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12 of 12 for December 2010

16 Dec

On the weekend of the 12th, I was up in Lyon with a few other assistants to see the annual Fête des lumières, or Festival of Lights. Since we were out past midnight on the 11th, I took this shot of a colourful light installation around 1am on the 12th as we walked back to our host’s apartment.

After a very restful sleep, we woke up late in the morning. Our host (who is also an English assistant, in Lyon) had a really nice apartment, complete with a variety of artwork provided by the French subletter.

Fellow Toulon assistant Vanessa and I headed to Lyon’s Christmas market to experience the local holiday atmosphere. Being a chestnut fanatic, she couldn’t resist some hot wine with chestnut flavour.

The Christmas market was really bustling with people.

Since we hadn’t eaten dinner at a restaurant in France for a couple months, we agreed that we would look for a reasonably priced place to experience a Lyonnais meal that evening. We scoped out the picturesque Rue Mercière to find a suitable restaurant.

Seeking shelter from the cold, we went inside the Eglise Saint-Nizier and discovered this nice candle display on the altar. As per tradition during the festival, the Lyonnais light candles in recognition of the Virgin Mary, whose protection they prayed for during the plague of 1643.

Inside the church was also this “hands-on” display (pun intended) where visitors express their thanks to Mary and write prayers on their hand outlines.

Continually seeking shelter from the winter weather outside, we found refuge in a small, infinitely charming café where we got cheap hot drinks and shared a mouth-watering tartine with chèvre cheese and thyme.

We swiftly scuttled over to FNAC, a big entertainment / book store. We used the display iPads to check our e-mail until the store closed.

Although the festival officially ended on the 11th, a lot of the illuminations were still up on the 12th. I’m not sure if the Palais de la Bourse is always lit up like this or if it was just for the festival.

We finally rendez-voused with our host, Maggie, and headed off to a Lyonnais restaurant for a delicious dinner. Our table was at the very back of the restaurant, essentially inside the kitchen. Saucisson chaud in a beaujolais sauce was the main course, followed by a very tasty fondant au chocolat. Only the French know how to eat so well.

Since it’s very difficult to see major English-language films in Toulon without French dubbing, I promised myself before going to Lyon that I would take advantage of their version originale screenings. Maggie accompanied me to see the new Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (in 3-D). It wasn’t quite as solid as the first two films, but it restored some of the vibrancy and optimism of the first installment, and I quite liked the ending.

I took the above picture during one of the previews. My next 12 of 12 will be in – you guessed it – 2011.

An Incomplete A-Z Glossary of the Past Decade

3 Jan

Since I’m obsessed with history, pop culture, and nostalgia, I decided to begin a series of retrospectives on the decade that has just ended. The first task I took upon myself was to compile a list of all the words I could possibly associate with the 2000s. It was a challenging endeavour, to say the least. You will find this very incomplete “glossary” below — feel free to add your own entries, as I surely have not done this crazy decade justice.


2 girls 1 cup
24-hour news cycle
28 Days Later
30 Rock
40-Year-Old Virgin, The
50 Cent
80s nostalgia

Abu Ghraib
Across the Universe
Adult Swim
-age (suffix)
airport security
Al Gore
Al Jazeera
Ali G
Alicia Keys
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
Amazing Race, The
Amber alert
America, f*** yeah!
American Chopper
American Idol
America’s Next Top Model
Amy Winehouse
An Inconvenient Truth
Anderson Cooper
Anna Nicole Smith
AOL Time Warner
Apprentice, The
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Arcade Fire, The
Arctic Monkeys
Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?
armchair general
Arrested Development
Ashlee Simpson
Ashton Kutcher
Atkins Diet
Avenue Q
Avril Lavigne
Axis of Evil
Ayman al-Zawahiri

baby mama
Bachelor, The
Backstreet Boys
bag for life
Bali bombings
balloon boy
Ban Ki-moon
Barack Obama
bare midriff
Beautiful Mind, A
Beltway Sniper
Ben Stiller
Benazir Bhutto
Bernie Mac
Bernie Madoff
Beyoncé Knowles
Big Brother
Big Mouth Billy Bass
Bill O’Reilly
Billy Mays
bird flu
Black Eyed Peas, The
Blades of Glory
Blanket Jackson (over the balcony)
bleached blond hair
bling (bling)
Bloc Party
Boston Legal
Boston Public
Bourne Trilogy, The
Bowling for Columbine
box sets
brain fart
Britney Spears
Brokeback Mountain
Bruce Almighty
Burger King King
Burj Dubai
Bush v. Gore
Butterfly Effect, The

California recall
Can you hear me now?
Can’t Get You Out of My Head
canvas totes
Captain Sully
carbon footprint
Carrie Prejean
Carrie Underwood
Cash for Clunkers
Cast Away
Catholic sex abuse scandal
Chappelle’s Show
Chapter 11
Chocolate Rain
Chris Brown
Christian Bale
Christina Aguilera
Chronicles of Narnia, The
Chuck Norris facts
City of God
civil unions
Clay Aiken
Clay Henry
climate change
Colbert Report, The
Colin Powell
comic book movie
Concorde crash
Condoleezza Rice
credit crunch
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Curb Your Enthusiasm
CW, The

D.C. Madam
Da Vinci Code, The
Daft Punk
Dan Brown
Dancing with the Stars
Daniel Craig
Daniel Pearl
Danish cartoons
Dashboard Confessional
David Beckham
Deal or No Deal
Death Cab for Cutie
death panel
Decembrists, The
decider, the
Demetri Martin
Departed, The
Descent, The
Desperate Housewives
Destiny’s Child
Dick Cheney
Dick in a Box
digital cameras
dirty bomb
Dixie Chicks
Don Imus
Donald Trump
Donnie Darko
Don’t tase me, bro
Dora the Explorer
Dot-com bubble
douche chill
Dr. Phil
Dragonball Z
dramatic chipmunk
Drop It Like It’s Hot
Dude, Where’s My Car?

Election 2000
Elian Gonzales
Eliot Spitzer
Elizabeth Smart
Emeril Lagasse
energy drinks
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
European Heat Wave of 2003
extraordinary rendition
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Fahrenheit 9/11
Fall Out Boy
Family Guy
Fast and the Furious, The
Fear Factor
Final Destination
financial crisis
Finding Nemo
Flaming Lips, The
flash mobs
Flight of the Conchords
Flying Spaghetti Monster
fo’ shizzle my nizzle
Franz Ferdinand
Frat Pack, The
Freddy Got Fingered
freedom fries
From Justin to Kelly
frosted hair

Game, the (sorry, you just lost)
Garden State
Gary Condit and Chandra Levy
gel pens
George Bush doesn’t care about black people
George Lopez
George W. Bush
Get ‘er done
Ghost Hunters
Gilmore Girls
girly men
global warming
Gnarls Barkley
God Bless America
Goldman Sachs
Gone in Sixty Seconds
Gossip Girl
grammar Nazi
Grand Theft Auto
Great American Boycott
Grey’s Anatomy
Ground Zero
Guantanamo Bay / Gitmo
Guitar Hero
Gwen Stefani
Gym Class Heroes

Halle Berry
Hamid Karzai
hanging chads
Hangover, The
Hans Blix
Harry Potter
hax (h4x)
Heath Ledger
Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt
Hey Ya!
High Definition
High School Musical
high-speed Internet
Hillary Duff
Hills Have Eyes, The
Hills, The
hip hop culture
hockey mom
hollaback girl
Homeland Security
Homestar Runner
hooking up
Hot Topic
House (M.D.)
housing market bubble
How I Met Your Mother
Howard Dean scream
Hugh Jackman
Hugo Chavez
Human Genome Project

I do what I want!
I drink your milkshake!
I like!
I see what you did there
Ice Road Truckers
illegal immigration
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
I’m f***ing Matt Damon
I’m Lovin’ It
I’m on a Boat
I’m Rick James, bitch
I’mma let you finish
In Da Club
Incredibles, The
Indian Ocean Tsunami
insider trading
Intelligent Design
Internets, the
Invisible Children
ironic T-shirts
Is that your final answer?
Islamic extremism
It’s a trap!

