These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
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THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK
ARCHITECTURE REVIEW; A Moon Palace for the Hollywood Dream
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
LOS ANGELES -- Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is a French curve in a city of T squares. The T squares are loving it madly. Why shouldn't they? Disney Hall was designed for them. It's a home for everyone who's ever felt like a French curve in a T square world.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the $274 million hall opens on Oct. 23. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonic's charismatic young music director, will conduct ''The Rite of Spring.'' Wrong season, right rite: Disney Hall is a riotous rebirth. Not just for downtown Los Angeles, where the building is situated, and not just for the whole sprawling mixed-up La-La. What is being reborn is the idea of the urban center as a democratic institution: a place where voices can be heard.
Disney Hall has at least a dual personality and moods enough to spare. On the outside it is a moon palace, a buoyant composition of silvery reflected light. Inside, the light shifts to gold.
Sitting atop the downtown Bunker Hill district, Disney Hall is the most gallant building you are ever likely to see. And it will be opening its doors to everyone who has fought for the chance to be generous, to others and to themselves.
From some approaches Disney Hall first appears as a luminous crescent hovering between skyscrapers. The light playing off its surface is uncanny, though we have often been in its presence. It is the light of the silver screen and of the round reflectors used on photo and video locations: the light of the Hollywood dream.
Now imagine a moon apple: a hollow sphere of lunar light. Somebody hands you a knife and says, ''Cut!'' How many shapes can you make? Peel a ribbon. Carve out squares of curving surfaces, concave and convex. Change the dimensions. Turn some slices inside out. Tweak. Stretch. When you're done, compose the pieces into a flowering cabbage. Then into a cabbage rose. Rearrange. Magnify. Reproduce the contours with large panels of stainless steel etched to a soft matte finish. Jump in and soar.
The technique is Cubist. No seamless image reveals the whole. Disney Hall must be assembled within the mind piece by piece as you approach and walk around it. A Surrealist ethos also suffuses the design: the imagineering impulse of Disney as well as of Magritte. Pumpkin into carriage, cabbage into concert hall, bippidi-bobbidi-boo.
Though the forms are abstract, fleeting images can be glimpsed in them. Drive-in movie screens. The curving edge of a bass cello. A ship's prow. Sails. The Rust Belt before the rust. If you're unwilling to mix your metaphors, you've come to the wrong place.
These elusive, mutable images heighten the perception that a metamorphosis is in process. And they convey the idea that change is as much the product of the viewer's imagination as it is of a designers.
A wall of glass is recessed beneath the steel flower on the Grand Avenue side of the building. The hall is entered here, through doors that can be lifted to create a nearly seamless continuity between inside and out. Even from outside, you can see that the interior design shifts to a different key. Stylized trees, recalling Gothic buttresses, can be glimpsed through the glass. The squared-off trunks and branches are clad with naturally finished Douglas fir, as are most of the interior surfaces. The warm wood reads as a modern version of gold.
Serpentine lobbies surround the auditorium, which is set diagonally to the building site. The adjustment is initially disorienting, but you won't get lost if you let your intuition lead the way. That is the way to go anyhow inside Disney Hall. Ahead lies a gathering of hunches: let's try it this way. No, maybe this way. Make up your mind! I don't want to.
The design of the auditorium started out Hans Scharoun's way. Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic Hall (1963), gave Mr. Gehry and Mr. Salonen the idea of presenting the orchestra in the round. The elimination of the proscenium arch fuses musicians and listeners into a single spatial event.
But the stage has not been lost. The entire room has become a stage. This impression is due in large part to the billowing wood of the hall's ceiling. The billows evoke the swags of an opera house curtain, perpetually going up.
There are 2,265 seats. These are arranged on steeply raked terraces around the semicircular stage. Natural light filters into the hall through skylights concealed at the four corners. This celestial effect is baroque, as is the barely contained commotion of a pipe organ that faces the conductor's podium on the far side of the orchestra. The splayed pipes of this focal point bring to mind the bursting gilded rays of an altar piece by Bernini.
Yasuhisa Toyota and Minoru Nagata are the hall's acoustical engineers. Custom dictates that the architectural design of a new concert hall be reviewed separately from its acoustical performance. Yet after listening to music in the golden hall, I am unable to oblige. A recent rehearsal of Mozart's 32nd Symphony nearly brought on an attack of Stendhal's syndrome, the notoriously romantic state of panic induced by aesthetic ecstasy. Audience, music, architecture were infused by a sensation of unity so profound that time stopped.
