Saturday, April 29, 2017

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Concert


I think we just witnessed some real life Harry Potter magic in action with a flawless performance of the score by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House.

Wow!

Much as I enjoyed both the book and the movie, John Williams' score to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is not one that I frequently listen to. I suspect it is because it fits the movie so well and my life, unlike that of my eight year old son, is far from that of an 11 year old student wizard.

That should taken as a complement and not a criticism of the score and my favourite composer.

The magic of the score was unleashed from the moment that the film began and the orchestra played their first notes. Williams' music danced between delicate melodies to rich orchestral textures utilising the full orchestra. His score is such an important element of the movie that it was rarely overshadowed by the on-screen dialogue and action.

If there was one tiny criticism it's that it was almost impossible to hear the 15 minutes pre-concert featurette with composer interviews over the noise of entering patrons. The folk at the sound desk were too busy chatting and reading to notice until half way through.

American conductor Jeffrey Schindler engaged the audience and encouraged them to feel free to loudly celebrate the on-screen action and heroes. I don't know whether it was him or a shared love of Harry Potter but the orchestra were also at their very best performance wise. I heard no mistakes, especially from the brass section. Haven't heard the SSO play film music this well since their artistic director David Robertson conducted John Williams music back in 2014.

It was magic. Pure magic.

The Chamber of Secrets is coming out later this year. I hope Williams' score, his last of the series, to the Prisoner of Azkhaban will also be performed as it is by far my favourite (and favourite movie of the series too, if you must know).

Perhaps if I wave that wand we took to the concert...

Best not, it did belong to He-who-must-not-be-named...

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Jurassic Park in Concert with the MSO



I had no real intention of watching Jurassic Park at the cinema. I was a second year maths and physics student at the ANU and was busy trying to organise my presentation to the CSIRO Double Helix Science Club about fractals and chaos. I got a call from the Canberra Times to interview me about the presentation and the journalist asked me what I thought about Jeff Goldblum's character, a "chaotican".

Not having seen the movie I couldn't answer, so I resolved to see the Steven Spielberg film before my presentation.

I don't think I'll ever forget that moment in Jurassic Park where Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler see their first dinosaur. Like the characters on the screen my jaw dropped in amazement at the sight of these extinct giants brought to life on the big screen.

The scene was made even more special by John Williams' elegant background score, so I could not pass up the opportunity to relive that moment with a live orchestra. That meant a lightning trip down to Melbourne to hear the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra perform live in front of the movie at Hamer Hall.

The MSO is my favourite Australian orchestra and has always, in my experience, performed film music with enthusiasm and the utmost respect (unlike a certain other orchestra more local to me).

I have been to a number of these concerts now at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing to a screened movie. This was my first in Melbourne with the MSO, in fact my first visit to Hamer Hall. The venue was certainly more modern than its internationally famous northern cousin.


Media personality Myf Warhurst introduced the show, exhorting the audience to whoop and holler along to the movie. Then conductor Ben Northey took to the podium and the concert screening began.

If I was ever to create my own John Williams concert I would start with "Journey to the Island," beginning with a playful and adventurous music as they approach Isla Nublar by helicopter and then moving on to the elegant Jurassic Park theme as they catch their first sight of the dinosaurs.

I'm not a huge fan of screening the movie and dialogue at the same time as performing the music as I'm there for the latter. I can always watch the movie at home. But something I liked about this performance was that the music took priority over the dialogue, making it much easier to focus on.

There were some surprisingly long passages without any music and others where it consisted of frenetic action. These are often less enjoyable pieces to listen to at home, but it was thrilling to watch the percussion and strings go at it live.

I noticed the brass section made a few mistakes and it was a pity that a live choir wasn’t used, but overall the performances were very impressive.

Alex the eight year old complained that he was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel for much of the movie, but by the end of it he was transfixed. When they finished playing the final credits he was clapping as hard as anyone in the hall.

We had been warned there would be an encore and I was delighted (though not surprised) that it was the Flying theme from another Spielberg/Williams collaboration ET. When I was stuck living in Central Queensland the soundtrack, my favourite, always made me think of my home in Melbourne. To hear it played there was very special.

