"Ludovico Einaudi (born 23 November 1955) is an Italian pianist and composer. After training at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan and under composer Luciano Berio in the early 1980s, Einaudi started his career as a classical composer and soon began incorporating other styles and genres, including pop, rock, world music, and folk music." "Einaudi composed the scores for a number of films and trailers, including The Intouchables, I'm Still Here, Doctor Zhivago, and Acquario in 1996, for which he won the Grolla d'oro for best soundtrack. He has also released a number of solo albums of piano and orchestra, notably I Giorni in 2001, Nightbook in 2009, and In a Time Lapse in 2013." [Wikipedia] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludovico_einaudi> I’ve hastily put this guide together as he is touring Australia right now, playing in Adelaide on Tuesday. Here's his official website: <http://www.ludovicoeinaudi.com/> The links in the guide below are to movies on YouTube. If the links are blocked, try this Spotify playlist (if you have an account): <https://play.spotify.com/user/bru.and/playlist/3keQjY3fRNCD5CCQgzhcA4> Now, the "rough guide". On a different day, I probably would have selected different tracks. I've had to leave out collaborations and soundtracks. 1. Album: "Le onde" ("The waves") (1996) Track 12: "Passaggio" ("Way") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rWgZiSF30c> Wonderful solo piano piece. Other highlights include the title track, "Le onde", "Ombre" and "Questa notte". 2. Album: "Eden Roc" (1999) Track 8: "Giorni dispari" ("Odd days") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95N-SSuPHRg> Mostly just piano and haunting cello. Also check out the title track, "Eden Roc", the contemplative "Nefeli", and the jazzy "Julia". 3. Album: "I giorni" ("The days") (2001) Track 5: "Stella della mattina" ("Morning star") (Live version, Royal Albert Hall, with string section) <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZDfOkDZ8cQ> Track 9: "La nascita delle cose segrete" ("The birth of secrets") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHUQCx969m8> Other standouts include the achingly beautiful tracks "I due fiumi" and "I giorni". 4. Album: "Una mattina" ("A morning") (2004) Track 2: "Ora" ("Now") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkAQ2LzG3nw> Track 12: "Nuvole bianche" ("White clouds") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcihcYEOeic&t=0m10s> Two other great tracks open and close the album: "Una mattina" and the 12 minute epic, "Ancora". 5. "Divenire" ("Becoming") (2007) Track 2: "Divenire" (Live at Royal Albert Hall with string section) <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1DRDcGlSsE> Track 6: "Primavera" ("Spring") <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmxFAT581T4> Both these tracks build slowly and then accompanied by strings with dramatic effect. There are many other great tracks on this album, including the hypnotic "Fly" and "L'origine nascosta" ("Hidden motives"). On this album Einaudi experimented with electronic keyboards. 6. "Nightbook" (2009) Track 2: "Lady Labyrinth" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zq1hPXJPtto> Track 4: "Indaco" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhBmb9Y0puo> This album has a darker, haunting tone. Some tracks are backed by percussion instruments, such as "Lady Labyrinth" and the great title track "Nightbook”. Other highlights include "In principio", "Eros" and "The Planets". 7. "In a Time Lapse" (2013) Track 3: "Life" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZpD4YeYl08> Track 14: "Burning" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIf2OXtDhhQ> The latest release, including these two pieces of pure bliss. Other standouts include "Time Lapse", "Walk", "Experience" and "Waterways". There are many other videos on YouTube, including some great live performances.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Reviews of books read last month: a novel, three novellas, and a non-fiction book. 1. "Angelmaker" by Nick Harkaway <http://www.amazon.com/Angelmaker/dp/0307743624> Joe Spork, single and in his late thirties, barely makes a living repairing mechanical devices from a bygone era. Most of the things he fixes are harmless, but one day he unwittingly reassembles a doomsday device for a client. The "Angelmaker", among other things, distorts time and compels people to tell the truth. This triggers panic among world leaders. It also plays into the hands of an evil despot, Shem Shem Tsien (the Opium King), who seems to have cheated death in his quest to "become God". After learning that he may be responsible for the end of the world, Spork teams up with a female octogenarian and former superspy to thwart Tsien's plans. He enlists his late father's former colleagues, both criminal and legitimate. Together they have to deal with shady secret government agents and the Order of Ruskinites before they can confront Tsien. Along the way, Spork finds the love of his life and some inconvenient truths about his family: the double-life of his paternal grandmother and the real motivation for his father's criminal career. This novel mostly succeeds in blending espionage, gangsters and science fiction, with a dash of humour. My only major criticism is that the ending of this swash-buckling thriller seemed a bit contrived. Overall, I enjoyed this book, although not as much as the author's first novel, "The Gone-Away World". 