog, what software he used. He uses Sibelius. I assume that means Sibelius 5. It sounds similar to the MagicScore programs as far as function, but I'd assume you'd probably get better sounding instruments to play your music on Sibelius. MagicScore has some really poor MIDI imitations of an electric guitar. Also, the price for Sibelius 5 is about ten times more, $599.00, which is more than I paid for this computer.

Am I that serious? I'm not sure yet. I'll doodle around in my spare time with the MagicScore program for a few weeks more and then see how I feel. Right now it does feel like I've got some creative fire burning in my brain. I feel inspired now but it may not last. I get creative compulsions in every art form from time to time, painting and drawing, story writing... Hell, I've got an unfinished novel I haven't touched in over a month. The fire has to burn pretty hot before I'm willing to put up with the frustrations and the discipline of an art form I haven't taken seriously since just after high school. I used to play in a rock band, but I wasn't that good and my tastes in music are so out-of-the-norm I'm doomed to have a small audience... if any.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Part 2: Battlestar Galactica: "The Disquiet That Follows My Soul"

Check out the Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, "So say we all" to get other opinions.

In the first part of my review I expressed some disappointment with this episode, but there were still a few crumbs of some excellent stuff even here.

First, Baltar has taken another major shift in his world-wiew. We see him preaching an angry sermon aimed at God saying things like this to his flock; "what have you done to deserve this punishment?" Bear McCreary in his blog called it a "sermon brimming with atheistic rage."

Which makes me wonder if McCreary understands atheism. You can't be angry at God unless you believe that God exists. It would be like being angry at Santa Claus for not giving you a new car for Christmas. If you're angry at someone, then you believe that someone exists. However, there is a kind of empathic anger that one can feel at God which is more like the anger you feel at fictional villains in movies, but that is not what Baltar was doing. Another kind of anger that Christians think is anger at God is when atheists express anger at the Christian in question. That's really more like Starbuck's anger at Gaeta. Starbuck doesn't really hate Gaeta, she hates his bigoted and paranoid ideas about Cylons. If Gaeta changed his tune, Starbuck's anger would evaporate. You can see plenty of that kind of atheist anger on Ray Comfort's blog, I've dealt him a few insults myself.

Baltar's anger may lead to his followers and himself questioning God, but it wasn't explicit. McCreary says that Baltar "questions the existence of God and tries to understand the tragic revelations of Earth." I didn't see that. I saw Baltar merely react to that revelation with a kind of childish and self-centered way which was very revealing of Baltar's character for such a brief slice of time. It's that very self-centered, egocentric attitude that you really have to question to become an atheist. It is religions like fundagelical Christianity that preach that you are so special and important that you are loved by the creator of the universe. It is science that has shown us how small and insignificant we are.

However, McCreary probably saw a different cut of the show for he also says; "...Head Six appears and attempts to comfort Baltar." That never happened in the version I saw and when a commenter asked why not, McCreary said:

You might be right. The version I scored was the director’s cut. To be honest, I’ve never even seen the shorter version that went on the air! So, yeah, I’ll bet that wasn’t in the episode last night. Too bad, too, it’s a great musical moment.

McCreary also says nothing very important was said by either, it merely reinforced Baltar’s despair and that Head Six disapproves of his blasphemy.

WTF! I think I would have rather have seen that Baltar/Head-Six scene than the one between Gaeta and Starbuck where they just insult each other. I had no idea that Head Six was still with Baltar much less that she disapproved of his "blasphemy." Since when are expressing real emotions and questioning God "blasphemy"? Why doesn't McCreary know that's an important clue we were not given. If Head Six said that it would be another clue that Baltar was a Cylon tool because that is nakedly manipulative. "Do not question me! Just fear me." Maybe they should fire the editor.

McCreary says another scene cut from the aired show was between Gaeta and Tigh where Tigh tries to put Gaeta in his place and you see the anger broiling up in Felix. Sounds like the scene between Gaeta and Starbuck. If the Tigh and Gaeta scene was really good, then why cut it and replace it with the Starbuck and Gaeta scene? That scene was one of the weaker ones in the show. The acting was good but the dialog was pretty weak, especially Starbuck's insults.

Another thing Baltar's sermon accomplishes is that it gets the crowd worked into a frenzy, even before a fight breaks out between Tyrol and Hotdog (which has nothing to do with the sermon, it was because Hotdog fathered the child that Tyrol though was his). If Baltar were rational enough to think about what he's doing he might realize that he's near to blowing an opportunity to increase his flock. Now that the Pythian prophesies look bogus there might be a lot more people looking for a new religion.