J.K. Rowling
Ja Rule
Jack Black
Jamie Salé and David Pelletier
Jared Fogle
Jena Six, The
Jennifer Holloway
Jessica Alba
Jessica Simpson
Jim Gaffigan
Jimmy Eat World
Joe Lieberman
Joe Millionaire
Joe Sixpack
Joe the Plumber
John Ashcroft
John Edwards
John Kerry
John McCain
John Walker Lindh
Jon and Kate Plus 8
Jon Stewart
Jonas Brothers
Judd Apatow
Justin Timberlake

Kanye West
Karl Rove
Keith Olbermann
Keith Urban
Kelly Clarkson
Ken Jennings
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Kill Bill
Kim Jong-Il
Kim Kardashian
kind of a big deal
Kings of Leon
Kobe Bryant

L Word, The
Lady Gaga
Large Hadron Collider
Larry Craig
Leave Britney alone
Lebanon War
LeBron James
leggings (and mini-skirts)
Lehman Brothers
Leona Lewis
Let the Right One In
Let’s roll
Lil Wayne
Lilo & Stitch
Lindsay Lohan
Linkin Park
lipstick on a pig
Little Miss Sunshine
Lives of Others, The
Liza Minnelli and David Gest
Lizzie McGuire
London bombings
Lord of the Rings
Lost in Translation
low rise jeans
low-carb diets
Lupe Fiasco

M. Night Shyamalan
mad cow disease
Mad Men
Madeleine McCann
Madrid bombings
Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Ahmadenijad
make it rain
Malcolm in the Middle
Mamma Mia!
man crush
Marc Rich pardon
March of the Penguins
Mark Foley
Mark Sanford
Maroon 5
Mars rovers
Martha Stewart
Me, Myself & Irene
Mean Girls
Meet the Parents
Mel Gibson
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mentos and Coke
Michael Cera
Michael Ian Black
Michael Jackson
Michael Moore
Michael Phelps
Michael Schumacher
Michael Vick
Michelle Obama
Miley Cyrus
military tribunals
Milkshake (brings all the boys to the yard)
Minority Report
Miracle on the Hudson
Miss South Carolina
Mission Accomplished
Missy Elliott
Mitch Hedberg
mobile 3G
Modest Mouse
Mole, The
more cowbell
Moscow theatre hostage crisis
Moulin Rouge!
muffin top
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
my friends
My Name is Earl
My Super Sweet 16
MySpace angles

‘N Sync
Nancy Pelosi
Napoleon Dynamite
Nelly Furtado
Nicole Richie
Nintendo DS
No blood for oil
No Child Left Behind
No Country for Old Men
Norah Jones
North Korea
Northeast Blackout of 2003
Northern Alliance
Notebook, The
Numa Numa

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
O.C., The
Ocean’s Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen
off the chain
Office, The
offshore drilling
Oh, snap!
Old School
on the DL
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Osbournes, The
Others, The
oversized sunglasses

P2P file sharing
Panic Room
Pan’s Labyrinth
Paper Planes
Paris Hilton
Passion of the Christ, The
Patriot Act
Peanut butter jelly time
Pearl Harbor
Pervez Musharraf
Peter Jackson
Pianist, The
Pimp My Ride
pirates (Somalia & Internet)
Pirates of the Caribbean
plasma TV
Poker Face
Pope Benedict XVI
popped collar
Prison Break
Producers, The
prohibited liquids
Project Runway
PS2 / PS3
PT Cruiser
public option
Pussycat Dolls
pwn(ed) / own(ed)

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Rachael Ray
racial profiling
Ralph Nader
Raptor Jesus
Rascal Flatts
Razor scooters
reality television
Red Bull
Red States, Blue States
regime change
Regis and Kelly
Reno 911!
Requiem for a Dream
reverse the curse
Richard Reid / the Shoe Bomber
Ricky Gervais
ridiculous / ridonk(ulous) / ricockulous
Ring, The
Road to Perdition
Rob Schneider
Robert Blake
Rock Band
Roger Federer
rolling blackouts
rollover (SUVs and minutes)
Ron Paul
Royal Tenenbaums, The
Ruben Studdard
Rudy Giuliani
Runaway Bride
Russell Crowe
Ryan Seacrest

Sacha Baron Cohen
Saddam Hussein
Salad Fingers
same sex marriage
Sarah Palin
Sarah Silverman
Sasha and Malia
sausage fest
Scary Movie
School of Rock
Scooter Libby
Scott and Laci Peterson
Sealab 2021
Sean Kingston
September 11th
Serena & Venus Williams
Seven Nation Army
shaggy hair
Shaun of the Dead
Shia LaBeouf
Shock and Awe
sick / ill
Sigur Ros
Simon Cowell
Simple Life
Sims, The
Sin City
Six Feet Under
skinny jeans
Slumdog Millionaire
smoking bans
Snakes on a Plane
Snape kills Dumbledore
Snoop Dogg speak
social networking sites
Something Awful
Soulja Boy
South Ossetia
South Park
Space Shuttle Columbia
spider hole
spiked hair
SpongeBob SquarePants
Star Wars kid
Star Wars prequels
stay the course
stem cell research
Stephen Colbert
Steve Carrell
Steve Irwin
straightened hair
streaming video
Strokes, The
Supersize Me
Susan Boyle
Swift Boat
Swine Flu

Talladega Nights
tap that
tard (suffix)
Taylor Swift
Tea Partay
tea party protests
Team America: World Police
Team Edward / Team Jacob
Ted Williams
teeth whitening
Terror alert color system
Terry Schiavo
Texas Hold ’em
texts from last night
That ’70s Show
That’s what she said
This is Sparta
Tiger Woods
Tina Fey
To Catch a Predator
Tom Brady
Tom Cruise
Tony Blair
torture porn
totes magotes
town hall meetings
tramp stamps
Trigger Happy TV
Triplets of Belleville, The
trucker hats

Uday and Qusay
Ugly Betty
Usain Bolt
USB flash drives
USS Cole bombing

V card
V for Vendetta
Valerie Plame affair
Very nice!
Viktor Yuschenko
viral video
Virginia Tech
Vladimir Putin

Walk the Line
Wanda Sykes
War on Terror
wardrobe malfunction
warrantless wiretapping
Weakest Link, The
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)
Web 2.0
Wedding Crashers
Wes Anderson
Westboro Baptist Church
White Stripes, The
Who let the dogs out?
Whose Line is it Anyway?
Why so serious?
Will Ferrell
William Hung
Willis Tower
Windows XP
Winona Ryder
Wire, The
wireless / Wi-Fi
World of Warcraft
World Trade Center
World Trade Center
Writers Strike


Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yes we can
You lie!
your Mom jokes
You’re fired!
yvan eht nioj

Zac Efron
Zacarias Moussaoui
Zhang Yimou
Zinedine Zidane
zombie walks

Escape from Hell-A

5 Oct

Well, I haven’t exactly escaped… yet. But I do try to get out of the local ghetto as often as possible, and this morning I headed up to Griffith Park for the first time since I arrived in LA over three years ago.