Those immune to the power of metaphor sometimes scoff at the idea that Mr. Gehry's architecture is democratic. That idea is affirmed here by the materials, the multiple perspectives the design encourages, and above all by the organization of the seats.
When I saw the models of the final design, I remember thinking that the seats on the top row of the house looked a bit sad. There are only a few, widely spaced: they appear exposed. But when I finally got to sit in one, I felt downright special. Seeing those seats from a distance is also a pleasure, because the people sitting in them register as individuals, just as the musicians do. The audience feels less like a mass, more like a diverse assembly. The hall is full of such reminders that architecture is a philosophy of urban life.
Metamorphosis happens, and not only in Walt Disney's classic films. Cities do it all the time. Los Angeles has done it now. The building pulls together the strands of many individual stories and creates an extraordinarily gallant setting in which they can be screened.
An urban metamorphosis is a victory for the inner life. Charles Garnier understood this when designing the Paris Opera, completed in 1874. The building itself was not the star attraction. The main event was the relationship between the stage and Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann's Paris. Figurative paintings and sculptures, the choice of colors, the progression of theatrical spaces from the boulevard to the proscenium arch: by means of such devices, Garnier translated the vernacular of the streets into an inner, psychological space. The result (to borrow Christopher Curtis Mead's term from his 1991 book on Garnier) was an ''architecture of empathy.'' Artists and audiences were brought together.
Radically different forms can produce startlingly similar effects. Mr. Gehry's design also embodies an empathic approach. Los Angeles has its own vernacular traditions. Above all the city has an ethos, to which Mr. Gehry's buildings have been giving shape for many years.
If you want to make unity out of the city's architecture, you must get in the car and zigzag around town, turning the windshield this way and that, as if it were a lens, piling image next to image like a David Hockney photomontage. En route you will learn everything it takes to apprehend a Cubist building, perhaps even to design one.
You don't need an architecture critic to tell you how beautifully this desert garden is ruled by Surreal juxtaposition. But let me point you toward a fine example of it as an ideal approach to Disney Hall: the fabulous Bunker Hill Steps.
Designed by Lawrence Halprin and completed in 1990, this local landmark ascends 103 steps from the street opposite the downtown Central Library to the top of Bunker Hill. Flanking the grand flight is a set of up and down escalators; down the center, water cascades over rocks.
Because of its height and the baroque curves of its treads, it is often compared to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Usually the comparison is accompanied by snickers. In truth the stairs are a comic piece of infrastructure: the baroque and the mechanized side by side; cold canyon corporate architecture with Mediterranean splash. But thanks to Disney Hall, Halprin's staircase has surpassed the Spanish Steps in cultural substance. The ascent now moves toward an emotional climax. Each skyscraper, plaza and skywalk is a step on the way to one civilizing thought: To speak is human, but to listen is divine.
Published: 10 - 23 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 3 , Page 1
From Vinyl to Digital, Hold the Crackle
By ROY FURCHGOTT
EARCH the Gnutella Network as you may, some recordings are so scarce or of such limited appeal that you cannot find them anywhere, except maybe in your own vinyl collection. But your rare 45 of Blondie's "Little GTO" need not be a stranger in the land of the CD player. Technology is available that will not only enable you to turn your hot wax into digital tracks, but will also let you clean up the static that separates your favorite Bruce Springsteen bootleg from its glory days.
To turn LP's into CD's, you will need some hardware: specifically a turntable, a preamplifier and a computer. You will also need software to digitize the analog signal, edit the digital recording, clean it and burn it to a CD or DVD.
Any turntable with a line-out connector will do, although you can also digitize other analog sources, like a radio broadcast, reel-to-reel tape or 8-track player (if you rescued yours from the Gremlin before you sold it).
To record from a turntable to a computer, the signal must first go through a preamplifier that will boost it to a recordable level. You can use a stereo receiver (most have preamp-out or phono-out connections), or you can buy a no-frills phono preamp for about $30 at an electronics hobby shop.
You will also need to connect the preamp to your computer. The most common way to do that is with an adapter cable with two male RCA plugs at one end that attach to your preamp and a one-eighth-inch stereo phono jack at the other that connects with your computer. But different equipment makers use different connectors, so you might need another kind of adapter.
