Category Archives: Music, Film, Theater

Copying Beethoven

I was lucky enough to score some tickets to an advance promotion of Copying Beethoven from Washington’s Classical Station, WGMS. It opens this Friday. I was pretty excited. It was in the very nice E-street Landmark theater in downtown DC. Apparently, they had given away hundreds of tickets, but no more than 30 people show up. It’s a week night, but that seemed pretty low.

The movie tells a fictional account of the last few years of his life through the eyes of a young, female music copyist. The plot is fiction, but the insights into his mind and passion for music are the heart and soul of the movie; and these, I believe, are not that far off the mark. I am not an expert on his biography, but I have read a volume of his letters and the man in those was certainly portrayed in this movie: prone to a fiery temper and bouts of rashness, but then kinder, sadder, yet always passionate. This constant fluctuation of moods was appropriate and definitely inspired a sympathetic understanding.

I very much enjoyed the discussions of music, inspiration, God, and his family (in the form of his nephew): they also confirmed the sentiments I gleaned from his letters. The fact that Beethoven was a bridge between classical and romantic music is not-so-subtly represented, especially in one amusing scene.

The highlight of the movie, however, is the premier of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Obviously, the entire Symphony could not be represented in the movie, but significant portions of each movement are played with great dramatic effect. The camera movements brought you directly into the orchestra with him, the musicians, and the choir. After this, the movie slowly winds to a close, somewhat anti-climactically, but this was probably accurate in real life as well.

Ed Harris does a wonderful job–I wasn’t sure I would get used to him, but after a while I forgot about the actor and just saw Beethoven. Diane Kruger also does a wonderful job in her fictional role.

7/10. If you truly appreciate Beethoven, you will love this movie.


Leticia and I took in Riverdance over the weekend. I’d seen the video and listened to the music countless times, but seeing it live on stage is a completely different experience. If the tour ever comes to your area I highly recommend it. The foot work is simply out of this world and the music is a lot more fun live (isn’t it always?). I can’t say I have a favorite part–it was all incredible.


We just watched Flightplan on DVD, and I have to say I thought it was a pretty good movie. It was interesting how it made you feel by taking place completely on an airplane (albeit a very large one). There were some weak moments, but all in all it kept me interested.

Editing Tracks in Windows Media Player

I recently embarked on a complete overhaul of my digital music library–including re-ripping all of my hundreds of CDs into WMA at 192 Kbps. It took a few weeks to get through  that, and now I’m going through each album “normalizing” it–fixing up names, album artists, composers, etc. It’s quite an effort and very tedious at times.

I just discovered yesterday that the keyboard is your friend in Windows Media Player. Using the mouse, you have to higlight a track, and then click again to enter the field (but be careful not to double-click, or it will start playing that track instead).

With the keyboard, you highlight a track, hit F2 to edit the first field (track number in my case). Don’t hit enter when you’re done editing a field, but use the tab/shift-tab keys to move between fields and the up/down arrow keys to move between tracks. This is saving a ton of time.

So why didn’t I realize this before? Part of me wants to say it’s my fault: I’m very computer-saavy and use the keyboard whenever I can and I ought to have tried something. However, another part of me is thinking that the interface does not indicate that the keyboard is a viable option here.

Dear Blockbuster,

Our relationship has been a long one, but at long last the time has come to go our separate ways. I can’t say our relationship has been a happy one. I remember the long nights of walking up and down your aisles, looking in vain for a decent movie, only to return home empty-handed to watch something I already have.

But I’ve found someone new–someone who will give me the movies I want to see, the movies I can’t find in any of your stores–good movies. New movies, old movies, classics, thrillers, TV shows–anything I’ve ever wanted to see, but couldn’t fit in a store.

I’ve moved to NetFlix and I won’t look back. With nearly 80 movies in the queue and counting I’m looking forward to a good year or more of movies I haven’t seen.

Infinite Enjoyment with Finite Resources

Have you ever thought about the miracle of music? OK, some might object to the world miracle, but I’m talking about music, something where transcendental terminology is appropriate.

On a piano you have 88 keys. Instruments can go higher (violin) or lower (organ), but with the same repeated 12-note octave everything in western music is created.

