Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Musical Machinations

Here is what I've been listening to off late - my playlists sample blues/rock/heavy metal/thrash/black/death/house/progressive house/progressive trance genres including the myriad sub-genre microcosms throughout the spectrum. 

Hard Rock/Blues Rock (officially "Proto Rock")

Black Metal
     Ravencult - Temples of Torment
        Mid paced, brooding rhythms; very catchy. Not at all new but I love this style of black metal.
     Svarttjern - Ultimatum Necrophilia

        Blast beats, hellfire and brimstone. The vocals are terror inducing turbocharged reciprocating saws. Frost bitten Norwegian black metal that Natte Frost endorsed "True Norwegian black metal - Anti human, anti life"! 
     Outre - Tranquility

Heavy Metal
    Noctum - Final Sacrifice
        Sweden has become, to me, a hot bed of resurrected retro genres as well as creating new ones. Noctum is a very NWOBH influenced platter with bluesy occult doom rock thrown in for good measure. The 80s occult imagery imagery plays a big role in this album's essence and it gets a lot of support from the music, vocals as well as orchestration. It is a little cheesy at times but I really enjoyed this album!

Progressive Metal
    Soen - Tellurian

    Soen - Cognitive
        Absolutely incredible! Opeth influences are prominent and the music is beautiful. Cognitive, their first album, has Tool influences as well. Influences aside, Soen is incredibly beautiful music.

Speed Metal
    Enforcer - Death By Fire
        Old school 80s speed metal - pummelling energy, face melting solos and vocals that kill!

Black Death Metal
    Sterbhaus - New Level Of Malevolence

        Thrashy, blackened version Children of Bodom with Death influences.
    Burial Hordes - Incendium

Technical Death Metal
     Allegaeon - Elements of the Infinite

        Very technical riffs and solos BUT extremely melodic! Vocals are two tone - raspy and death. Songs are phenomenal.

Folk Black (Pagan Black Metal)
        Fantastic orchestration; haunting melodies; early era Children of Bodom style thrash-y extreme folk influenced metal. The song construction and pacing makes it very compelling to listen to.
    Defect Designer - Wax
        From Russia with love. Complex death metal but very catchy.

Power Metal
    Pyramaze - Disciples Of The Sun
        This blew me away! Melodic, beautiful heavy metal with just the right touch of power elements. Killer vocals.
    Parallel Minds - Headlong Disaster

        French power metal with "extreme" influences - rather liked the upgrade in intensity from a traditional melodic, synth-keys based power metal. 

Progressive Death Metal
    Steorrah - II: Thin White Paint

        Opeth influenced proggy doomy death. Dan Swanö, famed audio engineer/producer, ensures a warm, brooding, organic heavy sound. Drum work is exceptional.
    Gruesome - Savage Land
        "Death" worship band, (mostly) the same band that toured as "Death to All". Don't be turned off by this being a tribute. Gruesome is a very competent album in its own right, just really close to "Leprosy" era Death.

Progressive Trance
    Illegal Substances - Tradition
        Trance, I find, is way too self derivative with songs having little to no repeat value at all. Not sure how to quantify what "progressive" does to it but the progression is definitely different. Additional layers of non-traditional instrumentation keeps it interesting and shifts focus continuously between the layers of a complex yet accessible soundscape.

    Hank Mobley - The Birth of Hard Bop
        Jazz is too complex and technical for me to write a good review. I primarily listen to Jazz for emotions - nuances, dynamism and play between musicians. Hank Mobley is one of the best and though this particular album isn't rated high due to "musician miscues", I couldn't make out any. However, I really enjoyed this album.

    Tempel - The Moon Lit Our Path

        Complex, layered instrumental sludge that in an amazing way, does not bore or derive from itself. Gets my "Surprise left hook" award!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I Married an Angel

"I Married an Angel" feat. Donald Byrd, Horace Silver, John Laporta and Kenny Clarke.

I find the emotions of this composition so driven by its name. The music is tremendous. It defines the emotion and drives a visual narrative through melody.

The song ushers in emotions of romance and nostalgia. There's a certain elegance to it. Picture a sunday morning brunch in an elegant, romantic yet airy and sunny restaurant. A fledgling innocent romance. As the day progresses, the melody segues into a whimsical afternoon. There's mischief, there's flirtation. The plodding keyboards of the late afternoon hours are staid and oppressive. Time passes slowly. The evening brings some freshness; a streak of curiosity. As the shadow stretches, the mood turns more sombre, formal - structured and traditional. And finally, after dinner, comes full circle with an overture of full bodied romance. The same way it started, just more mature. I married an angel.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ubuntu Precise & Nvidia/ATI displays

Installing Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on VirtualBox when the host machine has Nvidia graphics drivers poses a bunch of problems - black screens, graphics failures and the desktop just not showing up. Primarily, this is because Ubuntu doesn't by default come with drivers that work with these (Nvidia/ATI) graphics cards.