Baltar might become a conscious fraud as he gains power from his religion while he ceases to believe in God. He could invent reasons why God might not be happy with them and one of them might be that they don't serve Baltar enough. Start passing around that collection plate and see if you want to vocally doubt God now, Baltar.

The second really nice tid-bit in this episode was what has begun to happen to Roslin. She's getting tired of being president and she wants out. She's lost hope and wants to stop and smell the roses before she dies. Let me quote again the anti-hope argument from H.L. Mencken I used in my post "The Dark Side of Hope":

"Despite the common delusion to the contrary the philosophy of doubt is far more comforting than that of hope. The doubter escapes the worst penalty of the man of faith and hope; he is never disappointed, and hence never indignant. The inexplicable and irremediable may interest him, but they do not enrage him, or, I, may add, fool him. This immunity is worth all the dubious assurances ever foisted upon man. It is pragmatically impregnable. Moreover, it makes for tolerance and sympathy. The doubter does not hate his opponents; he sympathizes with them. In the end he may even come to sympathize with God. The old idea of fatherhood submerges in a new idea of brotherhood. God, too, is beset by limitations, difficulties, broken hopes. Is it disconcerting to think of Him thus? Well, is it any less disconcerting to think of Him as able to ease and answer, and yet failing?"

Roslin is arriving at the same conclusion.


Bear responded to my comments on his own blog:

Norman Doering…

I was skimming your blog and saw your comments regarding my “atheistic” adjective for Baltar’s sermon.

You pointed out the obvious, that to be angry at God means you must acknowledge his existence. But I always interpreted this episode to show that Gaius, in fact, no longer believes in God. (And as you correctly guessed, there are lines of dialog in the extended version that would suggest this.)

Baltar only believed in God in the first place because it gave him an ego-boosting God-Complex, allowing him to feel he was somehow instrumental in the inner-workings of the universe. In “Disquiet,” he’s reached this new low, and realized that all the prophecies are bullshit (a conclusion Roslin now shares with him apparently).

The way I saw it, Baltar was preaching anger at God not because he, himself, was angry at God, but because it would be the quickest and easiest way to get the crowd really pissed off. He was venting his frustrations and wanted to stir up trouble. And it obviously worked.

However, my term “atheistic rage” was probably an exaggeration. I’ve never, in my life, met an atheist who was angry at the universe. That is, after all, one of the points of atheism: to strip away the personification of the cosmos that is implied in so many religions.

Duly noted and corrected, sir. :)

- Bear McCreary on February 1st, 2009

Bear got it exactly right, " of the points of atheism: to strip away the personification of the cosmos that is implied in so many religions."

Also, since Bear talks to the writers and producers, and he sees what the editors have left on the cutting room floor, his interpretation that this shows that Gaius no longer believes in God is most likely correct. Alas, what showed up on TV in the Disquiet episode wasn't enough by itself to show this in my opinion. It is, however, beginning to show in Baltar's relationship to his female followers which we saw in "Oath." Baltar seemed annoyed by their continued religiosity.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "The Disquiet That Follows My Soul"

SPOILERS BELOW, watch out:

So, this is how they're going to wrap it up in these last few episodes? They're going to create a violent conflict between Adm. Adama and Tom Zarek with Felix Gaeta joining up with Zarek near the end of this episode.

Of all the dormant storylines one might have left dangling, Tom Zarek's would have been one I would have left behind. For the most part his character's conflicts had seemed resolved once he had a voice in government, yet Bear McCreary's blog says that this conflict is the essential one to go forward.

I'm not so sure about that. There is a clue there when Bear quoted Ron Moore as having said that Moore "found him [Hatch] incredibly professional and prepared on the set." This storyline might be based on the fact that they discovered that Richard Hatch had more acting chops than they had expected and they wanted to use them better. Alas, this takes us farther from the questions I wanted to see answered, the mysteries that I think cry to be resolved.

I want to know how the four new Cylons are getting along with the old Cylons. I want to know that they are trying to solve the mystery of why five Cylons were there in the fleet, with repressed memories from 2,000 years ago, in the first place. If they weren't sent by the original Cylons or whatever computer intelligence instructs them, then how did they get there?

