Thursday, April 28, 2011

West Fjords, Part 2

Phwew! We made it out of that tunnel alive. Thank goodness. Now we just have to worry about avalanches in Flateyri. Well, not really. This area had some serious avalanches in 1995, which caused the deaths of scores of people in several towns, so the area has been heavily protected with avalanche walls and relocation of homes. There's just not much place for those homes to go, being nestled on these little spits between a mountain and the fjord!

Flateyri is a really cool place for a population of only 200 people. There's one restaurant-slash-bar-slash-community hangout, and in the summer there is kayaking, hiking, and lots of historical-iceland fun facts to read about. If you're looking for a great, reasonable apartment to rent short-term, check this out, where we stayed! But for late-april, it's a quiet town in the middle of nowhere. I took a long walk around town, recorded some water noises, and went up to the top of the avalanche wall, which now has a lookout point on it and a playset built inside it. A little creepy and slightly perilous, but a little exhilarating too.

Nicole and I took some shots for my upcoming album, hoping we could get a cover shot for it. I haven't decided on one particular image yet, but I have a couple great non-serious outtake pictures in the wind. It got pretty stormy in the fjord that night, which I can't say wasn't all that inappropriate for the album, being written in many a crazy location throughout Iceland.

We went to check out Ísafjörður again and see the rock festival 'Aldrei Fór Ég Sudur', or 'Never Went I South'. It's a free music festival! (If you can get there.) It was cool, and I love the spirit of everyone just coming into this tiny town, and sharing the good music with their neighbors, no matter what the weather. This band is Soley, before the place filled to the brim with music fans.

There was also this small art festival going on and I saw some graffiti-based work that was a little dated, but also some hilarious comics and cool paintings. I went to buy a teeshirt as my weekend's souvenir, but didn't have cash on me, only debit card. But the worker gave the teeshirt to me for free! Thanks, dude, whoever you are. Now I can say, 'I went to Ísafjörður and all I got was this awesome, totally not-lousy free tee-shirt!'

Winding back along the coast toward Reyjavík, we passed a small town with a geothermal area that feeds a random pool, hotel/apartment, and a couple small buildings. I took a picture of a quintessential Icelandic moment here. A baby, inside a baby carriage, taking a nap while its mother is inside the building, keeping an eye out but also probably having a coffee. Carriage next to a grill. Grill next to a geothermal steam vent in the ground that just popped up unexpectedly, dangerously hot and steaming, but covered for 'safety' by some big rocks. Wind blowing fiercely outside. Life as usual for the West Fjords.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

West Fjords, Part 1

I went on a three-night trip to the West Fjords of Iceland, and it was indeed full of fjords! But also a lot of other majestic, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes curious things. I thought I'd share some stories and photos about it.

We drove up to the West Fjords thinking that we'd take a drive all along the coast, up from the south section, cut through the west side and see the big waterfall there, and then over to Ísafjörður on the north, with the excuse of having the 'Aldrei fór ég Suður' rock festival to see. Then we'd head back eastward, over the north part of the fjords and back again. It didn't quite work out that way though.

On the way the road was rough going. Unpaved roads, lots of potholes, some intense climbs through the mountains! But some unbelieveable views, too. Rows of waterfalls, calm fjords with blue mountains covered in snow. Then other times, purple-y plants and red rocks, changing to snow-covered deserts that you couldn't even tell the difference between snow and sky. I can see how people might need this antarctic-looking emergency hut.

We reached the cut-through pass only to find that the road that had been open a few days prior was now closed to snow, and there is no other road that will connect between the two parts of the fjords, you have to go all the way around. So with some last-minute phone calls, we found a place to sleep for the night a change of plans.

Thankfully, this was kind of a fun and funny experience! The owner of the farm/guesthouse we stayed at was talking on the phone with us while herding some sheep around. The whole family was visiting, so we shared the space with some cute rugrats. The ocean was steps away, and I haven't had an oceanfront bedroom view like this in a long time. The milk offered to us was straight from the cows on the property.

The next morning we were not defeated so we went back along the rocky coast to where we could cross, and then on to the northern part of the fjord roads. We stopped in Holmavík for food, but while there we were lucky to find the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery open!