After a week of oppressive temperatures in the 80s and 90s, yesterday was more genuinely “fall-like” (at least to those of us who know what a real fall is), with cloudy skies, temperatures in the 60s, and even a few raindrops. When such fronts come through, they tend to temporarily clean out some of the smog in the air, so I figured I would take advantage of the improved weather today for a hike up Mt. Hollywood.

Unfortunately, the smog wasn’t pushed completely away (it never is); when I headed to the bus this morning, looking down Figueroa past the famous Felix sign, I could see plenty of smog downtown on the horizon:

I headed downtown, hopped on the metro and then took a trolley to the Griffith Park Observatory. I didn’t have time to explore the observatory itself — just enough to answer an eastern European tourist’s question in broken English about the name of the tallest building in the LA skyline (the US Bank building).

While I would have liked some tranquil hiking, the trail to the summit of Mt. Hollywood was quite busy. I did enjoy the change in scenery and vegetation, although given the aridity of southern California and the recent fire damage in the park, “vegetation” is a liberal appellation.

One advantage of the hike is the ubiquitous view of the Hollywood sign (which is on Mt. Lee, not Mt. Hollywood. Go figure.):

The views from the summit are incredible – not because they’re beautiful, but because they show you how incredibly vast the city is. The sprawling metropolis covers your entire field of vision and just disappears into the distance at the horizon.

To see all of my photos from Mt. Hollywood, click here.

The other highlight of the week was the French Club’s first major event, a “French Music Night” where we shared favourite songs and artists. Well, most of the suggestions came from myself, but I did discover some cool (and modern) artists thanks to others’ recommendations. Janet shared some particularly cool Canadian songs, including this music video, “Je suis un robot” by Plastic Lite:

Some other recent discoveries:


Pierre Lapointe


But I think my favourite recent music video discovery is this song by “Les Trois Accords,” entitled “Saskatchewan.” Despite their strong Canadian accents, the video is the epitome of awesomeness. Not only does it have nothing to do with the lyrics, but it has NINJAS!!!!

SASKATCHEWAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TU M’AS PRIS MA FEMME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who is the Mole? (and Recent Adventures)

12 Jun

For those of you who have forgotten what Anderson Cooper’s job was before Anderson Cooper 360, then your memory might be jogged by ABC’s recent revival of its 2001-2002 reality series, The Mole.

The show, originally a Belgian creation, premiered during the height of the reality television craze around the turn of the millennium and was the only reality TV that I really enjoyed. While the show does feature some physical challenges a la Survivor, it stands out thanks to its greater emphasis on mental challenges and psychological gameplay. Moreover, it’s just dang fun to watch and try to figure out who “the Mole” is, sharing observations with your friends and looking for hidden clues in each episode.

The first two seasons, hosted brilliantly by Anderson Cooper, were followed by two “Celebrity Mole” mini-seasons in 2003-2004, hosted by Ahmad Rashad and featuring B-list celebs like Kathy Griffin, Stephen Baldwin, and Dennis Rodman. Although the shows certainly didn’t capture the magic of the first two seasons, they were quite funny.

If you’re feeling nostalgic or have a genuine interest in discovering The Mole for the first time, then you can watch all of season 1 on youtube and season 2 on veoh. You can also get a taste of Celebrity Mole: Hawaii here.

The very first episode:

In any case, you can imagine my joy upon discovering that ABC had brought the show back for another season. Heck, I had been such a Moleaholic that I even participated in an online version of the game (and made it to the final four before being executed). When the new season premiered last week, I was somewhat disappointed by the new host and the lack of the classic Mole score (although the new one’s pretty good), as well as the overall unlikeable group of contestants, but I was just so happy that the show was back.

Warning: Spoilers follow. Although it’s probably too early to speculate on who the Mole is, I can make some basic assumptions based on previous Mole selections. The attractive and/or intelligent female Mole seems like a cliché at this point, as does the unassuming old person, so I’m putting my money on one of the younger guys. Paul can’t possibly be the Mole, given the size of his mouth. Alex seems like a better candidate, especially since he kept a rather low profile in the first episode (a common Mole strategy).

Additionally, I read some comments on the Mole boards about possible hints in the first episode. One of the host’s questions, something along the lines of “Do you think you have a beat on who the Mole is?”, might be a veiled hint pointing to Alex, a musician. Apparently the host even said something like, “That’s music to the Mole’s ears.” Could these clues be too obvious? If I recall correctly, Anderson Cooper did not actually have knowledge of who the Mole was in the original run of the show, although that might have changed.

However, in the second episode my suspicions shifted somewhat. Alex seemed to ditch the low profile, which might just be part of his strategy, but there were a few possible instances of sabotage (penalty kick, pig launching). My suspicions were also piqued by Victoria due to a number of possible hints (including the Catholic / Virgin Mary connection) but if she is the Mole, then the hints are painfully obvious. I hope this isn’t the case. The only people that I’ve written off completely are Paul, Bobby (both of whom I CANNOT STAND), and Craig (who’s great). And I’m not particularly suspcicious of Mark or Nicole. But I could be way off. I was also sad to see Liz go.

(End spoilers)

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts about the Mole as the show progresses. I’m just glad that I have one decent summer TV show to keep me entertained.

The end of spring and the beginning of summer have been quite busy for me. I ended the school year with an awesome (and relatively cheap) trip to San Francisco and Yosemite. Even though the Megabus got stuck in major traffic during the overnight trip to SF (causing us to arrive an hour and a half late), I was really happy to be back in San Francisco. The ride across the hills east of the city was particularly nice in the morning, when the sun cast long shadows over the green hills topped by dozens of wind turbines. It’s definitely a very unique city, with some nice architecture, beautiful scenery, but perhaps most importantly, a dense population. It felt great to walk on the sidewalks with people heading to work in the morning – a virtually nonexistent phenomenon in LA.

After stopping at Union Square for some overpriced (but very good) orange juice and observing an art show, I jumped on the BART without too much trouble and headed across the bay to Berkeley, to meet up with my friend Trici. We had a nice brunch and she then treated me to a tour of the UC Berkeley campus. The place is pretty much as “out there” as I thought it would be, but the San Francisco area would be nothing without its crazy charm. Upon returning to the city, I spent the afternoon just walking around – an endeavour that would have been quite easier if the city weren’t covered by giant hills. Still, it was good exercise, and provided some great vistas, like the one above.

To see all of my photos from San Francisco, click here.

While searching for some of the stereotypical tourist photo ops (including the crooked Lombard St.), I somehow managed to lose my map and ended up abandoning my quest to find the famous Painted Ladies. Unfortunately, by this time I had developed a bad cramp in my leg from walking so much and wasn’t able to make it to Chinatown for dinner as I’d hoped to do. I did pass through Japantown on my way to my hostel, as well as the Mission District, which was nothing short of sketchy. Needless to say, I was happy to get to my hostel, which was pretty nice (en-suite bathroom AND free Internet!)

I had to leave pretty early the next morning, and after grabbing some pastries at a 24-hour Walgreens, I headed to the Amtrak station. The train voyage began with a nice ride along the bay, but then traversed the very flat, very hot-and-dusty-looking San Joaquin Valley before stopping at Merced, my portal to Yosemite. The following bus ride was a long journey along sinuous roads of increasing elevation, at one point passing through the picture-perfect “Old West” Gold Rush town of Mariposa, before finally arriving in Yosemite, where I was greeted by the sight of some enormous waterfalls.