After a few attempts, I poked around Google and came up with a few suggested actions that ended up working.

A very detailed explanation of the available courses of action is available here:

My specific problem turned out to be a black screen accompanied by a few error messages before it defaulted to a command line login. The solution, as suggested by the link, was to edit the grub file and add "nomodeset" to the boot up options. I did this but it still didn't work out as expected.

More googling led me to this link where the author explains how to get the latest nvidia drivers

10 minutes later I see the Ubuntu desktop! Success and I think I'm getting good at this linux stuff. I play around a bit and restart the VM. To my surprise I see a black screen with more errors. Back to google me thinks. This time around I found out that updating the grub file only affects that boot instance and a few additional steps are required to "remember" these changes during every boot.

A reboot later, I see the Ubuntu desktop. With great expectation, I reboot a couple of times and each time the Ubuntu desktop comes up without a hitch.

Linux is easy. With Google :)

Edit 1: I tried this on a laptop with Intel HD4000 display drivers and it went without a hitch - just a plain install from the iso, reboot and all is good. No issues with drivers etc

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Yes, I just saw the new James Cameron opus "Avatar".

Some quick thoughts on:

The visual experience:
in 3D, its visually stunning! Its magnificent! The boundaries of imagination of what an alien planet blessed with rich flora and fauna will look like have been challenged, no, have been assailed resulting in a world that has been painstakingly crafted in all its exquisite detail. I was impressed by the diversity of fictional biological life. Creatures, though very dinosaur and prehistoric Earth like, have wonderful design detail and flawless rendering. There is no doubt that Avatar is a visual tour de force!

The cast: (in order of my preference)
Zoe Saldana
Stephen Lang
Sam Worthington
Sigourney Weaver

Zoe Saldana or her character Neytiri, a princess of the Na'vi tribe, is my favorite character of the movie. She is feminine, beautiful (character wise), elegant, tender and at the same time is aggressive, loyal and trustworthy. Her emotions ring true and the manner of display, honest.

Stephen Lang, as always is the case, is a battled hardened commander whose dedication to the mission is so personal that there are no distinctions between failure and death, between success and life. His absolute apathy to the plight of the Na'vi serves as the face of unrelenting oppression. His character is designed to be so hard and unlikeable that the viewer's sensitivities swing the other way to associate and sympathize with the Na'vi.

Sam Worthington's character Jake Sully is the typical Hollywood character who dusts off bullets, plays a game of chicken with death and wins, one who walks on water and can eat fire. He, in the face of great adversity, overcomes tremendous internal conflict and saves the world just to uphold and save what is worth saving - truth, love, and loyalty. His character development is the most interesting though as we learn about him only through his avatar.

Sigourney Weaver is back as an all out, ballsy, 'I take no shit from nobody' researcher except this time her character is rather matronly. She oversees Jake's induction and continued interaction with the Na'vi. She is the resident expert on all things biological on Pandora and on the social mores of the Na'vi. Her conscience is a razor sharp knife - things fall on one side pretty quickly - her side or on Stephen Lang's.

Honorable mentions must be made of Michele Rodriguez as a marine pilot and Dileep as a lackey on Sigourney Weaver's team (except that his name is spelled wrong :))

Some viewer reactions:
Most people who watched Avatar focused on its pace - it is a rather long movie. The character development and the exploration of the visuals (mainly of the forest and of the creatures that inhabit Pandora) contributed to the pace and totally escaped many viewers. Its akin to Peter Jackson's "Return of the King" taking all the credit over "The Fellowship of the Ring" because it leverages all the elements of an excellent action fantasy movie but is based of an entire movie's worth of character development.

Even though it masquerades as an intelligent character driven movie, it suffers from annoying cliches. The dialogues, at most times, are frustrating. They are predictable, mundane and appear to have been written in a hurry while in the bathroom.

Overall this movie has many moments where cliches and banalities threaten to engulf and drown the experience but there is always something developing, be it characters, visuals or action sequences to redeem this movie.

My reactions:

Action and visualization - incredible stereo camera angles takes you into the skies to fly with the Na'vi warriors. The incredible detail in the jungle and the lush landscapes is worthy of the master Peter Jackson. The creatures on the other hand were a little simplistic and too earth like. They were not fundamentally different in any way from creatures we are familiar with. The attempt at being ever so different falls short by a mile and then some! All they could do was strap on two more legs to a horse? and give it a snout?