This was a peculiar place indeed. Iceland has actually had a long history with witchcraft, but all the witches accused were men (except for one woman). The owner of the museum was a quirky guy who gave us free coffee, and I had tea made from Icelandic moss (tastes better than it sounds).

We saw the exhibits including the 'necropants', a replica of what would have been a a real skin of a human body that a sorcerer would step into, feet and legs and genitals and all, and presumably receive special powers and abundant wealth. I won't include an image here, it's not great for the kids. We also saw runes, a stone used for Viking beheadings, and read a lot of great facts about strange rituals of olde times. And then it was so nice outside that we got to sit out on a stone table and eat a picnic lunch! I made a chow-down panorama.

The weather report called for gross rain and wind (we'll get that later, don't worry), but today it was warm and sunny, and made for a quick and much more pleasant drive. This side of the fjords has the biggest 'town' on it, Ísafjörður, with 2500 people, so the roads are quite well-kept. Still dangerously close to plunging into the ocean, or be caught in a rock slide on the other side, but still very well-maintained.

We arrived in Ísafjörður, which indeed feels like a booming metropolis after driving for several hours past hardly a building or two along the way. There's a grocery store! In fact, there's more than one! There's a swimming pool and museum, library, and a small airport. The mountains of the fjord are so close you could almost taste the snow on their caps...or something delightful like that.

I'll leave this post at about the half-way point, en route to our sleeping place for the next two nights in Flateyri, a small town near Ísafjörður. Which to get to you have to drive through a one-lane tunnel, about 4km long. But, here's the dramatic catch: the tunnel is not one-way. You have to pull off to the side in strategically-marked pull-off points to let the other direction pass you. One of the strangest and most unusual experiences ever: driving down a dark, dripping, seemingly endless one-lane tunnel through a mountain and having a car come straight toward you. We stopped our car and waited for another to drive by in the other direction, and I recorded the eerie buildup of sound of the passing vehicle.

Even weirder is that the tunnel splits in two different directions, right in the middle of the tunnel. Just a simple turn is all it takes, no lane divider, no extra stoplights, still one-car wide, just a sign illuminated in the dark saying: turn right for Suðereyri.

Friday, April 22, 2011

100 Composers Under 40

NPR put out a list of public-recommended '100 Composers Under 40', and once again, the list reminded me just how strongly I desire to be considered among this community of people, and my uncertainty about my position in it.

I've been working on many creative projects, and sometimes I feel like I'm doing the right things and that I work with the resources available to me. Then sometimes I feel like an elusive 'fame' or 'recognition' or the lovely 'ability to pay the rent' is just beyond my grasp. And as to how people reach this upper echelon of supporters or recognition, this is elusive as well, and may be even somewhat of a mystery to the composers themselves.

Fame and fortune in a 'classical composer' sense is a tricky subject. There's rarely much money involved for most projects until you get bigger commissions or grants. Usually very little PR, and few star-studded red-carpet events. But there is a certain level of flexibility, of name recognition, that one can have, knowing that somewhere, people have heard of you (or ideally, have heard, and/or enjoyed) your music, and know who you are. Rue the day that an unknown 'fan' comes up to me and says, 'You're Nathan Hall, I love your work!', because you will probably get an unexpected hug, and then your picture will be taken, and then the picture will mailed to my parents with a note that says 'Hey mom! A stranger knows who I am!'.

In Iceland, I feel ever closer to being a part of the 'right' circle of people, who do similar things as me. While in Iceland, I have had the pleasure of meeting, five of the musicians on this NPR list! And hearing works by one other as well. Iceland seems to have an unusually high number of composers in the mix; two of them are in Sigur Rós and four of them are involved with a great music studio/label/company/think tank called Bedroom Community. I am completely am on the Nico Muhly/Daníel Bjarnasson/Kjartan Sveinsson cheer squad, or I don't think I'd be on this Fulbright in this wacky place called Reykjavík. I wanted to see why Iceland nurtures this kind (I'd like to think 'my' kind) of creativity. But usually I end up as the participant, the audience member, while others get the limelight. I wasn't born here, I don't speak fluently, and I haven't known anyone here longer than 8 months. Some events here have made me feel like I'm in fifth grade again, where I wasn't allowed to talk to the cool kids because I wasn't dressed appropriately or something (in this case, it was wearing dress shirts, suspenders, and ties, just like their dads. The 90's were weird like that).