Fortunately, I was in Yosemite at the perfect time of year, since the waterfalls were at their full flow. The weather was actually a bit warmer than average, however, feeling quite summerlike most of the time, except at nighttime, when it was rather cold in my unheated canvas tent-cabin. Good thing there were blankets for three people in it. Of course, the canvas walls were so thin that I could hear the entire conversations of the cabins next to mine in the evening, which was only really an issue my first night in the park, a very busy Saturday.

Despite the number of people around, I really enjoyed the vastness of nature in the park. The meadows near my campground were always full of deer in the mornings and evenings, and although I failed to see any black bears, I did manage to spot a coyote just before I left the park. Nothing really that exotic for me, though. My real amazement came from the epic scale of the waterfalls and all of the granite peaks from which they descend, a sense of amazement which is perhaps best captured by the famous “Tunnel View” shot:

Even more impressive was the view atop Glacier Point, which I reached via tour bus. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, except I accidentally bought a round-trip ticket and so was unable to hike down from Glacier Point via the Panorama Trail. Still, I was able to do a little easy hiking around Mirror Lake (where I almost got lost) and to the Vernal Falls footbridge. It would have been nice to have had more time in Yosemite, especially time to see the Giant Sequoias. Well, there’ll always be Road Trip ’09… (the subject of a future blog post)

Now I give you some of the short video clips taken in Yosemite with my camera:

Glacier Point Panorama

Lower Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Mirror Lake

Vernal Falls Bridge

To see Part I of my Yosemite photos, click here. For Part II, click here.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Yosemite, I was incredibly happy to get back home last month. As I revealed in the previous post, May is one of my favourite times of the year, and I loved seeing all of the spring flowers blooming (ahh, fields of dandelions…) and enjoying the not-too-warm weather. Of course, I took advantage of this natural beauty to add to my photo collection.

To see Part I one of my springtime photos, click here. For Part II, click here. I also have a few springtime videos for your viewing pleasure:

Springtime at Inspiration Point

Squam Lake Panorama

Newfound Lake in Springtime

Shortly after my return home, my family and I went down to Newport, Rhode Island for Memorial Day weekend. I’d been to Newport several times when I was younger, but it was only during my trip last summer that I began to really appreciate the city, especially its history, architecture, and atmosphere. So I was happy to return and enjoy some pleasant late spring weather while travelling the Cliff Walk and exploring the old city.

It’s hard to pick one photo to represent Newport in my blog, but I’m pretty fond of this one:

For Part I of my Rhode Island photos, click here. For Part II, click here.

After returning from Little Rhody, I kicked off my summer break geocaching with a trip up to the North Country with Madeline, the highlight of which was a cache atop Mt. Prospect in Weeks State Park in Lancaster, which provided an incredible view of the area. We also had pretty good caching karma during the trip, and it feels nice to be back in the caching groove again, since 2007 was pretty uneventful in the way of caching.

Summer seemed to “officially” arrive last weekend, with a humid heat wave of temps in the 80s and 90s for about four days. I took advantage of the hot weather to do some kayaking – first on Squam with my mom to nab SquamLoon’s island caches, and then down the Pemigewassett River with my dad from Plymouth to Bristol. Unfortunately, I underestimated how long it would take us to get to Bristol, largely because the river is quite still south of Bridgewater. It must’ve taken us four or five hours, and we landed at the very instant that a thunderstorm arrived with pouring rain. A close call.

I’ve also been occupied with swimming, working on my research project (more on this in a future post), and cache-hiding. I placed my first cache yesterday, which I’ve yet to publish, and also helped Madeline place an as-of-yet-unpublished cache near the Newfound River.

Next weekend, I should have some photos from the Lupine Festival and will also share my thoughts on the next big summer movie, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.” “Prince Caspian” was my first big film of the season, which was quite a good action flick (unfortunately not quite as character-oriented as the first). Indiana Jones was also fun, but overall seemed kind of mediocre. Oh well.

Eurovision 2008

16 May

What, you don’t know what Eurovision is? Silly American.

Eurovision is, in a nutshell, an annual song contest in which the majority of European countries compete against each other. Each country selects an artist and song to represent them at the contest.

Next week, the semi-finals (20th and 22nd) and the final (24th) of the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest will be held. For my non-European readers, you can watch the broadcast online.

Why should you watch it? Well, I can’t say that the songs are particularly good, since the contest has been the epitome of Eurotrash music for the past decade. However, there is the occasional original gem, and although they never win, it’s still fun to watch the nations of Europe duke it out for the win. If they can’t have another World War, they need *something.*

The music hasn’t always sucked, though. There have been quite a few great songs written for the contest — not always the winners, either. My personal favourites come largely from the ’70s. Here you can watch a recap of all the winning songs of the contest, from 1956 to 2007:

Part 1

Part 2

Note: there were four winners in 1969, before they introduced rules to break ties (although France definitely should have been the sole winner that year ;))

The record number of wins is held by Ireland, with 7, including an impressive winning streak in the ’90s. France, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom each have 5 wins under their belts, although none of these countries has won for quite some time (UK in 1997, Ireland in 1996, Luxembourg in 1983 and France in 1977).

The opening of the contest to eastern European countries (as well as Israel, Turkey, Azerbaijan, etc.) has of course affected the chances of the previously dominating western European countries. Some accuse the contest of politically-motivated voting, especially in the case of Slavic nations voting for other Slavic nations with similar political alignments. Even if this weren’t the case, however, I don’t think we’d be spared from the crap that has inundated the contest for the past 10 years (when I was in the UK last year, there was a collective sense of embarrassment over the country’s contest entry.)

Of course, now that the contest is open to completely democratic voting, one shouldn’t be surprised by the biases. I naturally have a preference for the French-language songs, which practically dominated the contest in the first half of its history, especially in the early years. However, the real revolution in the contest came with the winning song in 1965, Poupée de cire, poupée de son – the first non-ballad to win the contest, sung by a young France Gall representing Luxembourg. Yes, the same naÏve France Gall who sang Serge Gainsbourg’s Les sucettes, and who had a successful career interpreting the excellent songs written by her now-deceased husband, Michel Berger, such as Si maman si.

France Gall’s entry, although very poorly sung in my opinion, marked a turning point in the contest and began a streak of very good French-language winning songs. These were:

1965: Luxembourg, Poupée de cire, poupée de son, France Gall (the linked version is much better than her Eurovision performance)

1969: France, Un jour, un enfant, Frida Boccara

1971: Monaco, Un banc, un arbre, une rue, Séverine

1972: Luxembourg, Après toi, Vicky Leandros

1973: Luxembourg, Tu te reconnaîtras, Anne-Marie David

1977: France, L’oiseau et l’enfant, Marie Myriam (perhaps my favourite of the entire contest)

1983: Luxembourg, Si la vie est cadeau, Corinne Hermes

1986: Belgium, J’aime la vie, Sandra Kim (this re-edit uses the better, recorded version of the song)

1988: Switzerland, Ne partez pas sans moi, Celine Dion

As you can see from Celine Dion’s participation in the contest, the singer doesn’t necessarily have to come from the country they represent. However, formerly the contest rules required that every song be in one of the country’s national languages, with a brief period of exemption to this rule between 1974 and 1976. This exemption in fact allowed ABBA to win the contest in 1974 with “Waterloo,” launching their international career.