If sound quality is a big concern, consider investing in a preamp with an audio-to-digital converter. These devices incorporate a computer chip dedicated to converting analog signals to digital ones. In theory, the computer's main processor is always busy carrying out other tasks, so using a separate chip for conversion delivers better sound. In practice, the degree of improvement will vary with the quality of the converter. One such device is a preamp sound card, like the Phono PreAmp from Terratec ($100, www .terratec.net), which puts a preamp with an analog-to-digital converter chip inside your computer.
Some LP restoration software suites, including Pinnacle Clean Plus ($100), come with an external preamp that plugs into a U.S.B. port and works with your existing sound card. (Clean Plus and other software choices are described in more detail in the accompanying article.) There is also the iMic from Griffin Technologies ($40, www.griffintechnologies.com), a small input device that converts analog signals to digital outside of the computer, eliminating the possibility of electronic interference from other computer components.
Once the signal has been amplified and digitized, your computer takes over. Recording the signal and cleaning it up require extensive processing, so a powerful chip is needed to do it efficiently. The makers of most cleaning software recommend at least a 500-megahertz processor.
You also need lots of hard-drive space, because sound files occupy about 10 megabytes per minute; that would be almost a gigabyte for all 77 minutes of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica."
Three basic steps are necessary to get the digitized music ready and onto a disc. A recording program, sometimes called a ripper, captures the sounds. You can edit the digital recording, reducing static and other analog noise with filtering software and trimming excess lead-in time and adding fade-ins and simple effects with a wave form editor. Then you need a burning program to put the final product on a disc.
There are hundreds of individual sound-editing programs, from $15 shareware to professional-quality software costing $1,000 and up (see www.hitsquad.com for a list). Most consumer software costs $40 to $150, and often everything you need is bundled in a single suite. PC users can choose all-in-one products like Audio Cleaning Lab from Magix or Clean from Pinnacle, both of which are good for importing and cleaning.
For Mac users, things are a bit more complicated. There is only one moderately priced suite - Roxio's Toast 6 Titanium ($100 list price, but available for less) - and it has limited filters for reducing noises. Much improved over the previous version, Toast 6 is more than sufficient for converting a reasonably well-maintained record collection.
There are plenty of other programs you can use to make your own suite, like Peak from Bias for recording and editing and Ray Gun from Arboretum Systems for cleaning. But the actual recording and cleaning will require more work. With those two programs, for example, you would have to record and edit the file in Peak, then save it as a generic sound file. You would then have to import it into Ray Gun, clean it and re-export it as a generic recordable sound file.
The ripper software, at least, is simple. It works just like a tape recorder: you drop the needle onto a record, adjust the ripper's volume meters on your computer screen to the optimum level and click the Record command. It will capture the music in real time, producing a faithful copy that includes scratchy surface noise. Some audio purists like the noise, which lends authentic analog warmth. If you are in that camp, and you have recorded a well-cared-for album, your job is done, unless you want to use your editor to trim excess dead space at the beginning or end of a song or add a fade-in for a little flourish.
But if you want to get rid of static, the next step is to use cleaning software.
These programs rely on algorithms to sort noise from music. The simplest ones make some assumptions what a music signal looks like, then eliminate everything else. Some programs have automatic analyzers that check for static, then suggest appropriate filter settings.
But these programs are not as accurate as a pair of ears. Even the best cleaning programs can benefit from some manual adjustment. Some allow you to sample a particular sound - say, a pop heard with each rotation of your platter - and remove just that sound.
While experts spend more for their hardware and software than the typical home user, the restoration techniques they use are the same. Brian Slack, co-founder of Widget Post Production in Culver City, Calif., uses a $40,000 cleaning device from Cedar in combination with stacks of third-party software to restore about 250 movie soundtracks a year, like "West Side Story'' and the Pink Panther series.
Mr. Slack said that although some software offers preset corrections, say for 78 r.p.m. discs or tape, you are best off listening carefully and making your own settings. "For the most part, you want to sit down and do it on a record-by-record basis, sometimes on a track-by-track basis," he said.
He also recommended keeping a raw copy of your recording as a backup and saving a copy of the recording at each step as you work on it, so you can go back a step without starting over.
Do not overscrub. "There is definitely a point of diminishing returns where you can remove so much noise that you are removing the music as well," Mr. Slack said.
Finally, rippers can copy music at different sample rates. Generally, the higher the rate, the better the fidelity. For a CD that will be played on a home or car system, the standard settings are 44.1 kHz and 16 bits resolution. Higher sampling rates will not play on regular home CD systems, but will play on electronic devices (like an iPod). To capture the best sound possible, set the ripper at a higher level, like 24, 96 or even 192 bits resolution, which is what professionals use, and then play it through a hard drive.