It seems that half of the list lives in New York City. I've probably met five additional people on the list, all in NYC. And then one or two others I've met across the States. But I'm a little sad that New York still is THE place to make your big break. I thought the world was a little flatter by now. I love New York, but there are so many other amazing places for culture and landscape and ideas in the world!

Okay. Now I took a day away from this post and I've come back with a positive spin, rather than me just throwing a little pity party for myself.

1. I can hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is fast-approaching. I'm still creating interesting works and continuing to work, no matter where I am or for what media. Just keeping on doing work is the most important thing.

2. Some of these people on the list, well most of them, have such different life experiences than me. I can't expect to model my life after someone whose childhood, upbringing, education, location(s), was so different than mine.

3. This list was pared down from over 800 names! There are probably limitless talents out there that didn't make the cut either. Sometimes I wish the general listening public was more interested in breadth of knowledge, but it's hard in this keyword/tagging/twittery world to have good name recall like that. Even I find myself just flipping through to names of people I recognize, rather than checking out the people I don't know. This I should change!

4. There's no use being jealous of other people's fame when they're people you either really admire. Owen Pallett, I've never met you, I'd love to though, you were about 10 feet away from me at the Warhol Museum once in Pittsburgh but you had a cold and I didn't want your germs, sorry. But girl, you work so hard and tour yourself crazy, I could never play show after show like that. And so many concerts are probably for little to no money. I wish I had 10% of the cool opportunities you have, though; talent seems to flow forth from you! While still being humble and funny and extremely good-looking, too.

5. Daníel Bjarnasson, on this list in fact, told me that most of his big projects have all happened in his last five years. As he and many of these composers are a couple years older than me, I'm going to think that my big projects may be just beginning, that at 28 I'm still on the 'young' end of 'young(ish) composers', especially by classical music's standards. I think the more colleagues I meet and chat with, the more I'm strangely reassured that I've got a good thing going, and I'ma keep doin' it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meet Egg Cup and Timer

Two new friends! Thanks to MG and RB in Ireland, I am now acquainted with the world of soft-boiled eggs in egg cups. And thanks to LC, I now know about the English way of chopping up toast into strips and dipping into those the egg like a little sponge. So many ways to enjoy those chicken embryos.

I also found a beautifully-designed egg timer at Tiger, a store in Reykjavík which I believe is Norwegian, but is basically about the cheapest thing around for cool small items. The sand timer is exactly three minutes, just long enough for the soft-boiled egg. I love the lucite square that the hourglass is trapped inside of, it seems very modern and fancy but less than $3 USD. That is a nice little gift for myself.

I've admittedly had so many eggs at various times of the day that it's no longer a breakfast item...if soft-boiled eggs were less messy and easier to carry around, I might carry my egg cup with me on my travels! But alas, that would just make me look like a lunatic, eating a runny egg and toast outside in the middle of a park or something, so Egg Cup and Timer can patiently wait at home for my return.

Also, speaking of eggs, my mom sent me the most amazing Easter package in the mail- a giant 'egg' that she collaged herself (I think covering a balloon, and then letting it dry, before popping the balloon) and filled full of candy and healthy goodies. The top is even 'cracked' like an egg, and the 'shell' is made of maps of Iceland, cut into strips. Mamma Midnight is a genius! I put it on a candleholder here so it won't wobble around--you don't want this egg to crack open at the wrong time either.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Pink Rose

I collaborated with a performance artist friend of mine, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, on a new work in Hólavallagarður cemetery in Reykjavík. It was also a piece that, from its inception months ago, almost did a complete turn around from its original idea, changed to something else entirely, almost got canceled, and then surprisingly was reborn close to the original concept! It forced me (in a good way) to be very flexible about form and organization, and try things that I haven't done before.

Several colleagues from my choir at Neskirkja helped me in walking around the cemetery with bells, singing fragments of a song I wrote for them; we came back together and sang the song as a group, and also shared some stories and special moments. It was quite a magical effect; the evening sun even poked through the clouds and onto the trees a couple times. The weather forecast suggested it might snow, but it held off for the evening.

