May 132019
 

I have learned to love the voice of Doris Day.

Her version of No Moon At All is one of my all-time favorites.

Early this morning, I found out that she passed away. May she rest in peace.

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Mar 252019
 

The other day, I started listening to Google Music’s personalized music stream.

I am suitably impressed. The AI is… uncanny.

Sure, it picked songs that I expressed a preference for, such as songs from the golden age of radio that I happen to enjoy. But as I continue listening, it is presenting an increasingly eclectic, enjoyable selection. Some of it is quite new, from artists I never heard about, yet… it’s music I like. For some reason (maybe because I am in Canada? Or because it knows that I am trying to improve my French? Or was it a preference I once expressed for Édith Piaf?) it started presenting a whole bunch of French music, and again… some of it is quite likable. And now that I purposefully sought out a few classical composers, the AI realized that it can throw classical pieces at me as well, which is how I am suddenly listening to Schubert’s Ave Maria.

As a matter of fact, the eclectic choices made by Google’s AI remind me of two radio programs from the CBC’s past, long gone, long forgotten by most: Juergen Goth’s Disc Drive and Laurie Brown’s The Signal. Both these shows introduced me to music from excellent artists that I would otherwise never have heard about.

And now Google’s AI is doing the same thing.

I am also getting the sense that the more I listen, the bolder the AI becomes as it makes its choices. Instead of confining me to a bubble of musical genres of my own making, it is venturing farther and farther away from my presumed comfort zone.

Which is quite impressive. But also leaves me wondering how long before our machine overlords finally decide to take over.

 Posted by at 7:27 pm
Jan 042019
 

Even as China was celebrating the first successful landing of a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, NASA’s New Horizons continued to radio back data from its New Year’s Day encounter with Ultima Thule: a strange, “contact binary” asteroid in the Kuiper belt, far beyond Pluto.

Ultima Thule will remain, for the foreseeable future, the most distant celestial object visited by spacecraft. While there is the odd chance that New Horizons may find another target within range (as determined by the on-board fuel available, which limits trajectory corrections, and the aging of its nuclear power source that provides electricity on board), chances are it won’t happen, and it won’t be until another deep space probe is launched, quite possibly decades from now, before we get a chance to see a world as distant as Ultima Thule.

Another piece of news from the New Horizons project is that so far, the probe found no moon orbiting Ultima Thule. No Moon At All.

https://youtu.be/4GxvSALRLzM
 Posted by at 8:46 pm
Nov 302017
 

Here is a short segment from a piece of music that I am trying to identify:

For the life of me, I cannot. It is especially annoying because I heard this piece of music on SiriusXM Symphony Hall earlier this morning, but I didn’t get the title and cannot find a playlist.

This music was played during the end credits of the main evening newscast in the 1960s, perhaps the early 1970s, on Hungary’s state owned television network.

Update (Dec 3, 2017): Mystery solved. It is the Scherzo from Schumann’s 2nd symphony:

 Posted by at 1:01 am
Apr 082017
 

Remember what radio used to be like, especially shortwave?

Many stations had an interval signal. This signal, usually just a few musical notes, was played whenever the station would otherwise be silent (e.g., between the end of a program and the time signal at the top of the hour.) I remember many an interval signal fondly.

But one of them, I just cannot identify. Namely this one:

Bugs the devil out of me.

 Posted by at 7:59 pm
Dec 232016
 

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Nov 222016
 

The horrific bombing of Guernica in 1937 inspired one of the best known of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. Yet images of the ruined city were not enough: The world did nothing, and two years later, another war began that brought the same horror, but on a much larger scale, to all of Europe and many parts of the world elsewhere.

Die Ruinen von Guernica 5603/37

And here we are in 2016, and it seems we learned nothing. Another civil war rages on, this time in Syria. And another rogue great power intervenes with its mighty warplanes, conducting indiscriminate bombings against civilian targets.

Just like in 1937, the world remains largely silent. Appeasing a great power and its power hungry despot is more important than lives. And we forget the lessons of history: despots cannot be appeased. They always want more. The demons of nationalism, awakened by false promises of restored pride, cannot be appeased. They will always demand more.

What horrors will follow in the coming years? Will we see the streets of Europe, perhaps North America, look like Aleppo’s today? Is Aleppo just a prelude to what is yet to come, just like Guernica was 79 years ago?

As I think of this, it brings to my mind a 33-year old German-language hit song, Nena’s 99 Luftballons.  Here is how that song ends (my less-than-perfect translation of the German lyrics; they also produced an English version but it was, well, rather lame):

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger

Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombers

Today as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Nov 062016
 

Hungarian piano virtuoso Zoltan Kocsis died today. He was only 64.