Recordings made at higher sampling rates can always be converted to lower rates later if you want to burn them to a CD.
If you want to try professional quality software, Waves offers a spectacular freebie with its Restoration Bundle. You can download its $1,200 filters for removing static at no charge for a two-week trial. These filters work as add-ons, called plug-ins, with most sound editing programs.
To commit your work to CD, you need burning software. One program is about as good as the next, although there are subtle differences that will mean something to the technologically advanced.
One word of caution: not all burner software plays well together. If you use a software package that adds new burning software to your computer - like some of the suites discussed here - the new burner software may fight with the old software for control of your CD drive. Sometimes the program you want to use loses, and you cannot burn a disc. The simple solution to this problem is to get rid of all the burner programs except the one you like best. Uninstall the rejects carefully, though, so they will not leave behind pieces that could continue to bedevil your burner.
Cleaning up digitized recordings can take some practice. But won't you be pleased to be the only one on your block with a mix CD that includes Robert Ellis Orrall's "Call the Uh Oh Squad"?
GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI
* * * (R)
BY ROGER EBERT
It helps to understand that the hero of "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is crazy. Well, of course he is. He lives in a shack on a rooftop with his pigeons. He dresses like a homeless man. "He has no friends and never talks to anybody," according to the mother of the little girl in the movie. Actually, he does talk: to the little girl and to a Haitian ice cream man. The Haitian speaks no English and Ghost Dog speaks no French, so they simply speak in their own languages and are satisfied with that. What's your diagnosis?
Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a killer for the mob. He got into this business because one day a mobster saved his life--and so, since he follows The Way of the Samurai, he must dedicate his life to his master. The mobster is named Louie (John Tormey). He orders hits by sending Ghost Dog messages by carrier pigeon. Ghost Dog insists on being paid once a year, on the first day of autumn. When the mob bosses want Ghost Dog rubbed out, they're startled to discover that Louie doesn't know his name or where he lives; their only contact is the pigeons.
It seems strange that a black man would devote his life to doing hired killing for a group of Italian-American gangsters after having met only one of them. But then it's strange, too, that Ghost Dog lives like a medieval Japanese samurai. The whole story is so strange, indeed, that I've read some of the other reviews in disbelief. Are movie critics so hammered by absurd plots that they can't see how truly, profoundly weird "Ghost Dog" is? The reviews treat it matter of factly: Yeah, here's this hit man, he lives like a samurai, he gets his instructions by pigeon, blah . . . blah . . . and then they start talking about the performances and how the director, Jim Jarmusch, is paying homage to Kurosawa and "High Noon."
But the man is insane! In a quiet, sweet way, he is totally unhinged and has lost all touch with reality. His profound sadness, which permeates the touching Whitaker performance, comes from his alienation from human society, his loneliness, his attempt to justify inhuman behavior (murder) with a belief system (the samurai code) that has no connection with his life or his world. Despite the years he's spent studying The Way of the Samurai, he doesn't even reflect that since his master doesn't subscribe to it, their relationship is meaningless.
I make this argument because I've seen "Ghost Dog" twice, and admired it more after I focused on the hero's insanity. The first time I saw it, at Cannes, I thought it was a little too precious, an exercise in ironic style, not substance. But look more deeply, and you see the self-destructive impulse that guides Ghost Dog in the closing scenes, as he sadly marches forth to practice his code in the face of people who only want to kill him (whether he survives is not the point).
Jarmusch is mixing styles here almost recklessly and I like the chances he takes. The gangsters (played by colorful character actors like Henry Silva, Richard Portnow, Cliff Gorman and Victor Argo) sit in their clubhouse doing sub-Scorsese while the Louie character tries to explain to them how he uses an invisible hit man. Ghost Dog, meanwhile, mopes sadly around the neighborhood, solemnly recommending Rashomon to a little girl ("you may want to wait and read it when you're a little older") and miscommunicating with the ice cream man. By the end, Whitaker's character has generated true poignance.
If the mobsters are on one level of reality and Ghost Dog on another, then how do we interpret some of the Dog's killings, particularly the one where he shoots a man by sneaking under his house and firing up through the lavatory pipe while the guy is shaving? This is a murder that demands Inspector Clouseau as its investigator. Jarmusch seems to have directed with his tongue in his cheek, his hand over his heart, and his head in the clouds. The result is weirdly intriguing.