Early in the series I had assumed there was some monstrously intelligent mainframe kind of Cylon computer, or something like "Skynet" from "The Terminator," that had genetically engineered the human-like flesh puppets to do its bidding. These humanoid Cylons might have felt like they had free will but deep down their very psyches would have been designed as weapons of war in ways they couldn't understand or anticipate, as exemplified by Boomer when she was compelled to shoot Adm. Adama. I'm still not sure that isn't true, but ever since those four new Cylons were activated they've never been given a destructive mission, most of them, except for Tory, have done a lot to help the fleet.

Now, if they were not designed by some Cylon mainframe then where do they come from? Why are they different?

In the last episode we were told something astonishing: Earth was inhabited by humanoid and centurion Cylons 2,000 years ago. Tigh, Tory, Tyrol and Anders have memories from 2,000 or so years ago and those couldn't have come from a computer less than a hundred years old. It contradicts our expectations provided by the first history of the Cylons we were given. During the opening of the show each week we were told that the Cylons were "created by man" and that they "evolved." We were even told, I thought, that humans made the chrome plated robots, the centurions, less than a hundred years ago and that Saul Tigh served in the first Cylon War 40 years ago when there were no human-like Cylons known.

Tyrol and Tigh should be asking the old Cylons, "What do you know about us? Who told you we were here? What other intelligences in Cylon civilization know about us, what triggered us? What do you know and how do you know it?" And our old Cylons should be asking of the new group, "What kind of memories have you had? What can you tell us?"

Did something get skipped over or done behind our backs?

Nothing was added to answer those questions in this episode, except maybe the fact that Tigh and the Six have a baby, and Cylons aren't supposed to breed except with humans. Instead, those questions are swept under the rug while the writers cook up what, to me, looks like an unnecessary conflict that intelligent and rational people should be able to resolve through voting and debates instead of mutiny.

If they wanted to show growing tensions between human and Cylons why not show us that instead of just dropping in a few clues? I can imagine Tory hanging around almost exclusively with Cylons now. She might have a little orgy with three or more Leobens. She could be having interesting and revealing problems adjusting to life as a Cylon. Would she be finding life on a Basestar a bit sterile and boring and want to go over to that bar on Galactica only to find herself rejected there, facing fear and bigotry, and in her case partly deserving it? If the Cylons socialize with humans I'd expect them to show up at Baltar's religious services (Baltar's God is supposed to be the Cylon God). Doesn't at least a Six or two believe in that God Baltar preaches about? Couldn't she tell him more and confuse him by being too much like his head-Six vision? Wouldn't she be asking questions about Baltar's relationship with God? Does Caprica Six even listen to Baltar on the radio now?

I don't think the writers have quite got a grip on what it means to be a Cylon and they avoid the problems as much as they can. Instead of showing us the Cylon side of this tension we are only shown the human side. We see Gaeta reacting to Tigh and the Six watching their baby on some sonogram-like device and he resents how they are being so accepted now, so does a nurse. We see Gaeta argue with Starbuck, they share insults and it becomes very clear that Gaeta doesn't trust the Cylons -- why would he? One of them shot him in the leg and he lost it. He probably hasn't been informed on some recent developments. Starbuck really shouldn't be insulting him back, she should be trying to explain and save the insults for when he turns out to be too dense to get the explanation.

There's been some decision about Cylons giving the fleet their jump drive technology in exchange for full citizenship in the fleet, but we were not let in on the full explanation of this deal. It happened behind our backs.

The problem with the deal is that many people in the fleet aren’t happy with extending their alliance with the Cylons. Zarek gives a speech to the Quorum, convincing them it’s a bad idea to accept the Cylon technology. They vote to give each ship’s captain permission to refuse Cylons to board their ship. The new rule is soon tested by an uprising on the fuel processing ship. When Athena tries to board the ship, Zarek gives them the go ahead to jump away, they do, leaving the fleet without fuel.

Zarek is arrested and Adm. Adama bluffs him into, apparently, giving him the jump location for the runaway ship so they can find it. Great scene that, but they had plenty of conflicts to deal with without cooking up new angles on mostly old, and I thought resolved, conflict. I thought Zarek had turned a corner once he got his position as vice president and that he had the power he sought. Instead of violence he used debate and votes. Why turn back to an active rebellion now?

Well, it seems Adm. Adama and Apollo are being ignorant and authoritarian pricks. They are not telling people everything they know. Apollo had told the Quorum that they had reason to believe the 5th Cylon was dead, he referred to her as she, and the Quorum erupted with questions that Apollo and Adm. Adama refused to answer.

