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Archive for October, 2008

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Protected: Timing in the body.

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The Weather in Sansia…

It’s warm enough I could sweat, but the breeze and the humidity off the river make it feel slightly chilly.. an incredibly comfortable feeling. It’s fall weather at its finest. I want to sit around with any number of other people doing anything from watching a fire to eating and drinking or playing a game…

I am still enjoying teaching. My longest project student, Emily, is doing well. I was informed by the director that her mom says she’s very happy in the private class she has with me. I see her improving, and now that she’s having fun and not zoning out so much she appears to be very bright and intelligent… she’s got a good sense of humor and though she’s behind the level she’s been assigned, she is learning quickly.

I’m learning more methods and games for all my classes. Despite the Chinese concept of face, the school, being run by English folks, has a strong emphasis on doing well. In fact, I feel like just so long as the students are happy, and they keep doing well, no one will ever bother me…

Personally I feel closer to conquering some of my deepest inner demons than ever before. I think that being in the midst of such abundance of time, money, respect, and freedom is giving me a great jumping off place to accomplish lots. I’ve never felt better in all my life…

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More Chinese Stuff….

I went to the Chinese doctor. I found the entire experience thrilling in an S&Mish sort of way, and a little silly in an S&Mish sort of way.

They placed needles, long ones, into my knees… they hooked up electrodes and shocked my knees. It didn’t really hurt, but they left them their for 20 minutes and I couldn’t move to adjust myself without it feeling very weird.

Then they placed suction bottles all over my back. It stretched my whole back and front tight. It was actually a nice feeling, sort of like wintertime, maybe it thins the blood. Now I have two dozen bruises on my back and sides where all the bottles went.

My knees don’t feel much different. The doctor was highly reccomended here, but frankly I think Dr. Cindy from SoCaP is immesureably better. She set the bar high and I was expecting that good if not better from a doc here with a good rep.

Over double ten weekend (which is a little like Independance Day for Taiwan) I shot fireworks off of one of my coworker’s roofs. I drank plenty of booze and managed to have a great time for almost no money. I took up Go. I find Go about thirty times more interesting than Chess thus far. I saw a moonbow one night when I was out with some peops.

I played D&D with teachers from another school Friday afternoon. We found another player in Taipei. The game ended up turning too personal and I had to call it a night and send people home who were almost coming to blows. What is it with some people, that they cannot get along. Then When I said, “lets pick this up next week” one of them wanted to keep arguing about it… I swear. It’s just a game!

Once I got the fight broken up, two of the players and I went out drinking and Karaoke singing with the fun-loving Chinese. Every time people raise their glass, I’m supposed to drain it down to nothing. When I run out, they buy me more. I have yet to buy more than two drinks when I go out — and I have yet to drink less than five!

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Helping the Kiddos…

I really enjoy teaching Taiwanese kids.

I had a student, Emily, who was doing badly. I asked several people how to help her. Now she’s doing well. She speaks more clearly and confidently and she likes English class. In a couple of semesters I think she’ll be rolling with the best of them.

Tonight I had a near stroke of genius. One of my classes is full of some damnably competitive little brats. I’ve spent two lessons punishing them if they yelled at or threatened or ought with each other. There’s another girl, also named Emily, who is mean. She gloats when she wins, she throws things, she yells at her teammates if they don’t do perfect. Then there’s Eric. He’s just as bad. And the other students in the class get into the swing of it too, end up either feeling hurt and yelling at each other or gloating and yelling at each other.

So tonight I combined their teams’ scores at the end and told them that would be their bonus points for the day. I let them play more games and they all cheered for each other. By the end of it even the youngest kid, the one who cannot keep up with the others and sometimes refuses to play, was having a good time too.

This is certainly the best part of teaching.

It’s so similar to working sets. When I’m at the clubs I keep noticing myself calibrating and recalibrating to groups (and I’ve been merging sets a lot lately). People get their feelings hurt or they get bored or they want to dominate the situation. Clubgoers are remarkably similar to children.

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So this little student of mine asks me, “why is your nose so high?” Then I said, “what?” She and her fellow student chat in Chinese and he explains, “why is your nose so tall?” Oh, I get it, “you’re one of those round-eye’d white folks with a long nose.”

Not THAT kind of face!

What’s weird to me is the concept of losing and saving face. I understand not wanting to feel ashamed, or to make someone else ashamed. But my boss recently ruled that students had to keep memorizing utterly incorrect English (that we English teachers proved was wrong, and was from a section of the book that the students were meant to correct, because the sentences are BAD ENGLISH). She reasoned that we didn’t want to lose face. What about the loss of face when our students speak crap-ass English?!

And then there’s the little girl whose mom is an English teacher and so she gets put into a level of class where her mom thinks she belongs. She cannot even BEGIN to comprehend the language at that level. She cannot even answer one question correctly. Seriously, not one question. Even when the Chinese TA sits there and translates back and forth into Chinese for her, she still cannot get it (and that is what the TA’s do if a student fails a test three times, because God forbid anyone would be held back and learn the Fucking English).