My personal favourite from 1974, however, is Gigliola Cinquetti’s ““, which garnered second place:

Another second-place favourite is Mocedades’ “Eres Tú” from 1973, which I think is better than “Tu te reconnaîtras”, although the performance wasn’t nearly as good. However, the preview version shows the song’s greatness.

And while not the best performance, Vicky Leandros’ “L’amour est bleu” was easily the best song of 1967, but it only ranked 4th.

The German entry in 1975, “Ein lied kann eine brucke sein,” also definitely deserved the win.

Among the winners, some of my preferred non-French songs include Denmark 1963, Germany 1982, Italy 1990, and Ireland 1993. And believe it or not, last year’s winner (Serbia’s Molitva), although rather emo, wasn’t half-bad in my opinion:

Now that I’ve completed your Eurovision history lesson, we come to this year’s contest.

Unfortunately, as has been the case for the past decade, most of the songs this year are crap. You’ve got the lame Europop/Techno stuff as well as completely absurd stuff like Spain’s entry, and Ireland’s gem of an entry, whose purpose is simply to mock Eurovision. With good reason.

Although I don’t feel particularly loyal to France in Eurovision, especially given their track record since 1977, they do have a tendency to be somewhat non-conformist and thus give some more original songs. Although they’ve been hesitant to follow the massive trend towards English-only songs (the language rule was removed in 1999), this changed last year with the bizarre “Frenglish” song, “L’amour à la française.”

This year, France’s entry is entirely in English, although the lyrics are pretty much incomprehensible (and even after reading them, they make little sense). Still, this unusual little song is better than most of the others in the contest:

Another of the few decent songs this year, IMO, is Switzerland’s entry, which is in Italian. Maybe I’m just happy that I can understand the lyrics:

Similarly, I like Romania’s entry, which is a love duet in Romanian and Italian, although the Italian singer (the woman) is better…

Unfortunately, I doubt that any of these will win. Current favourites right now seem to be Russia and Greece. *grumble grumble* Another problem with Eurovision now is that it’s become so much about the whole stage production, rather than the song itself. It is a SONG contest, after all.

If you can’t watch the contest, then be patient — apparently an American version might be in the works, with a competition between the 50 states. Go New Hampshire!

Also, interesting note: a recent controversy emerged over a documentary which claimed that Franco rigged the 1968 Eurovision contest to ensure Spain’s victory, robbing the UK of the #1 spot. For the record, though, I prefer Spain’s song.

The past two weeks…

27 Oct

The past two weeks have been intense. I flew from California to New Hampshire, enjoyed the beautiful fall colours, and then flew back; endured a painfully difficult Japanese History midterm; got to see John Williams in concert; lost my cell phone; played unreleased games at a video game exposition; got a front-row seat and VIP access at the Video Games Live concert; and endured two more midterms whilst running on virtually no sleep. It’s been a roller coaster ride.

Allow me to start at the beginning. Two weeks ago, I took a red eye flight from LA to Manchester, changing planes in Cincinnati. Fortunately, all went well and there were no delays or missed connections. When the plane began to descend into Manchester, I noticed that most of the trees were still green, but there were patches of brilliant reds and oranges, the likes of which I hadn’t seen for nearly three years.

It was good to be home again in the fall. It was always my favourite season, even as a kid, and it felt so good to breathe in the cool, fresh autumn air. I recently came across this photo on TrekEarth, taken in Massachusetts, which just sums up so much about my childhood nostalgia. And of course, not having seen true fall colours for so long, the beauty of it overwhelmed me and once again made me appreciate my home. It is arguably one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the world. When I asked my French friend Virginie what she thought of fall in New England, she responded, “Je n’ai jamais rien vu de plus beau.”

Unfortunately, when I arrived on Friday, it rained all day long, but I did enjoy spending the time at home with my family (especially Angel). We did go for a drive later in the day, and along the way I was able to snap this photo of two moose:

On Saturday, we got up bright and early to go for a little trip. It was a perfect fall day – clear, bright blue sky, with a cool, crisp breeze. We drove to Squam Lake and hiked up Mount Rattlesnake before any other hikers showed up – it was just us and the tranquil woods, with sunshine sneaking into the forest and illuminating the multi-coloured leaves. We enjoyed the view from the summit before descending and heading over to Sandwich. All of the white houses provide a nice contrast to the trees…

While the foliage was still nearing peak in the Lakes Region, it was close to its full glory further north in the White Mountains. We drove through Tamworth, catching a breathtaking view of Mt. Chocorua and Chocura Lake, before heading to North Conway and Cathedral Ledge. When we arrived, we discovered something unusual – a wedding. It seemed like an odd location, but in reality, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful backdrop to a marriage:

Afterwards, we took the scenic drive along Bear Notch Rd. and the Kancamagus, which offered amazing views over the Pemigewassett Wilderness. I also recorded a short video as we drove along the road. This simple but wonderful display of nature was worth the trip alone, but of course, the photos never do it justice:

On Sunday, we stayed in Bristol. We went for a hike up to Inspiration Point, overlooking the town, and brought Angel along with us. She seemed tremendously happy, and although I worry sometimes now about her physical abilities, she didn’t have any problems with the hike. At the summit, the wind was blowing, carrying a lot of feelings back to me from my younger years. A father and son also met us up there, and as we all looked over Bristol – the place that I was so eager to get out of two years ago – I realized that the town does have a deep place in my heart. Fall probably makes me more nostalgic than any other season. We finished our Sunday drive by going along some of the old hillside roads in town, admiring still the beauty of autumn in New Hampshire:

To see all of my photos from fall in New Hampshire, click here (Part I) and here (Part II).

Needless to say, I would have much rather stayed in New Hampshire than return to a hot, wildfire-ridden California, but unfortunately I had some midterms to attend to. My Japanese History midterm was essentially a trainwreck — I didn’t have time to answer two questions that were worth 23 points together, and I was pretty uncertain about the rest of the exam. How can one possibly be expected to identify and provide a complete historical context for a 2-sentence excerpt taken out of a 200+ page course reader? It’s feasible, but my teacher’s expectations are far from realistic.

Fortunately, everyone else in the class seemed to feel similarly about the exam, although I still think I’m at a disadvantage as a non-history major. Granted, I’ve gotten A’s on both papers so far, but I have no idea how much they’re worth with respect to my final grade. As for my other midterms: well, I got an A in Italian, but the results haven’t come in yet for French and the Broadway musical class. I suspect I did reasonably well on the latter, but I have no idea how my French teacher grades. I’m not too confident in my essays, though… I’m just glad that midterms are over so I can start sleeping again.

I did receive a much-needed respite from my exams when I was able to attend the John Williams concert on campus. Not having a ticket of my own, I was forced into the standby line (about 12th in line) and was at the mercy of those who didn’t show up – and fortunately, it seemed like a lot of people didn’t. I had to sit in the top balcony, but whatever. It was absolutely amazing, not only because of the music, but because it was one of my major idols, right on stage.

Some of the highlights included E.T., Schindler’s List, The Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, and the Star Wars Main Theme concert suite (including Princess Leia’s Theme), as well as the Raiders’ March during the encore. The Star Wars music of course had the most impact on me, and I obviously wasn’t the only Star Wars fan there – when John mentioned the series, it got a lot of cheering. There was a kid in front of me wearing a “Star Wars Forever” T-shirt. John joked that he was always happy to let people listen to his music “without the distraction of the film” (and all the sound effects, spaceships, etc.), and that he still can’t get the order of the Star Wars films straight. Haha, he’s so awesome.