Big mistake, hinting at an even bigger mistake. If the citizens of the fleet don't know about those 2,000 year old Cylon memories they probably still think Cylons are nothing but weapons of war.

I can see why Zarek and Gaeta would be suspicious of the Cylons, I would be too, but it's not rational of them to be cooking up a violent rebellion at this point since they would most likely loose more than they gain. What are they afraid of at this moment? Do they fear that the Cylons will turn on them after some goal is achieved, like getting the Cylon jump drives installed on all the fleet's ships? Do they fear that if the jump drives are installed then the Cylons (or a crazy hybrid living in a tub of goo) will be able to control where they jump? Do Zarek and Gaeta even know much about hybrids?

Isn't this a problem that could be resolved with a bit of public education, a press conference, on the matter? If all their jumps are going to be controlled by a hybrid I'd be saying "no!" too, but that shouldn't be the case. And if it is the case that would make Adm. Adama worse than Baltar. Baltar didn't know that Caprica Six was a Cylon when he gave her codes he shouldn't have, but Adama knows full well he's installing Cylon technology without proper precautions. Adm. Adama and Apollo shouldn't be keeping secrets about why they know the 5th Cylon is probably a dead female. How much else have the citizens of the fleet not been told? Have they not been told the biggest revelation yet, that the 4 new Cylons have 2,000 year old memories of Earth? Do most people in the fleet still think the Cylons are just weapons of war?

Zarek apparently wants power for power's sake and he is exploiting the fear and bigotry of people like Gaeta, but the president and the Adamas are stupidly setting things up so that the people will side with Zarek. They are keeping secrets that it would be better off if people knew about.

There was a lot more going on this episode, but that's the big problem I have with it. I may do a part 2 for this review to cover those things later, but this post is long enough.


I've added part 2 now.

Check out the Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, "So say we all" to get other opinions.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Have I been a big Bernard Herrmann fan all this time without knowing it?

Does the name Bernard Herrmann mean anything to you? Does it sound familiar for some reason? If you're a fan of movie music it probably does.

Since I've already done a couple posts on heavy metal it's time to look at another form of music, movie music.

I found the name Bernard Herrmann on Bear McCreary's blog, in his post about composing the music for Battlestar Galactica's "Sometimes a Great Notion" episode. Bear mentions the name only twice, once to say: "The orchestral session was a chance to play in the Bernard Herrmann musical soundscape that I’ve adored since my youth," and later to let someone accuse him of ripping off Bernard Herrmann.

I could only associate the name Bernard Herrmann with one work at that time, the original version of the Twilight Zone. I enjoyed that Twilight Zone music so I decided to use wikipedia and youtube to find out what else he had done and... Holy Shit!! He composed the music for a lot of my favorite old movies. Psycho, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, Fahrenheit 451, and Cape Fear to name a few. I had to ask myself "what movie scores didn't Herrmann do that I liked?"

Thus I began researching who composed the music for my favorite old science fiction films. The results follow:

There were many other old science fiction films whose music and imagery left a mark on my psyche, for example, Forbidden Planet. Bebe Barron and her husband Louis composed a completely electronic score for the film and it's hard to tell the music from the background sound effects, they merge into one. The sound of that film, as far as I know, remains unique in its strange and alien sound even today.

Another film with a score that impressed me was Creature from the Black Lagoon. Turns out that was the work of several composers, Henry Mancini being one of them. The three-note leit-motif BAH BAH BAHHHH was originally written by Henry Stein and it was used every time the Creature appeared in a scene in order to give the monster a unique musical identity. Before Jaws came out that theme was the one kids would shout out before jumping on their younger siblings, BAH BAH BAHHHHH!

Mancini was a staff composer at Universal-International and he wasn't really known for science fiction, just good movie music overall. Early in his career he did the Bonzo films, Francis the Talking Mule flicks, with Donald O'Connor, and a few of the Ma and Pa Kettle films, but he was later noted for his work on Peter Gunn and Love Story. I didn't know if he ever did another science fiction or horror ever again, but then I found out he worked on It Came From Outer Space along with Irving Gertz.

Unlike the name Bernard Herrmann you can't drop the name Henry Mancini into a conversation to describe the style of music used in It Came From Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. You'd have to name the film.

Looking further I found John Scalzi's article over at SciFi Scanner,
"Sound + Vision: Scores That Make Their Science Fiction Films," and absorbed some of his information and opinion. He reminded me of John Williams and the Star Wars score, which he called "monumentally and monolithically successful."