Symbolism - Jake Sully's avatar swatting away the seeds of the tree of life - he doesn't understand it so he fears it and thinks of destroying them. Once he is saved, his playfulness with the forest betrays an inquisitiveness, he is now very keen to open his eyes, ears and heart and let the sights, sounds and spirit of the forest get in.

Love - their love was simple and honest. I am thankful it wasn't more involved. Cameron sets up the stage with a few subtle clues in scenes leading up to the one in the tree of souls.

The larger human condition - Man is afraid of the dark, of things he doesn't understand and once this fear sets in - there is a high resistance to learn and understand and is replaced by a yearning to destroy this unknown, poorly understood horror.

Character development - Though an attempt is made to be patient and textured, the development of various characters was too simplistic and episodic with some characters reduced to mere statements. This is frustrating as I feel certain aspects of various characters could have been explored in a little more detail. Maybe the real issue I have here is the line between stating characters as fact and developing them consistently fell on the wrong side.

Dialogues - This department single-handedly ruined the experience with gems like "I see you", "You have a good heart". It really does seem that Cameron downloaded a Hollywood phrase generator, clicked on it a thousand times and paid someone minimum wage to stitch these together to form dialogues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Some home truths

of the average human life.

Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree sings -

"And pride is just another way
Of trying to live with my mistakes
Denial is a better way
Of getting through another day
And silence is another way
Of saying what I wanna say
And lying is another way
Of hoping it will go away"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to a comment on "My mid life crisis"

Anonymous posted "You will feel alive when - you get out of your comfort zone ready to set new expectations and change."

I thought I addressed this in the post but let me elaborate a little -

Setting new expectations for yourself outside the norm and striving to meet it is, as I've pointed out, what will satisfy most people. Personally, being out of my comfort zone and challenging myself is currently in my comfort zone. So much so, that I fear that these challenges, in order to be satisfying and enriching, are going to have to get taller and come at intervals way more frequent than they are right now.

All this talk of setting new expectations and change usually refers to your personal life and your view of your personal self. I want to extend that to your professional life too. I see no point in attempting to re-define yourself in your non-professional life but go back to an existence where all you strive for is the corner window office, better pay, better benefits, aspire to become a manager or any equivalent of this whatever your domain maybe. Couple that with buying a house with a yard, getting a dog and raising a family then you get a life awash with the gray of mundanity. Think about everything that is the norm of your life - from going to the mall to check out the latest sale to drinking coffee from your favorite barrista - I hate the ordinariness of it all - it closets and stifles the possibilities of enriching life beyond keeping up with the joneses.

Following this pattern of life gets you what exactly? A facade of happiness? A facade of stability?

Not that there is anything wrong with this - this is exactly what floats many a boat. Just not mine.

I don't know what I want of and from life instead but the possibility of living this shell of a life just because I did not try to break out and redefine my life is positively terrifying. I feel trapped by this life - the only life I've known.

[Some other random thoughts]
Can I, at this stage of my life, be, say for example, a musician? *Maybe* Why exactly is it this hard? Because I've been following the harder/faster/better routine all my life (I haven't even gotten anywhere doing that). Staying in this rut has precluded so many possibilities, one of them being a life as a musician.

The point I make here is that the longer I stay in a lifestyle governed by these norms and accepted ways, the harder it becomes to break out and change your life in a fundamental way. You may compensate by launching onto themes that are finely nuanced to differentiate you from the rest of the herd but that is as far as you are going to get with this exclusivity. Even though this drive to be different and exclusive is not what drives the initial desire to be fundamentally different, this is the only resort available when you no longer are able to enrich your life in a fundamental way. This is why, I think, you see people in their 40s and 50s suddenly going berserk and going "out of their comfort zone" by going sky diving, buying a swanky new Porsche etc. What is the point of it all?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Category: IAmAlive

Following up on my last post, I am creating a new category of posts on this blog - "IAmAlive" - in this category, I plan to include posts on people that have seemingly broken out of their mold, turned their seemingly normal lives around and achieved something that is close to their heart.

Though I dislike self referential links, I present "The Torture Garden"

A bunch of Indian guys hook up with a few others online. Huh? where is the adventure in that you ask? Well, they are taking part in the 2009 edition of the Mongol Rally - 12,000 km, 16 countries, 6 weeks.

How about the Plymouth-Banjul challenge?

Feeling alive yet? More to follow.