Archive for February, 2011

An Impartial Presenter

With the exception of Morgan Freeman, how many times have you praised or heard praise for a narrator?  I, myself, can definitely remember a greater number of times that I’ve criticized a narrator, usually for annoying mispronunciations or other such things that you would expect to have been perfected by someone who speaks professionally.

I recently watched a documentary, the narrator of which got on my nerves to the point where I felt like turning off the program; I only stuck it out out of sheer curiosity for the subject matter.  In this case, the documentary had a clearly persuasive angle to it, but the problem was that the narrator (who was also the creator of the film) consistently used a tone that was very aggressive, arrogant, condescending, and smug,  making it seem as though he was pointing at any who would take up a contrary position and calling them stupid.

Now, I am not a filmmaker, but it was my understanding that a documentary narrator is meant to be an impartial presenter of information, like a news anchor; not to use the word “I” and not to make it appear as though they agree or disagree with the things being said.  Once that standard is broken, the whole thing turns into a one-sided debate which, like a one-sided sports match, just isn’t entertaining to watch.

Quality narration is often taken for granted.  A narrator can be like a pair of eyes.  They help us to know what’s going on, but most people pay them little attention until they cease to perform properly.


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Wednesday has rolled around once again.  Due to some preoccupations, I’ve not posted anything since last week’s Wordsmith.  I’m not incredibly fond of having two Wordsmiths in a row on my front page because it just makes it look unbalanced, so I’ll see if I can oust them both before next week.

From Dictionary.com:

1. harmful or injurious to health or physical well-being: noxious fumes.
2. morally harmful; corrupting; pernicious: a noxious plan to spread dissension.

Wordsmith Wednesdays made-up example sentence:

His coma had been induced by the ingestion of a poison derived from several wild, noxious plants.

Find out more about Wordsmith Wednesdays.

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It’s Wednesday!

From Dictionary.com:

1. extended to great, unnecessary, or tedious length; long and wordy.
2. (of a person) given to speaking or writing at great or tedious length.

Wordsmith Wednesdays made-up example sentence:

Their philosophy professor would often go off on prolix tangents, leaving most of the students bored out of their minds if they hadn’t fallen asleep.

Find out more about Wordsmith Wednesdays.

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CAUTION!  This post contains a minor spoiler for the film Snatch.

Fifth time’s the charm.  That’s what I was thinking recently when I decided to try listening to Massive Attack . . . again.  I’ve tried and tried in the past but the music just doesn’t do it for me.  What’s bizarre is that they have two songs that I love and find incredibly moving, and it was always those tracks that made me think I needed to give the rest of their music another chance . . . and then another, and another.  Each time, it didn’t take long before I turned the music off.  “Not my style,” I’d say.  “Those two good songs must be a fluke.”

The two songs were made known to me not by regular casual listening, but in the form of soundtracks.  Angel, which kicks off the album Mezzanine, is featured in the film Snatch during the scene where Mickey’s mother’s caravan is set ablaze.  I discovered the song Teardrop (from the same album) years ago through an interesting YouTube video which promptly became my first YouTube favourite and the cause of my creating a user account there.  Many people may also know Teardrop from the intro to the TV series House.

Massive Attack isn’t the only band for which I’ve experienced this, either.  I also really like the song Comfort Eagle by Cake, but none of their other material.  The same goes for Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap, and Nena's 99 Luftballons.

I have no sound explanation as to why I like only one or two songs from certain artists’ entire repertoires, but I do find that the singled-out songs I enjoy are usually the ones that are slightly dissimilar to their fellow tracks.  Whether or not that’s the reason, this peculiarity still bugs me.  So, this time I borrowed Mezzanine from a friend and forced myself to listen to the entire album from start to finish, and the outcome was surprising.  I didn’t hate it.  I even found myself listening to it again a bit more voluntarily the next evening.  I can still hear the things in the music that had always prevented me from liking it, but I suppose some stuff needs to grow on you.

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In general, I find that it’s a waste of my time to go to YouTube without a specific need.  If there’s something in particular I want to see, or something I need to look up, I’ll go, but without a clear purpose, one can lose hours in what seems like minutes clicking aimlessly through the neverending labyrinth of “related videos”.  Although I don’t like to do it often, it does occasionally happen.

I just spent about an hour browsing around YouTube and ended up watching videos about music, musicians, and such things.  (Usually, if I don’t have a purpose on YouTube, those are the kinds of videos I get sucked into streaming).  In particular, I was watching a few clips featuring German drummer Marco Minnemann.  I’ve seen his videos before, and the guy is an incredible musician.  He actually plays a multitude of instruments, but is most well known for his drumming skills, which combine raw talent with finesse, originality, and blinding speed across a range of musical styles: rock, jazz, metal, progressive.  And the independence!  Sometimes it’s as if he’s got a separate brain controlling each limb.