Okay, Star Wars had some good music, but in my opinion John Williams' score lacked something that makes composers like Herrmann, McCreary and a few others that I could now name more appropriate for "real" science fiction. Composers like Herrmann, McCreary, Vangelis and Danny Elfman will experiment with sound textures and different instruments.

Recall Star Wars' "Throne Room" scene. Did you hear just a tiny bit of "Pomp and Circumstance," the music they play at graduations, in there? Williams is using a very familiar and traditional orchestra you can find at a high school playing national anthems. Such orchestras come with all sorts of historical and non-science fictiony associations.

Imagine if Star Wars had been done with a different set of instruments. Then the historical associations fade away.

The weird and unearthly sounds from both The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet sent a shiver down my spine the first time I heard them, but The Day the Earth Stood Still still does, though not as much as when I first heard it, the score was, to my tastes, stronger than the one for Forbidden Planet. Could there be anything more effective? What do I know of film and TV music composers? Before I began my research I could only name a handful of film composers after looking up Bernard Herrmann. Aside from Herrmann and McCreary I could name only two others, Danny Elfman and Howard Shore.

I had liked the music for Silence of the Lambs and found out it was done by Howard Shore and again that now leads me to other films he's done, and he too, like Herrmann with Hitchcock, worked with one of my favorite directors, David Cronenberg. Again, some of the qualities I loved in Bernard Herrmann's work are there. Yet Shore also did the music for Lord of the Rings which is good, but not exactly hitting the kind of psychological and emotional buttons in me that makes Bernard Herrmann stand out. Whatever those buttons are I'm still trying to figure out.

Another bit of movie music I liked was Danny Elfman's "Ice dance" from Edward Scissorhands and also the music in The Corpse Bride. In the Bride he mixed up the traditions for characters sake. You got jazz, orchestra, a piano duet and more. He isn't afraid to use a bit of Heavy Metal influence either and he did the music for Batman too.

And another movie score I liked a lot was Blade Runner. It combined a classical composition style with futuristic synthesizers and felt like part of the environment in a way a traditional orchestra wouldn't.


Because of Swashbuckler's comments, and refreshing my memory on youtube, I've edited the above post in regards to Howard Shore and the Lord of the Rings score. I was just dead wrong about him not using ancient instruments like a lute or harpsicord. Shore actually did use unconventional instruments, the bodhrán, cimbalom, monochord, ney, sarangi, hardanger fiddle, taiko drums and hanging Tibetan gongs, but having little familiarity with those instruments at the time I couldn't pick them out. Actually, even after listening to samples linked in this paragraph I would still have a hard time picking them out in a crowded orchestration. And each instrument comes in a variety of sounds and styles it would seem based on what I found on youtube. For example, this is a Sarangi and this is a Sarangi and this too. These are taiko drums, and these, these and these taiko drums sound a bit like bongos to me. This, I think, bad recording of the drums sounds like musical static from a synthesizer. And this is, as far as I can tell, PVC pipe. I have no idea what this is.

Well, those samples weren't hard to find on youtube. Let's dig up Bernard Herrmann's instruments. According to the Golden Scores page on Day the Earth Stood Still Herrmann used:

...a brass ensemble of trombones, trumpets and tubas with a large percussion section and double pianos [prepared pianos according to this wikipedia entry] and harps, complemented by a church organ and two Hammond organs, electronically amplified violin, cello, bass and guitar, and, perhaps most importantly, a theremin. The legendary electronic instrument features prominently all over the score, extremely successfully placing an aura of other-worldliness over the music...

Here are some Moog Etherwave Theremin samples.


If we're really going to guage Bernard Herrmann's talents then we need to look at more film composers to make comparisons. The Golden Scores site gives us some names to look up on youtube, so here is a selection of movie composers I looked up on youtube:

Max Steiner: Except for a couple notable pieces the brief stuff on his youtube "greatest hits" is mostly a mixture of waltz-like and military band sounds. However, at about 1:06 you'll find his music for She, that snippet was excellent. Erie, evocative of things sensual and disturbing. I never saw She but I found this trailer, which doesn't look good. Then at 5:16 you get King Kong, 1933 version of course, and that's one year before 1934 when Herrmann joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a staff conductor and 8 years before he composed for Citizen Kane (1941). So, Max Steiner's work on King Kong might be an influence and at least a sort of precursor to Herrmann's thriller/sci-fi style.