All in all I was very glad we made the long trip down from Sydney to this performance of Jurassic Park. Next up is Harry Potter with the SSO - should be no complaints from Alex about that one!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Clouds and red jackets

I woke this morning from a horrible nightmare where our team had been taken over by an extroverted marketing type whose idea of an introduction was to make us wear glittery red jackets and sing company songs. Uggh!

The day was filled with spectacular clouds as an offshore low sent huge cumulonimbus formations our way. I watched aircraft fly around these white and grey terrors which towered over the Sydney skyline.









All they needed was some thunder and lightning.

Late tonight, as I took the dog out, there were still clouds around the horizons. I saw a bright orange meteor fall relatively slowly down towards the west.



Eyes open in my dreams and reality. It's an amazing world!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Out of gas


The Summer school holidays are traditionally a quiet time at work when, with so many on leave, one can focus on those small personal projects that you never have a chance to do during the rest of the year. You take things a little slower and wind down after the usually hectic period leading up to Christmas.

I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home over the Summer holidays, allowing me to keep an eye on Alex whilst still doing work. The lack of a four hour daily transit to work and the need to worry about school lunches and homework means there are more hours in the day to both work and play.

That's the theory. So why am I so bloody knackered?

After dithering for most of the year a certain fracking (and I use that as an epithet) group demanded that we make their website for them by the end of January. And I am off on holidays for most of January.

I never wanted to do this site. We should be decarbonising, making this research redundant. Plus it's industry funded so they can pay for an external site and developer. It's not like energy companies pay their fair share of taxes.

The only consolation is that at least much of the research is focused on mitigation and preventing damage to the environment from the operations.

But they didn't listen to me. Nor did they employ people with web experience to manage the project. So not only do I have to develop the site, but I also have to handhold the authors. And I and the rest of the team already have a lot of work on my plate.

We have a new graphic designer replacing the one I worked with on last year's fantastic Utopia project. This new guy is perfect for the organisation as he has a tendency to overcomplicate everything. I try to use WordPress' inbuilt functionality and structure as much as possible, allowing users flexibility at the expense of centralised control. Simplicity and flexibility are my mottoes.

It's one reason why our WordPress sites are far more popular for authors than our Sitecore websites.

User flexibility and control is an anathema to corporate operations.

So I'm presented with the need for a large number of templates, custom post types and fields (using Advanced Custom Fields). And there's no time to argue because they've been approved and the graphic designer is off on leave. And our front end developer has only a short time available too.

Naturally a lot of the elements and styles don't fit into WordPress' default generated HTML. So that means things like custom menu walkers and archive pages.

I find I have to do almost no training to get users up to speed with vanilla WordPress but customisation means additional training and the people responsible are on leave.

There's no way I can do everything in time, no time to train a contractor up and get them permissions, so I tell them they'll only have a subset of pages available for the initial launch lose the fancy searches for now.

And I begin working flat out before and after Christmas. I give them some custom page types so the authors can start entering content while I work on listing pages. I solve problems and churn code out. What I did was petty awesome, even if I do say so myself. Not just reusing other people's themes and plugins like some commercial developers do (because my clients are "special needs" so virtually nothing works out of the box).

I'd like to work on this on the evenings and spend time during the day looking after Alex. But no, in come the phone calls. Sometimes every ten minutes or so. Help entering content, changes to be made to templates, the odd bug discovered. One day I counted to ten and was about to open the door on a hiding Alex playing a game of hide and seek when the phone rang. Again.

You see, when a manager or communicator signs off on something it means very little. They want changes. Limitations are unacceptable.

But I want to spend some time with my kid. The year is too busy and he grows up so fast that any time together is precious.

I finally made the site live today. More bugs/changes. Eventually, at 4 pm (and if you think that's skiing off early I'd had 10 minutes off for lunch), when I was supposed to go and pick up Alex from a friend's place another change request came in and I lost it. Privately. My head was so exhausted that I couldn’t cope with any more changes. I told them no. That any further changes ran the risk of further bugs. They apologised, said thank you, and I fixed the last known bug.

Then I found this floating in our swimming pool and fished him out...


Another giant bug fixed!


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