We cannot keep the students back because someone would lose face. We cannot put Polly at a lower level because her mom would lose face. Again, with the girl, what about the face her mom will lose when the girl has aged ten more years, with an English teacher for a mom and she still cannot speak half-decent English? And with the other students, what about the face that will be lost in the next class when the student cannot keep up with anything the other students are doing? (This happens, by the way, and seems to be one of the chief reasons that some students suck: they fall behind but keep getting promoted.)

I’ve noticed with some other issues too, face often seems to be short-sighted. I cannot speak directly in order to ask someone to deal with a specific issue, because the asnwer could lose face for one or both of us. I wish that there was a way that I could just take the blame so I could get the information I need from my boss. Again, in the long run, I think glossing over important grievances will cause a greater loss of face. So there’s a temporal chunk size issue going on here. Does anyone think about face in the next six weeks or the next six years? I do, and I have for many years, which, when I need external motivation, is one of the things that drives my directness when I have a problem with my boss.

Well, okay…. rant mode off… .

[:-) That was fun.

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I’ve been watching old clips of Dr. Who. I love the music, both titles and incidentals. Maybe it’s my single favourite part of the show I spent my entire childhood watching (that and the Dr.’s Leggy companions). Rereading the description of Delia Derbeshire’s work in the composition of the original song I am reminded of how processy the song is.

She was using test oscillators, and detuned strings and whacking on bits of metal, slowing the sounds down on tape and splicing them all together. It’s easy enough to get timing on tape splices if you just measure their length, pick one for quarters twice as long for halves, etc.

I am reminded of the processes of photography. There’s a slew of things you can do. Number one I’d say is film saturation, which digital technology might just now be coming close to. Basically if you hit the film with more light than is called for then some tones will be emphasized while others increase in a more linear fashion. The combination of curves in the color responses make the film have its distinct quality. Shoot damned near anything with Polachrome instant process slide film and it looks like a Spike Lee film or an arty shot for Vogue mag. Colors in Polachrome are just. fucking. vibrant.

Shoot like that with a 2x zoon filter, or even a 1.8x and you’ve flattened the subject’s facial features a bit, and made them look more attractive. Also, color saturation tends to wash away some of the skin’s imperfections as the nuances of pores and blemishes are lost in the saturation process. These are all side-effects of the limitations of the medium. My photog prof. used to call that “processy effects.”

The good ol’ TB-303 has six audio control knobs, a really electronically compromised design. Nothing I would call “optimal” (for instance, is it that hard/expensive to use a frikkin’ op-amp comparator to get a decent square wave? The hack job they use for their square wave comes out looking more like a half trapezoid with dull edges). However, these things combine to make a “signiture sound.” Add in the fact that the original 303 was a PITA to program and people would just pop the batteries out and back in or try to program it and get quasi-random sequences… “composing” on this now classic instrument is a process of play and luck that is responsible for a lot of dancefloor hits.

There’s a million things I know of that add in the own characteristics, preferably in a relatively simple interface system and tend to aid good art by process. Vaccuum tubes, many types of printmaking, the better digital effects, etc… And I’ve also played synthesizers and keyboards that were so good that anything I played on them sounded like a golden record. There was a student model wurlitzer electric piano at the synth museum that I called the “seafoam green Jesus machine” because it was a miracle in itself. My old Oberheim Four Voice had that quality too.

The tricky thing about things that are processy is that thy’re dependant on new technology or novel combinations of technology. The originally inspired process-y synth songs were made awhile back. Morton Subotnik is a good composer, but really, I’ve made just as good of compositions on any modular synth. Brian Eno’s ‘an ending’ is move soundtrack worthy, and only three notes of piano through a synthi. Valentine and Pratt’s old compositions using media and guitars, heavily processed, I heard on the 90s action film “Heat” the other night. Someone beat us to the draw on that combination of process by about ten years.

Craft, on the other hand, is dependant on the artists abilities interacting with the medium. Pencil drawing leans more havily towards a craft. Maybe black and white photog is more craft than shooting chrome films on a sunny day. And probably making a pretty wood table is more craft than adding digital effects to a picture. It’s cool when craft combines with process and you get “The Matrix.”

I think that art may vassilate between process and craft. As a new process is invented, artists can lean on it for inspiration and even to do much of the work (as in my example of the 303, above). Eventually we all get tired of process and artists become craftsmen. I think we’ve heard the “woooaw” and “bweeeeoew” and “djeuo!” of synths enough that those sounds alone aren’t going to be cool. The Synthesizer has an early body of cridible work that continues to form, but I don’t think the art of the synthesizerist has gone through a major transition like classical vs baroque vs romantic in orchestral or piano music. I would like to travel back through time and learn about the influence of process on artist when the piano was first invented, or when polyphony came into being. We can replay the compositions, but what about the way they felt when they made it, what about the turns that were created in their mind by their new instruments? How much of it was cool for a decade then felt hackneyed?

All this is to pose the question to myself: How can I build instruments that best combine process and craft? If the sound is really good and the instrument is transparent to a craftsman (relative to other instrument’s of its type) then it’s a stradivarious, right? Is a master’s tool essentially transparent in its use, imposing as little onto his art as possible? How much does the instrument itself add its own colors to the pallete?

Where is the balance that will help the largest number of people realize their finest work?

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