Maurice Jarre:
Doctor Zhivago, No Way Out (interesting, something I might associate with Bernard Herrmann), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Topaz and Jacob's Ladder.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Something to think about:

Ever since I volunteered to help out on the Obama campaign I've been getting tons of email from them. The latest emails have been pleas to get involved in community service. They come with video links:

And links to websites like, and Visiting the websites I found a "find an event" link where I could type in my zip code and see what volunteer requests were being made in my area. There were blood drives, food drives, clothing drives, "Teacher for a Day" volunteering, parties and other just social meet-ups.

At the moment I'm only thinking of going to a near-by blood drive, but that's something I've done before and it's no venture into new territory for me. Because of my mother, who use to drag me to the church food drives when I was in high school, I've also been lightly involved in both food drives and clothing drives before and I'm not really excited by those. Maybe if the need is great, but I don't really sense that in my community because the drives always seem to have plenty of volunteers who enjoy it more than I do. Even with the current recession and the economic hardship that these times are suppose to be bringing my mom often comes home with food from a food drive that nobody wanted. Lots of bread tending toward the stale side which actually makes better french toast than fresh, moist bread because it absorbs more of the milk and eggs.

Still, the idea of grass-root movements that make use of the election volunteers and that extend beyond the election seems to be a smart move for Obama. If he can awaken a "spirit of service" in people it could do a lot to take the edge off of a serious recession or out-right depression.

I'm not going to tell you that you have a "responsibility" to help your community and fellow citizens or that you should make a commitment to your neighborhood, no, Obama's emails do enough of that and I don't think many of my readers will respond to those buzz-words. I'm just going to say think about it. Try it and see if you like it. In helping others you can help yourself. Food drives can be social gatherings where you meet interesting people, perhaps a better class than you're meeting at your local bar or pub. If you're looking for work you might meet up with an employer or you might find a date.

We do live in an interconnected world and your community, like it or not, is your life support. Whether you get robbed or not might depend on how potential crooks feel about the others in their community and how in need they are.

They're still emailing me videos:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 : “Sometimes a Great Notion”


The hiatus is over and the last we saw of our intrepid Galacticans was many months ago during the mid-season finale of Battlestar Galactica called "Revelations." The fleet, together with the Cylon rebels, had finally reached Earth and discovered that it was a radioactive wasteland. I swear I could hear Charlton Heston off in the distance screaming, "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!"

The new episode picked up right where we left off. Everybody is wandering aimlessly around on the desolated planet they call "Earth" and looking devastated and depressed. In fact, for the most part, this episode is all about despair and it's the darkest, most grim and foreboding episode of Galactica yet. We're informed that the low-level radiation permeates everything and it suggests that the Earth was nuked about 2,000 years ago. Other reports come in finding no human life on the planet, but there's obviously plant life.

The interesting plot developments in this episode are, first, the flashbacks that the four new Cylons have started having. Tyrol found a wall with a shadow burned onto it and when he is drawn to lean over and touch it, he has a vision of walking through a crowded produce market and as he picks up a piece of fruit, a nuclear blast goes off. He later informs the other Cylons that the burned in shadow is himself.

Sam Anders had a similar experience after picking up a guitar fretboard out of the sand. He positions his fingers on the fretboard as if ready to play a chord and semi-sings a line from All Along the Watchtower, "...because the hour is getting late." He then joins up with Tyrol and Tory and they start to remember things, they knew each other, Sam Anders is some kind of reincarnated Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix who played for them all. They used to live on Earth 2,000 years ago.

Anders asks the obvious question; how did they live on Earth 2,000 years ago and die in a nuclear holocaust and then come back to be in the human colonies? Why did they think they were human?

This is both a why and a how question. The how I can speculate on and feel confident about having a reasonable chance of getting it right, like the other Cylons, the memories of the four new Cylons were downloaded during the nuclear blasts and stored until someone or something that controlled the technology uploaded them into new bodies, buried their memories and placed them in the human colonies with cover memories.

It's not the only how answer available, another how answer could be some unexplainable supernatural/spiritual phenomena involving souls and actual reincarnation but that would dictate that the motive is the motive of gods or God and thus they would have created a god who is as cruel and sadistic as a Battlestar Galactica writer is with fictional characters. After all, the writers are the gods in these fictional worlds.

For example, if real gods wrote the prophesies that led the colonials to Earth, then those gods led them to a nuked Cylon world that crushed their hopes. That was a rather cruel joke. If the final five Cylons aren't a product of technological reincarnation like the other Cylons then some gods/God put them in among the colonials and buried their memories until they arrived on "Earth."