2. "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson <http://www.amazon.com/The-Strange-Case-Jekyll-Hyde/dp/149228856X> Having seeing several movies and TV shows based on this classic Victorian novel, I never felt the need to read the original. As it happens, Stevenson's novella is a bit different to how the story has been portrayed on screen. In addition the dual nature of the individual comprising the title characters, the novella considers the events from two viewpoints. Firstly, there is the account by Jekyll's friend and attorney, Utterson. The developing relationship between the doctor and the objectionable Mr Hyde has troubled Utterson. Why has the respected Jekyll given Hyde unfettered access to his home and laboratory, even going so far as naming him as his sole beneficiary? When Hyde is linked with assaults and a murder, Utterson feels duty-bound to warn Jekyll to sever his ties with Hyde. The doctor gets a chance to explain his side of the story in the final chapter. This story examines the internal struggles between good and evil in all of us, using the emergence of pharmaceuticals to take the idea to extremes. 3. "The Giver" by Lois Lowry <http://www.amazon.com/The-Giver/dp/B00AHG3UYA> This story is set in a future where there is no war, no suffering and no disease. All aspects of society and life are carefully planned. Children gain additional privileges, responsibilities and toys, at specified annual milestones. When they reach twelve years old, their lives so far are assessed and their future roles in the Community are assigned. For example, if a child shows skill and aptitude for building things, he or she will be groomed as an engineer. Someone who is good with younger children might be trained as a teacher. But the Community is not the utopia it appears to be: people are constantly medicated to avoid pain; feelings are suppressed and unpleasant memories are erased to maintain emotional stability; euphemisms are used to cover up euthanasia and death. Everyone experiences a comfortable "sameness", sacrificing colour, music and love. Jonas, the main character, has demonstrated some special skills, and is assigned the important role of the "Receiver of Memory". He will be trained by the "Giver", and become the sole repository of emotional memories for the Community. Later, in times of crisis or when difficult decisions need to be made, he may be called on to provide advice by drawing from that memory. Once Jonas becomes aware of what really is happening in the Community, he decides to rebel. This novella is generally considered a young adult's book, but the themes are challenging and universal enough for any reader. It reminded me a bit of Brave New World, focussing on children growing up in an apparent utopia. The author has written sequels which further explore the themes in this book. 4. "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck <http://www.amazon.com/Cannery-Row/dp/014200068X> The opening lines set the scene: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses." Everybody loves Doc, a marine biologist who prepares exhibits for various museums around the country. He's done lots of little things to help his fellow inhabitants of Cannery Row: Lee Chong, a Chinese immigrant, runs the local grocery; Dora Flood is owner/operator of an establishment called the Bear Flag Restaurant, which is actually the local whorehouse; Mack is a middle-aged layabout and leader of "the boys", who try to do as little work as possible so they enjoy the good things in life. Mack suggests they all throw a party at Doc's place. But despite good intentions, things take a farcical turn, when gatecrashers arrive, fights break out, and Doc's place gets trashed. The people of Cannery Row decide to make amends by preparing a surprise birthday for Doc, but will they learn from their mistakes? This was an enjoyable look at life, friendship and simple pleasures in working class America in the 1930s. 5. "You Are Not So Smart" by David McRaney <http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-So-Smart/dp/1592407366> Using research in psychology, cognition and neuroscience, the author explains why we often make irrational decisions. The book contains are 48 brief chapters, each examining one particular way we delude ourselves. Examples include: Priming (our unconscious minds are easily influenced by certain words and situations), Confirmation bias (we tend to focus on things that confirm our beliefs rather than consider evidence that challenges them), Hindsight bias (we look back on things we've just learned and assume we knew or believed them all along), Groupthink, Conformity, the Dunning-Kruger Effect (we're bad at estimating our competency and the difficulty of a task), the Bystander Effect, and Learned Helplessness. The author presents the results of many pivotal studies and experiments that helped verify our various cognitive biases and delusions. If you're interested in this subject matter, I recommend you listen to the author's podcast, named after the book: <http://youarenotsosmart.com/podcast/> Overall, this is a great introduction to cognitive and evolutionary psychology, exposing the many foibles of our minds. We're not as smart as we think we are. But that's ok, we're only human. I look forward to reading the follow-up, "You Are Now Less Dumb".
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Reviews of books read last month: two novellas, a novel, and two non-fiction books. 1. "Indian Nocturne" by Antonio Tabucchi <http://www.amazon.com/Indian-Nocturne/dp/0811210804> The narrator is an Italian nicknamed Roux (short for "rouxinol", Portuguese for nightingale). His friend, Xavier, went missing in India. Roux, determined to find out what happened to Xavier, travels across India, retracing his friend's steps. He starts in Bombay (Mumbai) on the west coast, crosses the country to Madras (Chennai) on the east coast, then ends up back on the west coast in Goa. He encounters a wide spectrum of Indians and their culture: poverty and luxury, rural and metropolitan settings, and diverse religious beliefs. He travels by taxi, boat, train and bus, meeting some interesting locals and foreigners along the way. A contemplative novella, which incorporates philosophy and literary elements. 