Sunday, 10 August 2014

Seen and heard: July 2014

Cognition Episode 4 –I wasn’t the only one to be disappointed at this conclusion to a great sequence of adventure games, especially after the nerve-shreddingly climactic ending to the previous episode. What went wrong? After all that built-up momentum, the tension is just dissipated with three extensive backstory sequences; basically, there’s not that that much left to tell. Also, I found the main secondary character unconvincing, now that we know them to be a murderous psychopath. A pity, when I think of some of the great game endings I’ve played (The Longest Journey, Syberia I and Syberia II). It’ll be the earlier episodes I treasure (if that’s the right word, for stories so grim and gore-laden) in my memory.

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900, by David Edgerton – vision-changing book, in which he takes apart the innovation-centric view of the history of technology (as explained in this Guardian interview). Looking at the technologies which people actually use shows that “old” technologies persist for all kinds of reasons and frequently remain more practical or more effective than the new. Futurism has definitely had its day.

Edge of Darkness - reshowing of the 1985 TV series on BBC4. Nice, in a creepy kind of way, to be taken back to the 1980s and the era of revelations about the Secret State (and we thought that was bad, so the Snowdon revelations about NSA surveillance should have been no surprise). It's the slow-paced brooding thriller quality which has lasted best, helped by a great script by Troy Kennedy Martin (creator of of Z Cars) and a magnetic performance by Bob Peck. The semi-mystical ending, which impressed me so much back then, left me cold this time. Ah well, not everything survives.

The Honourable Woman - BBC TV drama. I wonder how well this look in thirty years time; in fact, I wonder how well it looks right now, given the unfolding events in Gaza (where it is partially set, in an eight-years-ago flashback), though that may depend on how it ends. Fantastic performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal and many others, with some tremendous cinematography, and ingenious plotting with steady week-by-week revelation of twists and hidden depths which is this drama's best defence against critical attack in this politically dangerous area.

Aurora Jitterbug - absolutely sensational concert, in the wonderful Saffron Hall, by a combination of the Aurora Orchestra (classical chamber group) and Man Overboard (four-piece jazz band), the common element being the lead violin Thomas Gould, who we have marked down as the new Stephan Grapelli. The magic began when the Aurora's first number was Rameau's music from Les Indes gallantes morphed seamlessly into Man Overboard playing Duke Ellington's Jubilee Stomp. (You couldn't ask for a better demonstration of how small a distance there lies between 18th century French dance music and 20th century American jazz.) Later in the first half, the band played a couple of numbers in which the orchestra was used as a backing group - which I'd heard done before on Simon Rattle's CBSO recording of Duke Ellington numbers, but this was far more smooth and subtle and simply gorgeous. I hope they find the resources to do more of that combination; the sound is truly unique. In the meantime, I'm enjoying Man Overboard's CD 'All Hands on Deck', in which, as a bonus, their vocalist is properly audible.

Anna Hashimoto (clarinets) - free lunchtime concert at the Fitzwilliam Museum, accompanied by Daniel King Smith. Lively and talented young performer (British of Japanese ancestry), playing a range of clarinets from long to tiddly, opening with a stupendous rendition of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fuge in D minor (transcribed) which echoed through the cleristory of the Fitzwilliam Museum gallery.

Polymnia: Choral Kaleidoscope - the summer concert of the choir in which I sing, in the beautiful (but accoustically challening) Chrysalis Theatre. Essentially a re-run of favourites from our Spanish tour, with the added bonus of being able to capture a few performance videos, including the lovely Señor de las Cimas and Piazzolla's tango Verena Porteño.

The Phoenix - year-old British weekly comic for six-to-twelve-year-old kids. After the strong endorsement in The Guardian, and checking out the sample online issue, I signed my grand-daughter up for a subscription as a present for her seventh birthday. She's loved her first couple of issues, and there's a great mix of content: some things she can read on her own, other things for which she needs help and explanation, and some things for which at present her stamina is limited - but plenty of room to grow.

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