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Coolest email ever!

Hello, Eli Bildirici

I have found your applet here. It is a great applet, and, I see, it is available under GPL v3.

As such, it is fully suitable for Ultrastudio.org, encyclopedia with Java applets, and will be used for this project.

While GPL gives us right to use the program, in case you do not like it to be there, please reply saying so and we remove it.

With respect

A.M.

Another small thought on Lorien/hijaz

One small tidbit that I think was in the back of my mind when I wrote my original post, but I don’t think quite made it out. Hijaz, in the liturgy, is associated with mourning, so it’s quite fitting from my perspective that it be used for Lorien, mourning the passage of time and the changes the world outside Lorien has seen, changes that would inevitably engulf them – for good or ill, Lorien is destined to be swept away by a new Dominion, either that of Men or that of the Dark Lord. The maqam seems to return for Gandalf’s lament and more significantly at Haldir’s death, as one of their bravest made the ultimate sacrifice – always more tragic for the immortal elves (not to mention Istari) than Men. Wow. Bravo maestro!

LOTR, to the tune of Arabia

For the past two weeks I have been absolutely devouring Middle-earth musicologist Doug Adams’ comprehensive treatment of Howard Shore’s scores to the Lord of the Rings, a book I’ve been anticipating for at least four years. Simply put, it is a masterwork. Adams is a true scholar and lover of music, especially this music. Previously, the best works I’ve ever read on film scores were Adams’ own liner notes for the Lord of the Rings CDs and Michael Matessino’s notes for the 1997 Star Wars Trilogy SE sets.
This baby blows those soundly out of the water – except, maybe, in price, but you definitely get what you pay for here. (It even nudged down a few dollars this week. Pay no heed to Amazon’s delivery estimates; the book is already shipping.) The book is peppered with conceptual drawings by Tolkien artists Alan Lee and John Howe and features excerpts from the score’s actual sheet music; it even comes with a CD with some previously-unreleased outtakes. The most wonderful thing about it, though, is the 100+ pages dedicated to laying out and analyzing Shore’s themes and the variations and relationships between them. At the end of each section – say of Hobbit/Shire themes, or Sauron/The Ring, the Dwarves, the Elves, and so on, and on – Adams’ has a neat little feature dubbed ‘In Theory’ where he tries to more clearly show what’s going on technically, what’s making the music tick. One little tidbit in particular, about the music of the elves of Lothlórien, really grabbed me:

The music of LOTHLÓRIEN suggests the maqām hijāz, an Arabic mode not unlike the Western Phrygian mode, though with an augmented second between its second and third scale degrees. While certain of maqām hijāz‘ microtonalities were shed, Shore often stresses the augmented second interval in the maqām‘s opening. This interval is used not to evoke an exotic otherness, but to create a sense of age that speaks of Middle-earth’s ancient eras.

This sucker-punched me. The Lord of the Rings begins…in maqām hijāz? (The first few seconds of Fellowship feature the Lórien theme, while Galadriel begins her little “the world is changed” soliloquy.) Now if I had half an analytical or musical brain, or actually understood anything about the maqamāt, maybe I would have caught this;Alas, being but the dilettantish poseur that I am, no dice. Maqām hijāz! It’s just too awesome, too perfect, like two secluded parts of my being peaked around a barrier, stared, and instead of being stricken by horror or bolting, decided to tear down the wall, rip off their clothes, and make love there on the spot! (Toldja. Poseur. Deal.)

…Allow me to explain the gaga up there. A maqām is an Arabic mode usually named after associated with a specific place. The “Hijāz” is Western Arabia, where Mecca and Medina are, hence, this post’s title. Each week, a different maqām is used by the cantors of Eastern Jewish communities during services on the Sabbath. Which one is selected depends mostly on the content of the weekly Tora portion . For example, last week, for the first Tora reading in the yearly cycle, maqām rāst was used, because of the understanding of the Arabic “rāst” to mean “head”, like the Hebrew word “rosh”. This coming week’s reading, about the story of Noah and the flood, maqām sikah – also used by Levantine and Mesopotamian communities for reading Torá – is used, because something, in this case the ark, is being built. Some use a modulation, maqām irāq, and friends of mine have speculated that this is due to Mt Ararat (in southeastern Anatolia, not far from Mesopotamia) being noted as the ark’s final resting place, as well as the mention of the Tower of Babel (Babylon).

As it happens, hijāz – as you might guess if you’re familiar with the Lórien tune – is used during days of mourning (usually fast days) or when particularly sad events occur in the weekly portion. I right away tried to take Lothlórien and apply it to some part of the liturgy, and eventually got it working (more or less) with the qaddish, a sort of sanctification of God’s name central to traditional Jewish prayer services. It works fairly well: I got a decent response from a congregation when I tried it last week (justification: mourning the end of a major Jewish holiday season, which runs through most of the month of the Hebrew month of Tishri), and recorded a few takes of it, one of which I’ll probably release here soon. Usually, this involves having to shoehorn in the tune somewhat, but it was much easier with Lórien, which was basically gift-wrapped. So, I thank Doug Adams for this little note – literally of religious significance to me – and look forward to meeting him this Saturday night.

they should rename the iPad “eGraphicNovelReader”

OK, not really, but when the iPad was unveiled, the only really compelling reason I could see to buy one – the only thing the iPad stands to do better than netbooks and laptops – is to read digital comics. I already do this with on my ultraportable laptop (which has a bigger screen than the iPad), but the experience is not that nice because of the orientation of the screen and difficult-to-use UI. All of the comics, of course, are torrented and in RAR files, without any sort of metadata or tags to help sort them in the same way Calibre does for my torrented eBooks. So I thought, if the iPad can display comics, I’d probably pick one up once they begin to fall in price (to around what a Kindle costs today).
It looks like the idea occurred to some folks, who cooked up a really insane-looking app, which does everything a comic book app should and more. Youza.
I love being right 🙂

Yihiye Tov, ct’d.