2. "Annabel Scheme" by Robin Sloan <http://www.amazon.com/Annabel-Scheme/dp/B004E3XC1S> This book is set in the near future in San Francisco. Annabel Scheme is a private investigator, specialising in cyber and occult cases (usually simultaneously). Search giant Grail (loosely modelled on the advertising company we know as Google) has its HQ, called the Shard, in a trendy part of town. The brief use of a network of quantum computers generated a "quantum cloud" around the Shard, and the area became known as Fog City. Strange things happened there: for example, people could randomly pop in and out of existence. Annabel, with the help of her virtual assistant Hu, start off investigating why a long- dead singer's voice can be heard on what appear to be brand new recordings. This case is solved quickly, but more weirdness lies ahead when the Falafel King is murdered, then appears to live on in a multiplayer online game set in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Lots of other interesting ideas are presented in this novella, including augmented reality, a website called doctorfaust.us (think eBay, except for selling organs to demons in return for favours), and the ghost of a man, electrocuted in 1879, who lives in the the city's electrical grid. 3. "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome <http://www.amazon.com/Three-Men-Boat/dp/1484156706> Written in 1889, this novel is about of a group of hypochondriacs who decide to go on a two-week boat ride and camping trip along the Thames. The narrator's mischievous fox terrier, Montmorency (Monty) goes with them on their comical adventure. But first they need to agree what supplies to take with them, which leads to amusing arguments. The book is part travelogue through historic Thames sites, including the alleged site of the signing of the Magna Carta, and various inns that Elizabeth I and other historical figures apparently visited. When they eventually get on the boat, they get themselves into some funny situations, compounded by their rather delicate natures. Many digressions describe other events in their past, and provide further insight into the lives of the three men (and the dog). I guess the style of humour is not everyone's cup of tea. But at least it's a relatively short novel, and it does include some interesting historical and cultural tidbits. 4. "Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception" by Claudia Hammond <http://www.amazon.com/Time-Warped/dp/0062225200> This book looks at the psychology, neurology and physiology of time perception. It includes results of scientific studies and anecdotes from people who's perception of time have been altered, including a journalist kept hostage for four months, a base-jumper who experienced a life-threatening situation, and a man who voluntarily spent two months in a dark ice cave. Factors affecting our perception of the passing of time include: fear, depression, fever and boredom. Different people have different internal concepts of time and how they move through it. The book also considers why a watched kettle appears to never boil, and why time seems to speed up when you get older. The author proposes the "holiday paradox": time flies when your having an enjoyable holiday, but novel experiences create memories that make the holiday seem longer in retrospect. A deeper review of the book: <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/07/15/time-warped-claudia-hammond/> The author's RSA talk: <http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2012/time-warped> 5. "Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes" by Maria Konnikova <http://www.amazon.com/Mastermind/dp/014312434X> This book shows how the adventures of the fictional detective Sherlock Homes can help us become clearer thinkers. The author argues that Holmes' metaphor of the "brain attic" is borne out by modern research in psychology and neuroscience. The book covers the brain's two modes of thinking, System 1 and System 2, relabelling them as System Watson and System Holmes respectively. System Watson provides immediate and automatic responses, often triggered by the fight-or-flight part of our brain. System Holmes involves more considered analysis, is slower with a higher energy cost, but is often more accurate. Distractions, including multitasking, affect our thinking. Sherlock's use of mindfulness can improve our critical thinking. Cognitive biases also distort our thinking. We can adopt Sherlock's techniques of introducing some distance, keeping an open mind and remaining objective can help overcome biases. A deeper review of the book: <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/01/07/mastermind-maria-konnikova/> The author's RSA talk: <http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2013/the-scientific- method-of-the-mind-what-sherlock-holmes-can-teach-us-about-decision-making>
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Reviews of books read last month. Three novels (two of them by Australian authors), and a non-fiction book about information and communication. 