This was my first piece with a more open form for the musicians as they walk around- I had written a piece for Brass Quintet with the players marching a short way, but their music was all written out ahead of time. This piece created more of a mood, an atmosphere. I heard lullabies being sung, folk songs, people chatting intimately, and calling out of the names of people in the graves and on the stones. It was a bit of a thank-you work to the cemetery, as I've walked through it so many times now and find it quite inspiring. And it was a bit like a call to springtime- let's hurry up, Reykjavík, I'm ready for some warmer sun!

This was also the first time I've composed pre-recorded music for the performance, and had multiple CD players playing the different tracks facing different directions. The wind would carry sound snippets through the cemetery, and you'd hear some melodies colliding, and here and there some bell-chimes, and birds in the trees.

Ásdís looked pretty fabulous as well.

Even my microphone got a new outfit. It now has a fuzzy Russian hat to wear to protect it from some the breezes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some More Random Observations about Iceland

Icelandic Lutheran Confirmations are huge events. Bigger than a sweet 16 party, the child might even get an iphone or something ridiculous as gifts. It is also an occasion for the teenage girls to wear the tallest high heel or wedge shoes they can find.

Easter is a much bigger holiday here than in the US. There are free gift-wrapping tables set up at the mall! And rows and rows of giant chocolate eggs at the grocery stores.

It is very difficult to find dried cranberries here. I thought black beans were tough, but now I've discovered two stores with them. But cranberries, not so much. Lots and lots of dried figs, raisins, and prunes, though.

Even by this time in April, I've noticed the ever-widening daylight. It's bright and sunny by 8am, and still quite light after 9pm. It's only getting more and more bright every day.

There was a parade of musicians the other day when the Symphony Orchestra moved into their new concert hall, Harpa. I'm sad to have missed it! But the new hall looks exquisite.

The Icelandic word for tuxedo is 'smoking'. But I don't know what the word for 'smoking jacket' is. Maybe 'tuxedó.' The Icelandic word for 'again' is 'aftur' but the word for 'after' is 'eftir', and I keep getting them confused. I see an 'a' and I think 'After', the spelling is much closer, but this is not right. It will have to be one of those devices like 'the correct answer is the opposite of what you think it is!' brain tricks that one tells oneself when learning language.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

South Coast of Iceland

I took a two-day to the South Coast of Iceland, and if anyone is looking for somewhere to go around this time of year for just a short time, I'd highly recommend my journey! N & T and I took two days to travel from Reykjavík to Jokulsárlón and back, staying overnight in a 'Farm Holidays' residence near the famed glacial lagoon. Not too many tourists (yet, just wait until July, so I'm told) and the weather was intermittently horrible, but also sometimes intensely sunny and beautiful.

Our first stop was a new one for me, tipped off by another Fulbrighter. We stopped at Raufarhólshellir, a 1-km-long cave! It had several openings in the 'ceiling' where snow was piling in, and it was really rough going with lots of geometric collapsed rocks everywhere. But when we finally got to a point to go no further, the hike was well worth it- all of these ice formations greeted us with eerily stillness. The whole cave was dripping and melting, and you could even hear icicles crash and shatter from inside the cave.

I of course, was nerdy enough to bring a set of handbells, and T and I played them in amongst the icicles. It was an amazing experience. I recorded part of it- this is a section of the improvisation, without any other modifications- no audio tweaking or anything. I'm sure these sounds will get used for some other bigger work soon.

We stopped again by Seljalandsfoss, which never stops to be amazing that you can walk all the way around the waterfall.
I saw Svínafellsjökull for the first time, and was almost more impressed by these colors and patterns than at Jokulsárlón; the ground up sediment in the water in contrast with the milky blue of the glacier, slowly melting into this lagoon, is really incredible.

We stopped at Vík í Mýrdal and checked out the basalt cliffs and the beautiful coastline there. Man, Iceland loves its hexagons!

We ended up at Jokulsárlón, where the weather wasn't great but the glaciers were still amazing. We stayed at this farm-house converted into nearly a hotel, which was right on a 'beach'- more like a lake where a sandy embankment protected the coast from the pounding ocean waves.

A pretty amazing view for under US $30 a night! Though we did sleep in rooms next to fifteen 12-year-olds from France. They were surprisingly well-behaved. In the morning I had a breakfast as if I were a kid again, in a lion mug with some chocolate milk (and other healthy foods too, of course!)