A clip via YouTube of Marco Minnemann playing in the odd time signature of 13/16.


Not long after Dream Theater and their drummer/co-founder/co-composer/co-lyricist/co-producer Mike Portnoy went their separate ways last year, fans began to speculate as to who would be stepping into the incredibly big shoes that were left behind.  As we’ve all been kept in the dark for many months, it’s understandable how several fan-based predictions have emerged all over the web.  A popular suspicion is that Minnemann will be the replacement, despite there being a claim of another Dream Theater member refuting the theory.  I don’t know if there are grounds to the claim; so many fans say so many things, and without hearing it from either a reputable source or straight from the horse’s mouth, it’s tough to judge.

In my opinion, though, they probably won’t go with Minnemann.  I feel like they’re the kind of band that will bring someone a little less famous into the spotlight.  If they do happen to pick him, I’ll definitely be on board, because there’s no denying that he’s got the chops for the position, but something tells me it’s not going to happen.  I’ll have to follow up this post to let everyone know if I was right or wrong once the decision (which has already been made, by the way) finally goes public.

If you want to see a lengthier video of Marco, check out this YouTube clip.

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After watching a good film, I often go online to read more about it.  I recently re-watched The Prestige and afterward found out that the book on which it was based was written as an “epistolary” novel.

From Dictionary.com:

1. contained in or carried on by letters: an epistolary friendship.
2. of, pertaining to, or consisting of letters.

Wordsmith Wednesdays made-up example sentence:

One thing Errol greatly regretted after enlisting in the military was that it had forced his marriage into an epistolary state.


Find out more about Wordsmith Wednesdays.

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Young Raymond, Who Slew Seven Giants

Have you ever listened to a song in which the singer slurs a phrase to the point that the words either sound like something that doesn’t make sense, or become altogether unintelligible?  Think of the moment of revelation that comes when you finally discover what is really being said; the feeling you may have experienced upon learning that Jimi Hendrix wasn’t excusing himself to kiss guys.  Now, imagine that feeling multiplied many times over . . . an entire incomprehensible song.

I listen to a lot of music by European bands, so I frequently come across songs with lyrics that are composed in foreign languages—Norwegian, German, Gaelic, what have you.  It never used to bother me that I couldn’t understand the words because I could still enjoy the music.  One could argue that if I really cared about the music I would look up all the lyrics to find out what they mean in English.  I have done, actually, for a few songs that grace my speakers more often than others, but realistically, there are just far too many and I haven’t the time.  Lyrics can, however, add an important element to a song, and sometimes we may not realize it until we find out what we’re missing.

While going through my music collection recently, I found a text file that I had completely forgotten about, buried in the depths of countless hierarchical folders.  It contained all the lyrics for one particular album, as well as translations of the songs on that album that weren’t in English.  After reading through one of them, I was surprised to discover what it was actually about, and it was strange knowing that I would never again listen to that song the same way.  I have listened to it for years, but now, every time I hear it I’ll be thinking about the story of Young Raymond, who slew seven giants on a seashore and beheaded an emperor.  Much different from what the melody alone had me imagining.

Reading those lyrics reminded me of something similar that had happened not too long before.  A colleague had brought some of her favourite music to work for us to listen to.  It was a foreign band that I had heard only once or twice before, so it was relatively unfamiliar.  A few songs went by, and then midway through one track she turned to me and, knowing that I didn’t understand the words, proceeded to explain how although the song sounded happy and festive, the lyrics added a very sombre, depressing quality.  The story is sung from the point of view of a boy standing on a gallows.  He sings of his love for a girl who is married to a horrible man who verbally abuses her and threatens her with physical harm.  One night when the girl’s husband was stumbling home drunk, the boy crept up and killed him.  All the while, of course, the music is bouncing blissfully along as the boy, now awaiting his execution, is exclaiming that he doesn’t regret what he did and hopes that the girl will one day think of him as the boy who died for her.

That song is a great example of the point I’m trying to illustrate, simply due to the degree of contrast between the tones created by the music and the words.  The two elements of the song induce conflicting feelings, one shattering the other, making for a unique—but fitting—emotional contradiction.  Without comprehension of the lyrics, the effect that so well causes this song to stand out is lost.

So is it bad to listen to music when you don’t understand the language of the lyrics?  Absolutely not!  Just keep in mind that there might be an aspect to the song that you’re missing out on.

For those who are interested, the two songs I mentioned are the following (via YouTube):

“Ramund Hin Unge” by Týr


“Denk An Mich” by Schandmaul

On a side note, I believe that the reason the music of “Denk An Mich” is happy while the lyrics are sad is because of the point of view. The story is being told in first person, and the boy believes that he’s done a good thing freeing the girl from a life of unhappiness. If it were in third person the music would probably be cheerless as well, because from an onlooker’s point of view it is an entirely sorrowful situation.

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