1. "The Rook: A Novel" by Daniel O'Malley <http://www.amazon.com/The-Rook/dp/0316098809> A woman wakes up in a London park on a rainy night, surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves. She's lost her memory, but soon finds the first of many letters from her pre-amnesiac self. She is Myfanwy Thomas, a high ranking official (a Rook) of the Checquy Group, a paranormal secret service agency charged. She was warned by a psychic that she would lose her memory, so she made preparations. It turns out her memory was wiped because she was close to exposing a traitor in the Checquy Group. Knowing this, she could just leave the country, take up a new identity and stay out of trouble. Instead, she decides to find out more about who she was, resume her job and go after the traitor. She rediscovers she has a frightening superpower (which explains the incident in the park), but lots of other people in the country have special abilities too. And to complicate things further, the Belgium-based Grafters, long-time adversaries of the Checquy, have resumed their centuries-old goal of invading the UK. This is a very imaginative and amusing debut novel by a Canberra- based public servant. The characters are complex and intriguing, with a well-executed plot. 2. "They're a Weird Mob" by John O'Grady (as Nino Culotta) <http://www.amazon.com/Theyre-Weird-Mob/dp/1921922184> Italian journalist Nino Culotta (not his real name) is sent on assignment to Australia to report on how Italian migrants are settling into their new lives. It's the 1950s, and he arrives in Sydney, with the intention of travelling around the country for a couple of years to write regular pieces for his newspaper back in Milan. He gets of to a rocky start, quickly discovering that the "proper" English he learnt back home is not that helpful, and he'll have to learn the Aussie lingo if he wants to fit in. He does write some articles, but he finds he likes Sydney so much that he wants to settle there himself. He gets a job as a builder's labourer, makes some new friends, and eventually gets married. I have mixed feelings about this novel. I agree it is a witty portrayal of the brand of English spoken by Australians in the 1950s. But I didn't find the central character authentically Italian. I also expected more insight into the migrant way of life, but that wasn't the point of the novel. Perhaps what grated the most was the author's insistence that the Australian way of life was perfect, so "New Australians" should forget all their old ways and just blend in. That reactionary attitude sounds simplistic and short-sighted given the rich contributions from the different waves of migrants over the past 60 years. 3. "Emmaus" by Alessandro Baricco <http://www.amazon.com/Emmaus/dp/1938073150> This is the story of a group of four teenage boys and their loss of innocence. The narrator and his friends Bobby, Luca and the Saint were brought up with very Catholic values. They were in the church band, and spent their spare time helping out at a nearby hospital for poor people. Things were going pretty well, they even had girlfriends. Except the Saint, who wants to enter the priesthood. But then they meet and become obsessed with Andre, a girl from a wealthy non-believer family. She has a carefree attitude, sleeps around and even tried to kill herself. Andre believes she and her family are cursed. A strange relationship develops between her and the boys. Unfortunately, things start going wrong for the boys, bringing drugs, death and disgrace for some of them. I enjoyed this short novel by an award-winning author and screen- writer. The characters were relatable, as they dealt with issues of faith, devotion and sin were tackled. I also found the contrasts and interactions between believers and non-believers interesting. 4. "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick <http://www.amazon.com/The-Information/dp/1400096235> This books takes a sweeping look at the history of information. From the humble beginnings of transmitting messages over distances using drums through to the modern day, where Google and others constantly collect and analyse our digital activities to find out what we want before we know ourselves. Despite changes in technology, many of the same issues recur, such as how to ensure accurate and efficient transmission. The book reminds us that abbreviations like LOL and emoticons had precursors in the days of the telegraph. Information is not just encoded in our devices and communication methods. Subatomic particles and genes are information carriers. Ideas (or memes) also convey information, and some theorists believe they too are subject to the survival of the fittest. The book also looks at issues such as information overload. Overall, a generally accessible and comprehensive book, from a respected science and technology author.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Reviews of books read last month. Only two books completed this time, though I'm part way through two more. 1. "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck <http://www.amazon.com/The-Pearl/dp/014017737X> This novella is set in an impoverished Mexican fishing village during the 1940s. Kino is a pearl diver, who lives with Juana and their baby boy, Coyotito. Kino dreams of finding the largest pearl in the world, which will save his family from poverty and his son will be able go to school. When he does indeed find an enormous pearl, it brings out the worst in the other villagers: envy, opportunism and eventually violence. An interesting and cautionary folk tale about how a realised dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. 2. "Shift" by Hugh Howey <http://www.amazon.com/Shift/dp/1481983555> This is the second book in the post-apocalyptic Silo or Wool series. It is set before the events in the first book, between 2049 and 2345. It describes how a network of silos was secretly funded by US power- brokers. One of the main characters is a newly-elected congressman and former architect, who was recruited to design a silo. Initially, he has no idea what is really going on. When the bombs fall, he is ushered into Silo 1, and put into deep-freeze. Over the centuries, he is awakened from cryo-sleep to work short "shifts" to advise at critical times. Each time he learns a little more about the origins and real purpose of the silos. Reading this prequel, it becomes clear why the trilogy started in the middle. If you're intrigued by the series, I'd strongly advise reading "Wool" first to avoid spoilers. I hope to read the final instalment soon.