He also related a funny anecdote about when Steven Spielberg first asked him to write the music for Schindler’s List. After Spielberg showed him the film footage, John was so moved that he had to ask for a few minutes to collect himself. When he went back to see Spielberg, he said, “Steven, you need someone better to write the music for this film.” To which Spielberg replied, “I know, John, but they’re all dead.”

Nothing compares to hearing JW himself conducting the Imperial March – pure sweetness. There was such an endless supply of applause after the encore that he had to return to the stage 4 or 5 times to accept it. It was incredible. Of course, keeping with the “roller coaster” nature of these past two weeks, the event did not go seamlessly — as I was leaving the auditorium, I realized that I’d misplaced my cell phone. I’m nearly 100% positive that I lost it while sitting at my seat, but despite numerous attempts to find it (by myself and the staff), no success. If you’ve ever given me your phone number, you might have to resend it sometime soon.

The following day was my big video game bonanza downtown: the E for All expo and the Video Games Live concert. Although E for All (or “E4” as the VGL host referred to it) was not as big as E3 used to be, it was still an incredible experience – the kind that I’ve been dreaming of for years. It probably would have been significantly more fun if I’d convinced someone else to go with me, but it was pretty cool anyway. I was pretty overwhelmed by all the exhibits, though, so I spent most of my time just wandering around and looking at things. I didn’t have nearly enough time to try out all the games, and it was kind of a pain to wait in line for a game (especially Super Mario Galaxy).

The longest lines were for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which had a huge setup, including a big screen and bleacher seats for 4-player matches commented on by Nintendo’s “booth babes” (who were also handing out lots of light-up Wiimote keychains). The Brawl area looked something like this:

The demo didn’t have all of the characters supposed to be in the final version, but it was pretty awesome to see Sonic finally battling it out with Nintendo characters. However, when I played the demo myself against another gamer, I failed miserably, primarily thanks to the controls. I first played with the classic controller, which wasn’t bad, but a bit… “restrictive”-feeling, I guess. Even worse was playing with the sideways Wiimote setup. When I get the game (provided it isn’t delayed indefinitely…grr), I’ll stick with the GameCube controller, methinks.

The Wii Zapper, however, was pretty cool. I tried out Ghost Squad, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. The arcade-style action makes for some fun co-op shooting. I also wandered around the other booths… Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed was therapeutically fun, and I tried out a couple of other games, but Nintendo was really the highlight of the show. Although at one point I was asked to talk about Mario on X-Play (the G4 TV show), but for some reason I chickened out and said no. Oh well.

I also saw Martin Leung, the famous “video game pianist” there, who was also at the VGL concert later.

As I was waiting in line outside the brand-new Nokia Theatre, I met a Korean guy named Eddy who works for a company that’s trying to get the VGL concert produced in Korea again. Apparently, two of his friends hadn’t shown up for the concert, so he had two extra front-row tickets and VIP passes, which he gave to me. I was a little flabbergasted at first, but I’m happy that I accepted them, because my seat was amazing (I was sitting next to the conductor’s wife). He thought that the VIP passes allowed us to go backstage, but unfortunately we were stopped by a security guard (although I did see Martin Leung again). We did get to go the VIP lounge, however — although I didn’t recognize anyone there. I might have recognized them after the show, however.

A sample of some of the people who showed up:

On the far left on stage is the creator of Dance Dance Revolution. I was actually standing right next to him outside the theatre without even realizing who he was. To the right is a kid who was called on stage to play Frogger, but he didn’t get to thanks to some technical difficulties. To the right of him, you can make out the head of the creator of Castlevania, who was wearing a black fedora and carrying a whip, haha. Next to him is the creator of Silent Hill. In the middle of the stage is the host of the show (also composer for the Earthworm Jim games), talking with actor Zack Ward; to his right is the other Frogger contestant, dressed as Snake (with a fairly convincing voice as well); next to him is none other than the Soup Nazi himself, who gave an incredible “No soup for you!” to a cheering audience; on the far right is the orchestra conductor (and composer for Myst III & IV). Also, the creator of Pong/Atari showed up, as well as several different game composers.

It was a major geekfest.

It was pretty funny…I actually felt like I was “among my people” with all the video game fans there. Every time a new theme was played, fans of the game/music would cheer — and there was a lot of cheering. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, you can watch a clip of Martin Leung playing a Final Fantasy medley at a past VGL concert (which he also performed at the one I attended, with the same crowd reactions):

Nobuo Uematsu is a god. Whenever his name was brought up, there was tons of cheering, rivalled only by that for Koji Kondo. The Zelda theme orchestral arrangement just gave me goosebumps… my second life is in Hyrule…

So beautiful, although they didn’t begin to do justice to Zelda music. Only one theme? What the heck? I was also a bit disappointed with the Sonic medley, which didn’t include a lot of my favourites, especially from Sonic 2. Stay tuned, because in the not-too-distant future, I hope to dedicate an entire post to video game music. 🙂

There was also a good performance of Halo music, as well as great arrangements of music from Civilization IV and the new Conan game, and the fan favourites of One-Winged Angel and Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy. You can find most of these on youtube, although nothing compares to seeing the concert in person. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend it.

Another highlight of the show were the cosplayers on stage. It was pretty cool, but also kind of cheesy at times. During the Zelda portion, the girl dressed as Link (lol) accidentally slashed Zelda with her “sword” while striking a pose. During the FFVII segment, Sephiroth’s sword split in half. All in all, though, the concert was great fun.

To see all of my photos from E for All and VGL, click here.

I didn’t have a chance to eat before going to the theatre, so I had to buy a sandwich when I got there. Whilst looking at the concessions menu, I decided to order the “turkey ciabatta with chips”, although I thought it was odd that they served French fries at the theatre. It wasn’t until the person at the counter asked me if I wanted barbecue or jalapeno chips that I’d realized my error in comprehension. Those six months in the UK had a bigger impact on me than I’d realized, apparently.

After leaving the theatre, I barely missed the bus so I had to wait a little while. I assumed I wouldn’t have to wait for more than half an hour, but it ended up being a full hour. I waited from 11pm to midnight for the bus in downtown Los Angeles. Pssh. What a crazy couple of weeks.

My music

6 Oct

Being busy with schoolwork much of the semester means that my personal projects often fall by the wayside. Some of you might know about my passion for music, and while I haven’t composed anything in quite some time, I thought I should at least share what I’ve written so far.

Let me begin by saying that I have no real formal training in composition. Although my middle school band teacher was awesome enough to teach us music theory, and I did take a music theory course in high school, I never learned more than the basics. Last year in college I took a course called “Composition for Non-Majors”, which I felt was too general, and didn’t provide enough specifics about the nuts and bolts of well-written music. The class taught us how to break the rules without ever teaching what the rules were.

Anyway, my musical creativity was born at a young age. I always loved singing songs as a kid, although my interest in music really blossomed around age 8. My parents bought me a small keyboard, with which I would learn how to play songs that I knew, as well as play around and come up with sounds of my own. Around the same time I developed a strong interest in classical music, with two of my very first CDs: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. One of our 3rd grade field trips was to see The Nutcracker in Boston, and I was nothing less than ecstatic.

In addition, being the huge Star Wars fan I was, I was also constantly humming John Williams music, and he, along with Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, had a profound impact on my musical taste and style. My musical skills grew and developed, as I sang in the school chorus in 3rd grade and joined band in the 5th grade, and I went through two new (and larger) keyboards.