Thing about that. 12 notes, repeated over and over, at higher and lower frequencies. It’s such a small working set! How many melodies can you create in one octave?

More importantly, how many beautiful melodies can you create? Thousands of composers over thousands of years have proven that there is no limit to the originality possible with these limited tools. Of course, there are accompanying tools: instruments, rhythm, and personal style. But always with the same 12 notes.

And an infinity of beauty is possible because of it. Granted, our notions of what art is beautiful change over time, but who denies the beauty of War and Peace, Les Misérables, The Last Supper, Intermezzo from Cavelleria Rusticana, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, or anything by Rembrandt? Beauty grows, never shrinks.

Now imagine if there were infinite numbers of keys–how would that change things? What if we doubled the resolution of the notion of half-step (F toF#, for example) to a quarter step?* 8th step? 16th step? I don’t think this will inspire more creativity (at least not creativity that produces beautiful works of art). Too many options will spoil the landscape–clutter it up so much that not only can we not understand music produced like this, but creating it becomes onerous–there are way too many possibilities. The mathematical framework of music forces us to contain our creativity within bounds of structure that “make sense” to our minds, that allow us to understand, dissect, and enjoy.

The modern notion that lack of constraints promotes creativity is a false one. No constraints means less thought and feeling has to be put into work.

I hand you a canvas and tell you to paint your best work ever. What will you do?

You might ask–“What is the subject of the painting?” I respond–“Anything.”

You can’t work like that. Of course, you might come up with a theme yourself, but now you’re constraining yourself along a certain path.

Another example: in the 20’s Hollywood had no movie-making constraints. There were no censors. Do you remember many movies from the 20’s? In the 30’s, constraints were imposed by the government, forcing Hollywood to clean up its act. How many movies are memorable from the 30’s onward? A lot, even to my young mind. I think a case could be made that dissapearing constraints now is creating the same dull period in Hollywood that existed back in the 20’s. Sure, you can make anything you want, but who is actually going to care deeply about it?

Software development thrives under these conditions. Software developed with no or few constraints quickly looks like garbage and is much less useful. Impose coding constraints, design constraints, interface constraints–all these RULES you have to obey–and your code will become artful. Look in all the books on the subject of turning average programming into craftsmen, artists, what-you-will–the books mostly teach you RULES to follow, lines to stay within.

Coloring outside the lines is fun every so often, but you rarely frame it and call it art.

* Of course, continuous instruments such as strings can do this, but it’s not standard musical technique.

A sign that ticket prices are too high

Les Misérables is in town, and I would love to see it. I’ve seen it three times, but it’s one of those shows that I could see a million times and love it more each and every time.

Problem is: the tickets are minimum $200.00. The best seats still available are over $300.00. $300.00 for 3 hours of entertainment? Is it that really worth it?

In London, front row seats are about £40 ($70). A quick search turns up a flight for $419 from Dulles. So… for $300 I could see Les Misérables here, or for $490.00 I could fly all the way to London and see it.

When Bad Random Functions Go Good?

Most software developers who have even a cursory knowledge of code security know that using the built-in rand() function for anything cryptographic is a bad idea.

Now take the issue of randomness in car CD players, for example. In the last year I replaced my car’s stolen stereo system with a new one. It’s a Kenwood and I’m generally happy with it, but it has got to have the WORST shuffle play I have ever seen…er… heard. Let me explain:

I created a WMA CD with about 80 favorite songs in the root directory. I have this CD in more often than not. Yesterday, as I was driving home it played the exact same set of songs as on the previous day driving home! They were in a different order, however. It was probably a subset of about 20 songs. What are the odds of that?

A second oddity I’ve noticed is that it more often than not plays two Elton John songs in a row (songs are ordered in alpanumerical order and most consist of something like “01 – My Song.wma”, where the number is the track number from the original album). I have maybe 5 on the CD.

But the really weird thing is that every time Trace Adkins’ beautiful tribute Arlington comes on I happen to be passing Arlington Cemetery right at that moment. This has happened each of the 4 times I’ve heard the song in my car. Each instance has been separated by at least a few weeks.

I would be interested in seeing the algorithm they use.