The glacier views around Vatnajökull this time were much better- in September when I saw them last, there was so much rain and fog that I hardly saw anything! Now I could see all of the glacier 'fingers' coming down the mountain from the big parent glacier which takes up a good portion of Iceland's land on the south coast (and influences the weather for the country!). And, a rainbow.

We stopped at waterfall I had not seen yet, Skógafoss! Legend has it that there's treasure buried behind the waterfall, and someone managed to grab it once, but only could hold onto one ring off the chest. Now that ring is in a museum. I could believe the tale- It feels like you should be able to float through the mists and find a hidden cavern behind the falls.

Another peek at Vík on the way back, this time from a high-rising landmass called Dyrhólaey. The winds were intense up here but the views were incredible. It kind of felt like Aslan territory. That's a Narnia reference right there, yeah, I went there. The sun was shining on these huge ocean waves, all white and foamy, and they crashed on huge black rocks, and the winds could nearly blow you off your feet. It was the edge of the world.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Knot and Burl

Too much time on my hands. I was looking at the wood grains on the floor the other day and tried to draw their outlines. I thought they looked a little like country shapes, or islands in the ocean. A friend said they looked like dead animals. But then I invented dialogue for them too. It made perfect sense in my head, of course, that a group of knots and burls on the ground would be chatting with one another, likely in a southern accent, discussing things like who gets to buy beer next, or where's the best skeet-shootin' in town. But now that I write it, it seems a little silly. Knots wouldn't have a southern accent at all. It would probably be Norwegian.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Lopapeysa Couple

I was recently invited to a dinner party at an undisclosed suburban location, which looked pretty much like every Icelander's 'American Dream' house, fit with designer furniture, multiple bathrooms, and giant ceilings. The only thing missing was a three-car garage, and the Icelanders who actually inhabit the house. Unfortunately it was also situated in an area of Iceland that was hit by the financial collapse, with half- or quarter-built houses sprawling around it, piles of dirt and timber everywhere, and general folly of human greed. What a delightful start to dinner, right?
Well, the interior of the house wasn't that bad, and it was about being with friends and having fun anyway. The houses ended up having some totally hilarious delights that I just had to photograph. Like this!
Husband and wife painting with flying fish! Or maybe they're tossing fish for good luck. And this!

The most amazing embracing lopapeysa (traditional Icelandic sweater) couple you'd ever see. It's like the Icelandic version of those little Christmas statuettes- charming and sweet but strangely anonymous. I'll call them Siggi and Sigga. Siggi works on the farm, and Siggi takes the wool to be processed, and then they both spent a few warm winter nights knitting their sweaters by the fire. (Knitting used to be a man's job in Iceland, stemming from the sea man's skills at knots and nets, and needing to make and mend very durable clothes for themselves. Fun fact!)

The bathroom was trés fancy and had built-in starry lights above a jacuzzi! You could have a starry night whilst in your bath on a cloudy windy winter night, or pull the blackout blinds closed in the middle of the summer, and you have fake night to try and fool yourself into thinking there isn't 24-hour daylight.
Look, some of those stars are even blue-shifting. Maybe they are in the Andromeda galaxy. Just kidding. It's just LED's, silly.

The baby room left a little to be desired, at least in the way that I would pamper my child. Not through monochromatic color schemes. Someone is perpetuating gender stereotypes right here, I think. Or perhaps they won an inclusive baby package from a giveaway, and that's just what they ended up with. Unlikely.

Soon dinner was ready and I quickly forgot about the pink-radiating room; it was time to sit down to a delicious home-cooked lamb with new friends and great conversation. Then off to the city for evening drinks and dancing. What more could life have to offer? Only one thing. And if you said a gay version of lopapeysa couple, you'd be right.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Joanna Newsom

I did a little creative exercise and listened to a couple Joanna Newsom tracks from her latest album (the amazing Have One on Me) while drawing some shapes that flowed along with the music. They seem very appropriately Joanna Newsom-y to me, don't you think? But they also reminded me that I once did the same kind of thing in a music class in fourth grade! I hadn't thought about it in years. We used to have a fun listening skills exercise that the teacher would play something on the piano and we would draw shapes that sounded like what we were hearing. I think she even played a recording of Beethoven 5 once, and I had big orange circles for tympani, and little pencil lines for the violins. I think this would be a good exercise even for adults in a music appreciation class or an intro music course. Now that I 'get' what it does, it still amuses me to play around. It gets you thinking about the form of a piece, what ideas repeat, the shape of the sound, orchestration, so many things...and you don't even have to know much about music- you just have to like to color.

