Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Seen and heard: November 2014

Poetry in Music - concert by Polymnia (the choir in which I sing) in Milton Keynes city church. Memorable discoveries for me in our programme: (1) Morton Lauridsen's beautiful song cycle 'Les Chansons des Roses', setting poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (unusually in French; sample: "contre qui, rose, avez-vous adopté ces épines?"); (2) Seamus Heaney's poem 'Postscript', graphically set by our conductor John Byron to convey the raw power of the sea and wind off the West coast of Ireland (massive swell in the music up to the word "ocean") and the force of the final lines ("Useless to think you'll park or capture it more thoroughly... as big soft buffetings come at the car sideways and catch the heart off guard and blow it open" - corresponding swell up to the word "open").

Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 - performed by the wonderful Sixteen in the equally wonderful Saffron Hall. Top quality singing, of course, with a small but perfectly constituted orchestra: organ and harp at the core, with the addition of strings for richness, and trios of cornets and sackbuts when the music called for a bit more welly. Only problem, with this as with any performance: how do you follow the Ave Maris Stella?

Sorcery - ingenious and smooth touch-screen realisation of Steve Jackson's 'Fighting Fantasy' gamebooks (of the variety often called choose-your-own-adventure, though that was actually the brand name of a different series). The core gamebook engine, developed by two Cambridge software engineers with a solid track record in interactive fiction, is also publicly available in a cut-down form as Inklewriter; I can see a lot of applications for that, as a nicer and easier alternative to, say, the Quest engine.

Dreamfall Chapters - long-awaited sequel to classic adventure games The Longest Journey (1999) and Dreamfall (2006), from the keyboard of Ragnar Tørnquist. As before, top quality scripting and voice acting, and as in 'Dreamfall' vividly realised 3D environments - in this case, the dystopian futuristic city of Europolis. For fans of the original ('The Longest Journey' inspires particular affection, regularly featuring in charts as the best adventure game ever, and recently remastered for iOS), this is essential playing, because 'Dreamfall' ended with Zoe Castillo in a coma, Kian Alvane due to be executed, and April Ryan stabbed and presumed dead ('Chapters' opens with her funeral, which would seem to confirm that - except that 'Journey' shows her as an old woman, Lady Alvane, so that can't really be the end of her story).

Information Age – new gallery at the Science Museum. Exhibitions of new technology are prone to dating very quickly, but cleverly the curators have given this gallery a better visitor-life by arranging it around six technologies, each treated historically: Cable (telegraph), Exchange (telephone), Broadcast (radio and television), Constellation (satellite networks), Web (computer networks), Cell (mobile phones). Of special interest to me were the exhibits showing the instructions to users which were needed when the technologies were new: the demo telephones on which to practice dialling, the notice of penalties for telegraph operators who altered or allowed a non-recipient to see a message, the guidance to BBC scriptwriters on the narrative devices and effects possible with radio broadcasting.

Clare Teal singing Doris Day - live at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. Not only great singing (of course), and great backing from a (little) big band, but lovely dialogue with the audience; I think she's specially careful to give her live performances something you can't get from a recording. Big enough also to ask the audience whether, after leaving the show, they'd buy a CD of her tribute act (if she were to make one) or instead look out a recording of Doris Day. Interesting question, and respondents were divided about 50:50. Respect also to Doris Day herself: still alive, and just turned 90.

Befriending Chaos – psychotherapy / spirituality workshop at Turvey, Monastery of Christ our Savour, with key talks by Pat McGrath and Tony Ang. A lot of emphasis on the positive aspect of chaos (sample quote from Nietzsche: “One must still have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star”), so I was glad that at the end of the day we came back to chaos's destructive aspect. I remembered Seamus Heaney's 'Postscript' when Pat talked about the sea off the West coast of Ireland, where he comes from, which is apparently one of those places where the fishermen don't learn to swim, because there's no point; if you go overboard you're done for. You're dependent on your boat in order to survive. Which is not to say that some people can't survive in the water very well, as in this video of a French freediver already noted.

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