This is him playing the first movement of Bartok’s second piano concerto:

May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 5:12 pm
May 052016
 

And just when you least expect it… Russia celebrates its victories in Syria over ISIL with a class act, an amazing concert by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra of St. Petersburg, held at the ancient amphitheater that is at the center of Palmyra’s Roman era ruins, badly damaged (not to mention desecrated with barbaric public executions) by the Islamic State.

Russia, of course, intervened not for reasons of altruism but because American indecisiveness offered them an opportunity to prop up Assad’s regime. Nonetheless, I much rather watch an amazing concert like this than public beheadings.

And the music was, in fact, amazing. It included a piece titled Quadrille, from contemporary Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s opera Not Love Alone. I think I ought learn a little more about contemporary Russian opera.

The concert was carried live (of course) by RT, complete with a televised greeting by Putin. Not unlike a similar concert that the same orchestra held in South Ossetia, after Russia’s brief war with the Republic of Georgia a few years ago.

 Posted by at 11:12 pm
Jan 142016
 

Recenly, there was a particular piece of music that caught my attention on CBC’s The Signal: Sapokanikan by Joanna Newsom.

The song begins with the lines,

The cause is Ozymandian
The map of Sapokanikan
is sanded and beveled
The land lone and leveled
By some unrecorded and powerful hand.

This made me re-read Shelley’s timeless poem about the ruined statue of Ozymandias in the desert:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

And then here is a real-life Ozymandian tale from a few days ago, from China: A 37-meter tall golden statue of Mao erected in the middle of nowhere.

The ending, however, is different: After the statue has been ridiculed on Chinese social media (with many quoting from Shelley’s Ozymandias) the statue was hastily demolished. Wisdom has not yet departed the Middle Kingdom, it seems.

 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Apr 202015
 

I just learned the tragic news: Less than 24 hours after I uploaded my previous post about the one-time CBC radio program Disc Drive, the program’s former host, Jürgen Gothe, passed away, after a long battle with cancer.

I am deeply saddened. I secretly hoped that one of these days, we will hear him yet one more time on the radio. But that’s not going to happen… his wonderful voice has been silenced forever.

Jürgen was 71.

What a loss.

 Posted by at 3:42 pm
Apr 082015
 

I am listening to The Disc Drive Disc.

The Disc Drive Disc is an audio CD. More specifically, it is an audio CD that was released by the CBC 24 years ago, shortly after the fifth anniversary of my all-time favorite radio program, Disc Drive.

Disc Drive went on for another 17 years or so, until it was unceremoniously dropped from the CBC’s schedule as Radio Two was revamped to cater to a broader audience. I am sure that executives at the CBC are still congratulating each other on such a resounding success, even as the station lost nearly 40% of its audience in the past eight years, in their desperate search for the lowest common denominator, an audience that views “classical” as just a minor, unpopular genre.

And most unfortunately, they lost host Jurgen Gothe and Disc Drive: a unique, eclectic program in which it was not uncommon to hear something from Mozart, followed by Ella Fitzgerald. As Jurgen himself put it on The Disc Drive Disc, this program was unique in the English-speaking (or anything-speaking) world. And Jurgen’s whimsical commentary! It was a joy to listen to his stories about music, food, Herbie the cat or the Willis Point Fire Department. I was looking forward every weekday afternoon to 3 PM, when I could turn on my radio and enjoy a productive few hours at my computer while listening to the program.

Alas, this wonderful, unique, joyful program was taken off the air in 2007. If only I had the presence of mind, I would have recorded as many shows as possible. I didn’t. I did record the very last Disc Drive, which was mainly a replay of the very first Disc Drive, but that’s it.

Except that back in 1991, the CBC did issue the aforementioned CD, The Disc Drive Disc. Of course it is not an easy disc to come by 24 years later. When I searched for it online, second-hand copies were offered for hundreds of dollars on Amazon or eBay. But then, I came across a German music store that claimed to have this CD, still available, for the not so princely sum of 9.99 euros.

I picked, I clicked, and a few weeks later, today that is, I found a nice cardboard envelope in the mail, with The Disc Drive Disc inside. So one very last time, I was able to enjoy something new (to me, that is) from Jurgen Gothe and his team (and cats) from subterranean Studio 20.

Thank you, Jurgen, for the memories.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm
Sep 302012
 

There is a beautiful love poem by the 19th century Hungarian revolutionary poet Sandor Petofi about the end of September. Unfortunately it is, well, in Hungarian. I am sure there are English translations out there, but I am also certain that they aren’t quite the same as the original.