(Screen shot from Disney's 'Fantasia 2000', which, with its older 'Fantasia' counterpart, basically lets adults do the same exercise, but then get paid for it, and we watch it as entertainment.)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Poll/Sascha/Renn Wenn Du Kannst

I saw three German films during the first-ever German Film Festival Days here in Reykjavík, and each film was amazing. I can safely say that they were some of the best films I've seen in a long time (and they all had English subtitles). Curiously, I chose the films based on their plot summaries in the brochure, but they all ended up featuring musicians in one way or another, in major character roles! Let's talk briefly about showing music in new German films, shall we.

Now, professors can make a whole degree-program of this stuff, so I won't go into too much detail about diegesis or music theory, and I know very little about film theory, but I thought I'd highlight some musical tidbits that stood out to me.

The first movie I watched was 'Poll', the opening film of the festival. Thanks to Annika Große, the amazing organizer and much under-credited founder of Þýskur Kvikmyndadagur, for the free ticket (I felt very fancy). 'Poll' is epic. Gorgeously shot. Totally dramatic, riveting even. And, there is a lot of clever use of music. Folk songs, chamber music, live bands playing- there may have been almost as much music on-screen (the characters can hear it = diegetic!) as 'scored' music (non-diegetic, background or extra-diegetic). Even in the trailer one may sense that the light classical ditty in the background mix will be featured in stark contrast with the violence and darkness of a family torn by war. And then the war drums enter for real. (Sorry about the trailers, I couldn't find them all with the english subtitles).

There are a couple scenes in particular that use lighthearted jolly music in direct opposition with tense visual scenes- it heightens the violence of what you're watching all the more. A boy in the film has his fingers crushed as punishment for lying, and then he's forced to play a song on the accordion. At another family gathering, the heads of the house play some little chamber ensemble piece together. Meanwhile, we the audience unravel the interplay between the characters- infidelity, lies, deceit are flying around the room, very cleverly shown through unspoken camera shots and quick glances (and historically appropriate salon style interaction). I could imagine that there was a lot of communication between the musical team of the movie and the director.

The most potent musical scene in 'Poll' occurs when the wife of the house plays a solo cello piece while her abusive husband's life's work explodes into flames in the background. Take that for indifference. Her cello playing also opens the whole movie, and basically closes it as well- musical bookends of the same sad solo.

The biggest problem with the cello is that it looks great on camera but it's really hard to fake like you're playing it. This film (out of the three) gets the lowest grade for fake-playing realism. It doesn't bother me so much that say, the fingerings of the cello notes aren't always right. I sure can't play the cello. A violin could have even hidden that fact a little better, it's smaller and the finger positions are subtler. But even weirder, the actress plays a low solo, and even furiously bows some low open strings, but she's shown playing on the highest string of the cello! Definitely Not Possible. DNP. Maybe she thought it was like a left-handed guitar, strung backwards. No, probably not.

Our second film today is 'Sasha' or 'Sascha', depending on which country the film is playing in. Actually, correctly: 'Saša'. This crowd-pleasing film stars a piano-playing young man who prepares for his piano audition into conservatory while also having a huge-ass crush on his male piano teacher while also wanting to come out to his traditional family. Some hilarity ensues, but mostly tenderness, frustration, a little scariness, and real-world kind of emotions, especially in culture clashes of Sasha's family from Central Europe and their lives as emigrants to Germany.

Mostly I loved the film for this scene, I wonder why.

I forget that American movies with gay characters or plots often shy away from even showing shirts off (unless it's for comedy) let alone a hot makeout scene and a romp around in bed. Even more un-american is the teacher-student relationship theme, which is usually pretty taboo. But this is a German film, and this is the 21st century, thank goodness. One of the best-made sex scenes I've seen in a long time, tasteful but also not shy.

