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[Wednesday, April 02, 2003]


Loose ends

Loose end number one. Several weeks ago J. Tan. talked me into going to hear the Creaking Tree String Quartet at the Rivoli, and they were blindingly good. I was pretty happy I gambled on the admission plus CD combo, definitely.

The four pieces are fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, and steel-string acoustic guitar. All are equally gifted: with exquisite tone, melodic, and fast, when they wanted to be. Since I play guitar (fingerstyle) myself, I had my head in my hands whenever the guitarist took a solo, or even had an especially nifty accompanying bit while someone else played melody. Several weeks ago I was talking about how much of a part the perception of craft plays in at least my reception of music, and here was a great illustration.

It's hard to sort out the mix between improvisation and composition. My suspicion is that composition predominates on the macro-scale, since what I heard on the CD matched what I heard at the show pretty closely; the improvisation is in small touches like tempo, dynamics, ornamentation. Since that's mostly where I think it belongs, that made me relatively happy; although listeners coming from a jazz angle - and the band does have a strong jazz influence - might prefer things more free-form and unpredictable.

Since jazz and blues leave me, mostly, cold, I was pleased by how much the jazzier pieces grabbed me; although my preference was still for those with closer ties to old-time, bluegrass, Celtic, and chamber music. If anything marred the experience at all, it was the rudeness of the audience, talking during subtle and beautiful music as though it were a Bad English cover band. Come on, people!

Loose end number two. I was sent an absolutely gorgeous stamp from Israel: an illustration of the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem, which Googling assures me is now a suburb of Jerusalem attempting to retain some rustic charm while hosting a medical centre the size of Battlestar Galactica and looming housing developments. The illustration show the church spire in the foreground, with the eye looking upward, several autumnal trees, and a green sky. Artistic license, or sign of Armageddon? Probably the former: Har Megiddo is miles away. (Note to my readers: if there is any subtle political subtext to that link which I missed on a quick glance, my link is not intended to endorse that; it was just the first expository link I found.)

Further Googling brought me to the Israel Philatelic Federation, who get points for having the oddest collection of navbar icons I've seen in awhile: the shouting head for "Societies and Groups" is especially nice, as well as the bulging sack of money for dealers. The Hebrew version has a slightly different set of icons:
the moneybags and head are gone, but there's a writing hand and a question mark. Since the filenames are in English, I can tell that they link to a lexicon and a FAQ, respectively. I'm not at all sure what they mean by a lexicon, but the page is blank.

Oh, and the Visitation means Mary's visit to her cousin (to be interpreted loosely) Elizabeth after being told she would be bearing the son of God. (That was the Annunciation.) Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words "Blessed art thou amongst women", and Mary responded with the Magnificat. Okay, there were probably some less-deathless preliminaries, along the lines of "Oh God, my back is killing me", "Mine too", since Elizabeth was pregnant with the future John the Baptist at the time. Anyway, the Church is allegedly located on the site of Elizabeth's house, but that is doubtless a little farfetched.

Did I just manage to milk several more paragraphs out of a stamp than out of a great concert? I did, didn't I? Oh well. The stamp came attached to an IBM Haifa envelope, containing a flyer inviting me to a conference which I probably won't submit anything to or go to.

posted 6:32 PM |

One rational voice..

The mathematician and geometer H.S.M. Coxeter has passed away. Though I have been at his university for four years, I never knew him: but I heard him speak twice, and saw him from time to time at public lectures, up until the last year or so looking spry and fascinated by everything. Last year, he was carried up the stairs of the Fields Institute in a stretcher, but he still looked fascinated by everything. He visited Bertrand Russell in prison to learn mathematics as a boy, and called George Boole's daughters his aunts. I lack, sadly, the geometric intuition to really follow his work, even the Introduction to Geometry - he did not proceed slowly and formally, but in leaps and bounds, using whatever paths seemed most interesting - but I have it on my shelf and enjoy dipping into it. I'll never be the sort of mathematical mind that Coxeter was, but just a few lines from his pen or a few spoken words could always make me want to, by giving a sense of what it must be like. Lux perpetua luceat ei.

..but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare"

posted 1:08 PM |