It wasn’t until age 11 or 12 that I first began actually writing down melodies that I came up with, thanks to a free and easy-to-use computer program called Noteworthy Composer. I began experimenting with my basic knowledge of harmony to create multi-part works, and also began experimenting with counterpoint, which came somewhat intuitively to me. While my earliest compositions have long been lost, I do have several from what I shall pretentiously refer to as my “Early Period.”

Early Period: age 11-13

My earliest surviving compositions stem from a discussion topic on the IGN message boards, which I first frequented around age 12. A group of gamers were creating an independent, amateur PC RPG entitled “Luminus.” It was a very cliché story involving an orphaned boy (whose name began with a Z) who goes off to explore an island (also called Luminus) and ultimately battle against the evil emperor, who was responsible for the deaths of his parents. I originally joined the project because they were looking for someone to write the dialogue. I sent the creator a sample of ridiculously cliché, over-the-top fantasy dialogue that I came up with, and he was impressed. He couldn’t have been much older than me.

At any rate, the creators eventually announced that they needed someone to write the music for the game as well. Confident in my newfound composition skills, I volunteered for the job and eventually came up with a slew of sample music, beginning with the main theme. The entire theme consisted of only 5 different pitches, and was simply a melody that I’d come up with while playing around on the keyboard.

The Luminus Theme

Despite its simplicity, I immediately loved the sound colour I was able to create. Heck, the section with the harp is still pretty darn cool. Over the course of the project, I came up with a bunch of other tracks, many of which incorporated the main theme. (These tracks are ordered roughly as they were meant to be heard in the game, not in the order that I wrote them. I can’t tell exactly when I composed them.)

Story” – for the “story” screen, obviously based on the main theme

Father” – theme for the main character’s father

Mother” – self-explanatory

The Emperor’s Soldiers” – the soldiers come and kill Father and Mother (or something to that effect) – also incorporates the main theme (which seems to be synonymous with evil)

The Friendly Soldier” – a cute little theme for the soldier who adopts the orphaned main character

South Luminus” – theme for the area of the island where the quest begins… this track still has a special place in my heart

Market” – cheerful marketplace music

Shop” – groovy shop music (heavily influenced by the N64 Zelda games, which also did much to shape my musical style)

Jungle” – first ‘treacherous’ area; includes main theme

Battle” – painfully repetitive battle music, also based on the main theme

Dungeon” – mood music for the dungeons

Boss” – boss music, slightly altered version of battle music

The Underground’s Anthem” – music for the island’s ‘resistance group’ (one of the two simultaneous melodies is very similar to the “Traitor” theme, suggesting the traitor’s presence…teehee!)

Mistress” – theme for the main character’s love interest

Traitor” – traitor’s theme, also based on main (evil) theme

West Luminus” – music for the island’s ‘frontier’ region

Plains” – music for the plains

North Luminus” – possibly my least favourite of the group

Mountains” – duh

East Luminus” – this one’s pretty nice

Ocean” – based on one of my earliest compositions ever, I think

Isle of Darkness” – a scary place

The Evil Emperor” – a modified version of the traitor’s theme for the final boss

Finale” – the final battle

Although this music is rather simplistic, it does offer insight into my progression as a composer. I was really just experimenting with counterpoint, and my harmonies were very basic, but it’s also surprising how much came naturally, like figuring out simple melodies and cadences. I could go into detail on each track, but I don’t think anybody is *that* interested. (PS: the Luminus project was ultimately cancelled.)

At any rate, the middle school years were rich with musical experimentation, as I spent much of my free time in the band room. More specifically, the “Renaissance Room”, a side practice room that amounted to little more than an oversized closet. It was stuffed with instrument-laden shelves, as well as a very old, decrepit upright piano with many broken keys. That piano would become a good friend for several years, and I always had lots of fun hanging out in there with one or two of my friends during recess/commons while we played the piano and laughed about stuff. I even wrote a musical about beavers once… there’s a backstory there that even I don’t remember.

I have a few other compositions left over from this period, such as:

Northeast Anthem – O Corinthé Oranis” – this was written for a fantasy world / story of mine that I originally invented around age 10 (one of many such fantasy worlds). The music was both subconciously and consciously plagiarized (there’s a passage taken directly from the Irish national anthem), but it was intended to be a majestic anthem, after all. I even wrote some really, really ridiculous lyrics:

Let us go on, we children of Corinthe, our azure blood will reign in the seas. As our king rules freedom true, with liberty and the truth as our queen. From the silver hills, the golden fields, emerald woods, across the sea, down to this land of luxury. Here we live in peace and prosperity, which give us our justice, law in our kingdom, love in our hearts. Oh, Corinthé Oranis! Beauty and wondrous life rain from your skies! Trees covered in ice, rivers in gold, beaches in flame. Our waters run to the kingdom in our blue seas. By the chosen ones, our land will always be protected from evil treachery, evil tyrrany. March on! Soldiers of our cause, give no pause. Guard what’s true, sacred too, and then we will be anew! As the warriors come to guard our lives, we fight to keep them. All who dare to trespass on our lands will die. He who is brave will always guard our souls!

Clearly, lyrics have never been my strong point… and that’s just the first stanza. (And if you’re actually curious about what that was all about, then you’ll have to wait until I talk about my fantasy worlds in a future post). I even began an anthem for another one of the areas in ‘Oranis’, but never completed it:

Southeast Anthem” – this was essentially based on a cool chord progression that I played around with a lot. In fact, it was originally meant to be part of a composition that I intended to write entitled “The Zodiac”, with each sign having its own theme. This particular theme was originally meant to be for Scorpio, I think… but my memory’s hazy. Could’ve been Aries or Taurus…

You can hear the same theme in this incomplete, untitled arrangement.

With these later writings, you can see how my skills had improved already.

Middle Period: age 13-15

It’s difficult to say precisely when I wrote a lot of these pieces. Sometime around age 13, I came up with another fantasy story, this one entitled “The Tales of Daichi.” This new fantasy world would serve as a big source of inspiration for my compositions. The first piece of music was the main theme, which I wrote after coming up with the melody whilst in the shower:

The Tales of Daichi: Main Theme” (hear the later MP3 version here)

This piece shows a lot of improvement in terms of melody, counterpoint, and rhythm, but the most remarkable thing was that the music came very easily and naturally to me. For the remainder of this “middle” period, I came up with a handful of theme songs for the various chapters in my “Daichi” saga:

The Prophecy” – if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the aforementioned chord progression from my “Zodiac” series

Rise of the Warriors” – this piece was also based on themes that I came up with for the Zodiac series (I believe the main theme was originally intended to be for Taurus or Leo)

The Great War” – somewhat of an exercise in instrumentation. There’s a couple brief homages to the main theme…

A New Adventure” – the first of the batch that I wrote. The middle theme came first, and the piece was originally intended to be “Libra” in The Zodiac.