The why part of the question, why would anyone or anything want to store their memories and plant the Cylons among the colonies, is not a question I can even speculate on with any assurance of getting it right. All I could do is play Galactica writer myself and invent my own motive. For example, it was their own choice to buy into some resurrection technology available to the Cylons of "Earth" and that technology saved their memories and, trying to interpret their wishes as best it could, inserted them into the human colonies with their memories buried.

Secondly there is a related how and why mystery involving Starbuck and Leoben finding Starbuck's old Viper and her corpse. Starbuck and Leoben followed the Colonial signal that lead them to Earth and find some pieces of a Viper, including a panel that contains the same number as Starbuck’s Viper. Leoben becomes very uncomfortable. They find the viper cockpit and Leoben tries to stop Starbuck from going over to it. Does he know what she’s going to find, her dead body sitting in the Viper. Starbuck rips off the dog tags from the body and her name "K. Thrace," is on them.

As soon as Leoben sees it, he backs away. Starbuck remembers the Hybrid who called her the "harbinger of death," and then she asks, "If that’s me lying there, then what am I?" Good question. I would think that makes Starbuck some kind of Cylon since Cylons can do that sort of thing. Starbuck rolls her dead body up in a shroud and burns it on a funeral pyre.

The last clue in this Cylon mystery is when Saul Tigh, near the end, starts remembering his life on Earth. He is in a different, civilian, suit and picking through some rubble, either in a ruined bank or post-office, and he finds his wife, Ellen. As she dies she promises Tigh that they will be reborn together. Is Ellen Tigh really the fifth and final Cylon as Tigh thinks? Here though is one clue as to why it was the choice of the new Cylons to be reborn.

Another important clue in this mystery was when D'Anna and Number Six dug up some seemingly human bones and found a Centurion head. The head is not one of their models, it's a different model, looking more like one of the Cylons from the original series. Later Baltar reports that the seemingly human bones are also Cylon. What!? The 13th colony was a Cylon colony?

There are more questions I can't really answer: Is it "our" Earth that was devastated and our music? Who nuked it? How did Starbuck's Viper and body get from the Maelstrom to Earth? What is Starbuck now? A Cylon? Was she made from the surgery on The Baby Farm on Old Caprica? How, when and why did the final five Cylons get recreated? Were they born in the 12 Colonies or were they inserted secretly?

As I noted before, the rest of the episode is about the despair of the humans. Dualla commits suicide, President Roslin doesn't show up for her cancer treatment but instead hides in her room and starts burning the book of Pythian prophecies. Admiral Adama can't cheer her up he starts to drink and then tries to provoke Tigh into killing him:

I'm not going to bother to recap much beyond that. The darkness of this episode is one of the bravest things I've seen on television and it's conveyed far too subtly to do it justice with a summary. You'll have to watch to get it. They had been chasing a dream of Earth for years, relying too much on religious prophecy, and now they've discovered Earth is a nuclear wasteland. The dream of Earth is shattered. Lee Adama made an uplifting speech, saying they're now free to chase a new home (like New Caprica?) "we can see this as either a catastrophe or an opportunity," he told Dualla before she killed herself. "We are free of the prophisies of Pythia." However, the crushing blow is too much and many people are not going to rebound, Dualla being only the first I imagine.

Whatever "gods" handed them the prophecy didn't give them a land of milk and honey on a silver platter (thank the gods, because that would have been so lame from an artistic viewpoint). And now, with their faith in those old prophesies crumbling I think we should logically expect Baltar's religion to pick up some real steam and for Baltar to become a much more powerful character.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Introducing Derren Brown

If you don't know who Derren Brown is, then what follows is going to be me playing a bit of a trick on you for I am taking the following video snips out of context. So, without any explanation, here are the clips:

The video embedding was disabled because out of context the above clip is so misleading. Here it is:
Derren Brown - Messiah - 4/8

If you didn't already know, then about halfway through the second clip you'd have realized this "conversion" business isn't what it first appears. James Lawrence is really Derren Brown, a popular mentalist in the UK with a book to sell, "Tricks of the Mind". (He may be coming to the sci-fi channel.) This isn't about converting people to Christianity, but rather about how easily people can be fooled into believing things that aren't true.

And look how easily the first person Derren "converts," the red-headed woman with the glasses, seems to take to it. What's going on here?