This song just speaks to me. I’m sure that that’s partially because I spent a bunch of time listening to it and coping with it in order to coax it into English, but even before that, it just seemed…right. This wasn’t my experience with the version I heard in high school, with the mellow, reassuring guitar being replaced by a bunch of teenagers apparently trying to imitate du-wop. This is an effect that’s made even worse on the CD, where the vocals – not always, but on this specific song – are just way too compressed, unnatural, and jarring to enjoy (as in most pop music today). This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy other the other songs – just that this one never impressed me, though I’m sure the main vocalists were great.

But anyway, the original is fanfrikkintastic! I googled around a bit, and found that the song was inspired by Paul Simon’s excellent American Tune, from his first solo album, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”. Thematically, rhythmically, and melodically, Yihiye Tov stands in its’ debt. This is most obvious in the chorus, which thematically matches the “chorus” of American Tune, and melodically is almost the same, but switches around the order of two motifs. (This is kind of difficult to explain, so I may follow it up with audio samples later. )
“American Tune” is one I hold close to my heart, and is best experienced on vinyl, whether battered and weather-beaten or pristine and new, in the dark, with your significant other. I haven’t tried it with Yihiye Tov, but as much as I love it, I think the themes of American Tune may resonate better, with, uh, Americans 🙂 Yihiye Tov has some universal themes – many of which came out of American Tune, but most of it is expressed in explicitly Israeli terms: it was made for a certain audience in a certain era, that being the Israeli populace witnessing the extraordinary (in many ways, and not always good) peace accords with Egypt.

Oh, and I’d like to issue a revision for the “return without remorse” line. I think

they return unchanged, of course

or

they return the same or worse

are less critical and in fact closer to Broza’s original line, even if it doesn’t have the same ring to it and don’t fit the rhyme scheme as well.
-e

EDIT: I also think the song is much more effective if the chorus is kept in Hebrew. The English is too awkward and sounds kinda lame. Also, the ultimate line should read:

I look outside my window; for a new day to arrive

The meter didn’t really work in the last one, and it was awkward overall. This is less strictly accurate is still close enough to the original line: “אולי יגיע יום חדש”, except there’s an implied impatience instead of the uncertainty and sort of naive hopefulness of the original. But it works…I hope.

italy vs. teh interwebs

So at this point, everybody’s heard of Italy’s decision to convict three Google execs of violating privacy laws, because of an offensive video posted on YouTube by someone completely unrelated to Google. The video of a group of teenagers heckling an autistic boy was taken down – but not fast enough, apparently.
Absurdly, the court points to the sort of forced political censorship in China as ‘proof’ that it could do the same in Italy – “not to monitor political content ‘but to protect human dignity.'”
Now, never mind the technical challenges involved in indexing and categorizing audio and video – something that took the Music Genome Project, to cite but one example, a decade of research to perfect. At least they had some almost-objective criteria to work with: recommend pieces of music with some similar characteristics – rhythm, meter, instrumentation, lyrics, what have you – to those that a user already likes. To find a video “offensive” according to some arbitrary, imposed criteria would be nearly impossible without also filtering out so much art, music, and film which this magic, nonexistent algorithm also finds “offensive”. Only review by human brain will get this right – and that would take forever, since at least 20hrs of video is uploaded to YouTube…per minute.
But never mind all that. This ruling is yet another example of government attempting to impose control on the brave new world of decentralized media. This is done, in Europe, in the name of “privacy”. The linked-to article cites the existence of the Gestapo and Stasi as motives behind Europe’s strong privacy laws. The irony is too salient, since some entity – a government agency or multinational corporation – is being asked to monitor the content posted by other citizens, and censoring them. Implicitly, the private activities of the other citizens is being judged (what they choose to record). These citizens, it seems, have a right to create, but only a privilege to express. The bright red line between the public and private is dangerously dimmed when what is public for one can be deemed private for another by an institution related to neither party. Issues of fair use and copyright inevitably creep in as well: since fair use is something that can only be determined after the fact, certainly a stationary algorithm will inevitably fail to filter correctly, until someone perfects the Networked Flux Capacitor (which I’m assured by Christopher Lloyd is a work-in-progress).
Scarier laws are on the block in Italy, which would require blogs to post any edits and retractions within 48 hours – the same standard applied to newspapers – and would hold blogs liable for the content of anonymous commenters.
Now, perhaps I’m overreacting a bit in blaming European mores, and all of this Orwellian stuff is due to the machinations of the only guy in broadcasting slimier than Rupert Murdoch, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who somehow not only continues to hold monopoly control over the media in his country despite being the head of state but seeks to extend that control to our beloved Series Of Tubes ™.
But regardless, at this point I’d like to quote one of my intellectual heroes, a true godol and great American – none other than the anthropomorphic wonder himself, Donald Fauntleroy Duck:

Boy, am I glad to be a citizen of United States of America.


(and NO, I am not comparing the EU to the Third Reich…just Italy)
-e

america vs. israel

America: “Penny for the homeless? No one should be hungry!”
Israel: “Charity saves you from death!”

an interesting difference in approach.

EDIT: Well actually, the phrase is “Charity saves from death!” or “Charity prevents death!” This was originally what I thought it meant, but I interpreted it wrong when I sat down to write it, mainly because the message becomes more powerful. Thanks to Louis and Alex for putting me in my place ;]