But there is an equally beautiful song by the immortal Kurt Weill. It is his September Song, best sung by his wife Lotte Lenya:

In a mere few months, I’ll be older than Kurt Weill was on the day of his death. A sobering thought on a cloudy, gloomy September 30.

 Posted by at 9:09 am
Aug 182012
 

It has been two decades since the collapse of the Soviet empire but Russia still has political prisoners.

The names of the latest three are Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevitch, members of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot. Their crime? Singing a punk rock anti-Putin song in an orthodox church. This earned them a two-year sentence for “crudely undermining the social order”.

Needless to say, I am thoroughly disgusted by this deplorable show trial. But I am also left wondering: is Mr. Putin’s regime really so insecure that they feel threatened by these young women? (The irony, of course, is the the decision to jail them and put them on trial probably harmed Mr. Putin’s regime a great deal more than their songs ever could. But then again, according to statistics quoted by Wikipedia, most Russians seem to think that the trial was fair and impartial. So perhaps Putin’s thugs know what they are doing.)

 Posted by at 9:59 am
Jul 042012
 

Sometimes one comes across Internet gems just as they are about to disappear.

Just south of Budapest, near the expressway that leads to Lake Balaton, there is a small village by the name of Tordas.

Tordas has had a small community radio station for the past 12 years. For the first decade, it was a pirate station, broadcasting without a license, but as of 2010, they are officially licensed to operate their 1 W (!) transmitter.

Alas, not for much longer. They are about to go silent this weekend, buried by bureaucratic requirements imposed by Hungary’s new media authority.

I read about this today and tuned into Radio Tordas over the Internet. I was in for a treat.

For instance, I heard a version of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, sung in Latin (!) by the late British MP Derek Enright.

I heard a cover of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, sung by songwriter Lee Hazlewood, with alternate lyrics that end with the words, “this is the part of the record where the engineer Eddy Brackett said if we don’t fade this thing out, we’re all gonna be arrested”.

I heard an wonderful song, Guns of Brixton, by the French band Nouvelle Vague.

I heard a rather unusual and humorous cover (mostly vocals and acoustic instruments) of Jean Michel Jarre’s electronic composition Oxygen, by the Hungarian band Zuboly.

I heard an amazing cover of The Rolling Stones’ Play With Fire. I have no idea who was singing, which is a pity, because he almost sounded like Tom Waits. (No, I don’t think it was Tom Waits.)

I heard many other things, including two rather unusual children’s tales from the immortal Ervin Lazar, known in Hungary for, well, his rather unusual children’s tales.

And this radio station is about to go off the air for good. Perhaps they’ll survive on the Internet. If so, they’re on my list of stations worth listening to.

 Posted by at 4:49 pm
Nov 222011
 

For months, a melody was stuck in my head and I just couldn’t identify it. Finally this morning, I suddenly remembered a fragment of its lyrics: “All my love, all my love, all my love to you”, and that was enough for a successful Google search. Of course. It’s All My Love by Led Zeppelin.

Now I know. It’s a darn good song, by the way.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Sep 092010
 

Going to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro, I suspect the one thing no journalist expects is to hear is words from the Leader of the Revolution that would put many ordinary Cuban citizens in jail. Words like, “Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore”. Yet, apparently, it was precisely this that Castro told Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent of The Atlantic.

I think I’ll listen to some Buena Vista Social Club music this morning. Ah, there’s Ibrahim Ferrer’s CD, I haven’t listened to it in years, and I just ripped its contents the other day. Time to check those MP3s…

 Posted by at 12:27 pm
Feb 052010
 

What a grand thing, this contraption called the Internet.

I was talking to my wife about the Olympics. (No, we aren’t fans.) I mentioned that in 2016, the games will be held in Rio. They’ll be dangling their breasts, she commented, sarcastically alluding to that Simpsons episode in which the family ends up in Rio. To the music of Villalobos, I added. (We both love the music of Villalobos.)

Then it occurred to me… last week, on my way to Waterloo, I heard a remarkable piece of music listening to the CBC in the car. All I remembered that it was from some Mexican composer. In the pre-Internet, pre-Google, pre-Wikipedia (not to mention pre-Youtube) days, that’d have been the end of the story: I’d not have been able to remember anything else.

But we live in the Internet/Google/Wikipedia/Youtube era. Within two minutes, we were listening to the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra playing Danzon n°2 by Arturo Márquez, as a matter of fact the very same performance I believe that I heard on the CBC:

You gotta love this Internet thing.

 Posted by at 4:42 am