The first thing to note is that she took the time and made the effort to go to such an event in the first place. The second thing to note is her reason for disbelief, she lumps God in with ghosts and angels and Derren puts her at ease saying "I don't believe in those things either." However, more importantly, her first named reason for doubt is because various relatives have been Catholic, Protestant and Mormon, and she felt she had all that forced on her. Such a summary has holes in it. Catholicism, Protestantism and Mormonism aren't just belief in God, they're detailed dogmas and the fact that she brings this up as her reason is very telling about her psychological state.

The most important factors in this seeming conversion are supplied by the red-headed lady rather than by Derren, the perpetrator. In the case of all the atheists left at the end there were two levels of filtering that had happened. First, just bothering to go to the event means they were open to the possibility, and then staying after a quarter of the group left meant they were open to the possibility of Derren's method. The ones left behind are the ones who want to be convinced. These atheists were probably in an early stage of atheism and they seem young.

Such psychological trickery requires a certain kind of victim. Those who approached Derren's con game with a skeptical mindset wouldn't be impressed. The "atheists" left at Derren's event probably want to believe, try to believe, and they probably hadn't yet met someone who was dogma free and not arguing with them about their reasons for rejecting faith. Derren isn't offering faith, he's offering an experience, but it's the willing victims who create their own experience. All Derren has to do is set up the expectation.

In the case of the second "convert," the tall and dark haired male, he tells us that he can't believe in, I paraphrase, "a god or higher being who is supposed to be all loving yet lets children die." Derren doesn't even bother to argue this theological problem, he just asks the guy to go through an elaborate performance with him. After which he says; "I wouldn't be doing the right thing if I didn't consider the possibility that I might be wrong..."

There's a problem with this statement. It's not a real change in his attitude, why else would he have gone to such an event in the first place if he wasn't willing to explore? What "reason to explore" made him show up in the first place? What made him stay? There was no change, just a shift in focus, an opening up to subjective feelings we normally put aside because they're useless to us in our everyday lives.

Towards the end, when Derren tells them to stand up and then starts telling the room full of atheists to "close your eyes... there is something here... feel it like a pressure... feel that moving into you... let that feeling get stronger... just embrace it," it's a bit like a hypnotic induction. And from the Bible onward radical experiences have been promised:

Now, if some of the people who think they're plugged into God weren't such black holes of utter ignorance the absurd demonstration above might have some weight. But consider Ray Comfort who tries to argue for believing in talking snakes and who can't even comprehend the evolutionary theory he tries to argue against. Instead of being a light unto the world they're more like light absorbing shadows that carry ignorance and delusion with them where ever they go.

It would also be instructive to read up on the case of Professor René Blondlot and his N-rays.

Derren tells us a little more in this interview with Richard Dawkins:

At first consideration it may not seem that "Barnum statements," which, as noted, are attributed to P.T. Barnum, would have much to do with the conversion of atheists in Derren Brown's little con, but if you pay attention to the things Derren says to the atheists you'll note that he tries to say as little as possible about the god they'll experience. He sticks to purely physiological symptoms and lets people fill in the meaning for themselves. He tells them to feel vague, physical things.

Pop music often uses Barnum statements. For example, Matthew Sweet's "Dark Secret," which is linked in my previous post under the words "heralding SOMETHING EVEN DARKER THAN OURSELVES." The lyrics are:

You are sickened by the weakness
Of a heart that's filled with fear
And if the world won't understand you
You can make it disappear

'Cause there's a dark secret
Carry with you
Carry with you

And deep inside, the way you hate them
On the outside, doesn't show
And oh, they think that they defy you
They are slaved to what you know

It's a dark secret
Carry with you
Carry with you

And it's a dark secret
Carry with you
Carry with you
And it's a dark secret
Carry with you
Carry with you

It's a dark secret
Carry with you
It's a dark secret
Carry with you
It's a dark secret
Carry with you (dark secret)

Who isn't at least a little sickened by the weaknesses that are our fears? And often those fears are themselves our dark secrets. Some atheist bravado is a bit like whistling past a graveyard in the dark just to convince yourself that you're not afraid. While there is plenty of evidence that all these religions are frauds and delusions that evidence alone can never be one hundred percent convincing.

But who is going to take on the real price of Pascal's wager because of a tiny percentage chance that God is the asshole that fundamentalists think he is? Christians, apparently. Just imagine how much worse their fear must be behind their whistling through the graveyard.