Back to the music! I was distracted by pectorals for a second there. Sasha plays piano for much of the film, mostly a Beethoven Sonata. His mother at one point plays 'Moonlight Sonata' which is awfully melodramatic, but it works well to tie in the relationships between Sasha and his mother, her sacrifices for her child, the family's unraveling, and Sasha's 'hidden identity'. If Sasha doesn't actually play the music in the film, which he actually may, the editing is extremely careful and stylish and doesn't look staged. The hands are in the right spots. There is a lot of live-playing, which sounds particularly interesting to hear the same piece on different kinds of pianos throughout the film. Using a Beethoven sonata is a bit symbolic too, it lends an air of culture, of education, a 'better life' for an immigrant family's child. But this is also brilliantly contrasted with pop music from the family's home culture, and club music from the nightclubs in Germany. There are also long stretched of mostly Classical-era music, and then BAM! We're in a gay club and hear some serious sexed-up club beats. It made me laugh out loud at the absurd contrasts of music in the scene cuts, between this nerdy piano kid and the adult gay world he's about to enter. Well-done on the picking of trashy music, director Todorovic.

The final film I saw for the festival was probably the most 'artsy' and symbolic, but also the most interesting in terms of human emotions. 'Renn Wenn Du Kannst' (Run If You Can) involves a young paraplegic man named Ben, his able-bodied assistant-friend Christian, and a cello-playing girl Annika that they both fall in love with.

The movie's full of dark humor and curious philosophical-themed dialogue; I would suspect like many brooding Germans, the topics of death and mortality and existentialism come up more often than in say, Idaho. The actor who plays Ben acts his handicap with brilliant precision- he drives a car like a maniac, gets angry and hurts people's feelings left and right, and wields an equally sharp sense of humor that rides a fine line between hilariously bizarre-sarcastic, and sad and lonely. Sadder still is the fact that the trailer doesn't have subtitles, but we can all gaze upon the beauty of the three main characters, and watch a bust of a composer fall out of a window and hit the hood of a car.

Wow, Ben (the actor Robert Gwisdek) is gorgeous. Well, everyone's pretty attractive, I'm easily swayed by color pallets.

Annika plays the cello, though for most of the film we see her with an acute version of stage fright, and she can only squeak out the first three notes of a Brahms piece. Brahms is also played in their car, on the stereo, and in the symphony (perhaps it's Brahms's head that comes crashing though the window, we never find out). For acting like she's not even able to play the cello, the actress kind of does a B+ job, but redeems herself to A- with good-looking vibrato at the end of the film, when a beautiful solo emerges (I won't give too much away). Thankfully, the overdubbed sound that emerges in said performance seems also that of someone around the same skill- not too brilliant, not too juvenile, so there's a good match.

Annika may not have great hand positions, but at least she's not playing the opposite end of the instrument. Or conducting the orchestra. Don't get me started on the conducting, which is NEVER good. It's either edited out of the actor's control which makes him look like an idiot, waving his arms about to no beat in particular, or no one ever bothers to even look in a conducting book for a basic 3 and 4 pattern.

All I can think about when actors begin to play music on video is 'don't ruin it for me'. It's really difficult to overdub sound of live classical music playing, but harder to be a musician watching a movie of actors playing musicians (unless of course, they're Adrian Brody and have some sort of weird piano genius inside of them). If you're going to fake it really badly, I might as well just watch you play the highest part of the piano, and have the lowest, darkest, clangorous sounds come out of it. Or maybe someone playing a trumpet, and then an oboe timbre comes out. That would be very curious. That being said, I was still able to take myself away from the nit-pickyness of my viewing and escape for a bit. The cello bothered me less and less as the film went on. The piano sonata became all the more powerful, the Brahms more elegant and heartbreaking. I want to be transported to a world where people walk through their dreams, where the little guy wins, where CGI can built an impossible house out of some sticks and stones propped up in the ocean. A good movie, like any of these three, can put me in this sort of magical mood all the rest of the evening, where I just want to go for a long walk and think about life and light and color. In their best moments, these films had some quiet revelations. Watch If You Can.

(All images and trailers copyright their individual films and websites, I make no claims to the images but to show screenshots for examples and promote the films in my small way.)

Friday, April 01, 2011


Sometimes Iceland can be such a borehole. Haha, get it?

"So what is this crazy place?"
"Oh, you know, just some scientific drilling for geothermal energy that mysteriously exploded, and now steam and water and minerals come boiling out of the earth. No bigs, just a borehole. I'm hungry, got any chips?"