Journey to the Past” – the opening section was inspired by “Saturn” from The Planets by Gustav Holst; the latter section may have been inspired by a Spanish-style piece entitled “Fiero” that we once played in band

Return of the Chosen Ones” – I’ve forgotten the inspiration behind this one by now…

Order of Darkness” – an incomplete, somewhat later attempt (a lot more experimention with dissonance)… partially inspired by “Mars”

The Fracture of Light” – another incomplete piece written after the others, also inspired by “Saturn”

Corbin’s Motif” – a character motif that I came up with quite later, inspired by music from Star Fox Adventures on the GameCube, of all places

Around the same time that I wrote the original “Daichi” theme, I was contacted by another gamer developing an amateur RPG (or maybe I contacted him…) about writing the music for the game. He gave me a list of different settings in the game, such as “Future”, “Egypt”, “Void”, and “Pirate Ship”… with little more description than that. Well, I decided to start with “Future”, and play around with wave sounds and whatnot. Well, the creativity flowed through me. The music came almost instinctively and the piece was done in no time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t repeat the experience with the other tracks. I made some attempts, such as this “Pirate” theme, and this “Void” piece, but I wasn’t satisfied with them and wasn’t feeling the inspiration to write more. I e-mailed the game maker my “Future” sample, but he either never replied or I just lost interest in the project.

I let the “Future” piece sit for a while (as I began work on my Daichi music, I think), but then eventually decided that it would be cool to expand it into something more. And so “The Future Variations” were born, a series of movements utilizing some of the basic chord progressions and melodies from the original piece, but each with a unique feel. Playing on the title of the work, I decided to name each movement based on a different perspective of what the future might be like.

I. Wasteland – fairly melancholic, but there’s still some beauty in it…

II. Anarchy – this was the original “Future”, the one that started it all. All of the variations in the other movements were based on this. I still don’t know where that catchy melody came from… it seemed like the music wrote itself. Although in retrospect I regretted having so many different layers towards the end of the piece, because it made it difficult to hear my favourite part. I don’t know how I ever came up with that.

III. Utopia – the most epic of the movements (and partly inspired by music from the Lord of the Rings films). This is a more advanced piece than “Anarchy” in a lot of ways, which shows the improvement I made between writing the two movements. My favourite part, by far, was the ending, where I discovered a simple but awesome chord progression.

You can hear an MP3 version of these three movements here.

Unfortunately, the fourth and final movement, “Apocalypse”, presented me a number of difficulties. I could never get exactly what I wanted. This was the most substantial version I came up with, but I needed a way to break away from the repetitive melody. I started looking back to “Utopia” for ideas, and played around on the keyboard with that new chord progression, until I came up with a beautiful, epic theme that went like this (or, if you prefer, the string version).

This melody remains one of my favourites to this day. However, I didn’t incorporate it into The Future Variations as I had intended, but ultimately decided to fuse it into a new project that I was working on, dubbed “Mystic Melodies.” More on that in a bit.

Other compositions from this period, largely from the later part:

Mr. Mole Theme” – theme song for a cartoon character that my brother came up with. Went along with some cheesy lyrics, too.

Song” – creative title, right? I never wrote the lyrics for it, or even finished the music, but I’m still fond of it. The basic chord progression is pretty nice.

Also: an attempt at some dramatic piano music, as well as an untitled motif, perhaps intended for Daichi.

Later Period: age 15-17

Towards the end of my 15th year, I began work on “Mystic Melodies.” It started with a simple passage, rich with various orchestral instruments, based on a chord progression that I’d come up with on the keyboard. It eventually evolved into quite a long piece with lots of orchestration. It begins with a citation of the Utopia-based theme, followed by a section based on the original passage, and then returns to the Utopia theme (and even quotes that piece directly a couple of times). In effect, I wrote the middle of the piece first (the point just before the music switches to the Utopia theme), and then worked my way out.

Mystic Melodies” – in full. It’s a bit repetitive at times, and the finale is a bit over-the-top, but it was another big step for me, and the longest single-movement piece I’ve written. (For the MP3 version, click here.)

In 10th grade, I took a music theory class, which didn’t do a whole lot to improve my composition skills, but did provide me with some very useful basic principles – those of the Baroque European chorales, the basis of modern Western music. Chorales of this style are fairly formulaic, so while they didn’t inspire much creativity, it was very satisfying to compose something applying these principles.

The result: my short chorale (or, if you prefer woodwinds and/or MP3s, click here).

During this period, I undertook another composition project: that of the “Sandos Symphony, Op. 42”, which was entirely a musical inside joke with a friend (kind of like Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des Animaux…). I didn’t complete much of what I intended to write, save an unfinished movement entitled “Angela Belua“, complete with ridiculously grammatically incorrect Latin lyrics. (You can actually hear the lyrics in the MP3 version – the voices were synthesized with a program called Virtual Singer). This piece actually incorporates some chorale principles, but most of all it’s intended to be a parody of Orff’s “O Fortuna.”

The real accomplishment of the Sandos Symphony, however, was:

Ode to Eve” (MP3) – it too was intended to be part of a longer piece, but it still works on its own. It began with a chord progression (well, actually the bell part) that I came up with on the keyboard. It was completely intuitive… I’m not sure if I’d heard the progression somewhere else before, but it came to me instantly. And it really is quite nice. The only downside, as with a lot of my music, is repetition, but this piece still shows a lot of improvement over my earlier stuff, I think.

Around this age, I had also come up with yet another fantasy world…which meant more inspiration to write music. Although ultimately, I only came up with two pieces for my story:

Flight from Hamavir” (MP3) – intended to depict a chase / escape on horseback across a canyon-laden region… consequently, I drew heavily from “Gerudo Valley” from Zelda (Ocarina of Time), incorporating some melodies and chord progressions that I’d come up with. I like the piece, although I never could think of a great way to end it… (“Mystic Melodies”, “Ode to Eve”, and “Flight from Hamavir” were the three compositions that I unsuccessfully submitted for acceptance into USC’s composition program).

Hamavir Theme” (MP3) – also called “L’Espoir”…based on a melody heard briefly during “Flight from Hamavir.” I worked out the chords and turned it into an emotional little quintet piece, but never did more with it. The MP3 version is pretty nice, though.

The only other real composition from this period was this improv piece that I came up with on the piano.

Since Then: age 17-19

Since coming to college, I’ve composed virtually nothing. Time constraints are a major issue, as is the general lack of inspiration. I would like to compose, but I don’t really know where to go with anything. I really need to learn how to write better music.

As I said, my composition class was of little help, although it did require me to compose two pieces. The first was a solo vocal piece, where I was required to set this E. E. Cummings poem to music:

it’s jolly
odd what pops into
your jolly tete when the
jolly shells begin dropping jolly fast you
hear the rrmp and
then nearerandnearerand NEARER
and before
you can


& we’re
–i say
that’s jolly odd
old thing, jolly
odd, jolly
jolly odd isn’t
it jolly odd.

Needless to say, E. E. Cummings isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I wasn’t too excited about this project. There was very little creative freedom, but I did my best and this was the result.

The second composition (a duet for two instruments) offered a lot more freedom, except I just couldn’t find the inspiration to write anything new. I was also confined to writing for the clarinet and alto clarinet since I needed to provide my own musicians, which meant myself and Madeline. There were a lot of great, beautiful pieces written in that class, but mine wasn’t one of them.

I called it “Les Corbeaux” – the name in part derived from one of its musical sources, that “Corbin motif” from Daichi that I’d written a few years earlier. The other source was the piano improv piece. Essentially, I was recycling old material. The performance itself was painful to listen to, considering I hadn’t played for two years, and Madeline and I were terribly out of tune (especially me), but if you really want to suffer, you can listen to the duet here.

If you’ve read this far, I applaud you for having a marginal interest, although this is largely just a way for me to archive my music and keep track of it. I really would like to do something big with composition someday, but it’s a question of whether 1) I have the natural talent and 2) I have the time to work on it.

We shall see.