Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

December 24, 2010 at 11:54 am | Posted in Audio, Ballet, Concert, Dance, Review, Theater/Theatre | 1 Comment
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Moscow Ballet Troupe

This was my first time seeing an actual Russian ballet troupe. I’ve seen plenty of other ballet troupes over the years. I’ve seen San Diego and Phoenix troupes live, and San Francisco and New York casts on television around the holidays. I’ve always wanted to see how the Russians compared, as it has always seemed that all troupes are compared to them.

I can’t expound on the subtleties of just how Russian ballet differs from what I have seen before; as I’m not familiar with the intricacies and technicalities of the art. I can tell you, that it is different; albeit ever so slightly.

The object of the game remains the same. Tell a story through dance, without words. Moscow Ballet did that superbly. The story of The Nutcracker is easy to follow and is loved by children and adults alike.

The choreographer of this show really played well to each athlete’s abilities. Their strengths were showcased very well, whether it was one of the ballerinas running pas de bourrée, or one of the danseurs turning fouetté; each movement was executed very well.

The Moscow troupe itself was joined by a small army of local children for some of the larger scenes, and they also did very well; you could tell they were thrilled with the whole experience.

The scenery was done mostly via backdrops, and the show was well lit. The audio however had an annoying tape hiss. That seemed odd; considering classical music is readily available in some of the highest definition recording formats around. I would like to see this troupe perform with a symphony orchestra, but I understand that’s difficult as most of the cities on the tour have their symphonies doing their own shows around Christmas time and its prohibitively expensive to tour with your own.

I would definitely recommend you check this show out when it comes to your neck of the woods. Its definitely a great time, and is a great way to introduce your little ones to some culture.

What to wear: Dress how you like, within reason. Since there is no symphony involved, formal attire is not required. Most people at the show were dressed nicely. Men wore slacks or khakis with dress shirts, women were in skirts, dresses or slacks with matching tops. No ball gowns or tuxes were present, that I could see. I’d stay a step above blue jeans and t-shirts, but I wouldn’t go overboard.

Go See Tron the Right Way

December 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Cult Classic, Movies, physics, science, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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I’ll make this quick and to the point. Tron: Legacy has “vertically extended” footage. Over 40 minutes of it; composed of over 7 sequences, according to the latest intel.

That means you need to see it at a REAL IMAX, not some digital multiplex mini-Imax, or Liemax, as some like to call them.

Find the real deal near you, using optical technologies comprised of 15-perf 70mm film. No, the film isn’t actually shot on IMAX cameras, it was shot digitally, using the “2.0” version of James Cameron’s camera system developed for Avatar. But, the sequences are digital creations from the get-go, which means they can render them to whatever aspect ratio they want. They apparently wanted to render them in the IMAX ratio. Most of the film will be in the 2.35-1 ratio, like you would see on your hi-def 16:9 TV screen. The “grid” sequences, however, are rendered at the IMAX aspect of 1:44-1, which, obviously is “more square”. That means you have to find a traditional IMAX screen if you want the most bang for your buck.

Why? Because the film will grow taller in those parts. The aspect ratio literally changes. If you are in a multiplex IMAX that means it will get bigger by like a foot or two. (Yes, for those paying attention that means most of the film will be letterboxed). If you are at a real IMAX theatre, it will get much bigger! Think ten feet not one foot.

How do you find a real Imax theatre? Well, you could type real imax into google and it will bring up a map, probably. There’s a good one floating around. Or, you could click here to bring up a really cool Google Earth map (assuming you have Google Earth installed) that will show them to you. In order of size they are GT, SR, MPX and digital. Try to find a GT near you, or an SR. Screw the rest. Vote with your wallets and let the execs know that you are a discerning viewer and want to see real, giant-screen movies.

Of course, Real-D 3d is also awesome, if you can’t find a big ol’ Imax nearby. I’d choose that over a mini-max. But, the vertically-extended scenes are apparently only going to be at Imax locations…so its up to you.

Update – Just came from Tron, and the vertically extended scenes are awesome. Totally worth the trip to Tempe to see the screen grow massively. Not as revolutionary as Avatar, but superb graphics for sure. Look for some VFX oscars on this one.

Dweezil Zappa vs. Roger Waters

December 7, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Digital, Jazz, Rock, Theater/Theatre, Vocal | 3 Comments
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I wasn’t going to blog either of these shows, because they are both so epic that you really have to be there to get it. Then, I realized something. I’m not one of those people that uses the word epic on a daily basis; I must have something blog-worthy. So, here we go…

The Music
     Both shows feature decades old music written by highly respected, highly talented composers. Each features complex instrumental arrangements with uncommon instruments. Both feature horns, keyboards (analog and digital). Multiple vocal parts are present in each. Drums were tight, loud and crisply gated at each show. Both drummers were highly skilled. I’d say they are deft at keeping meter in both standard times, and random timings that only people with years of experience, or Master’s degrees in music, even know what it is called. 6/16th time with augmented triplets or some such…but I’m guessing. Guitar players are both highly capable. Dweezil got to show off a few more styles; due to the fluid nature of Frank Zappa’s composition – but the guys in Roger’s band played note for note as the album dictated. Overall music from each was an exceptionally clear sonic wall.

Both Winners.

The Visuals
     Roger Waters brings bleeding-edge projection technology to an arena and projects incredible animations from Gerald Scarfe, superbly edited movies, and pictures of soldiers from fans around the world; onto a giant wall which gets built brick by brick as the show progresses. The video projectors are capable of momentarily transporting you into another dimension, I’m pretty sure. There are video technologies in play at this show that I’m sure originated in Area 51.
     Dweezil Zappa had 3 screens that occcasionally projected time-synced (to the live concert) remastered film footage of his dad. The footage was great, the timing was perfect. The restoration work (or was it just great preservation?) on it was superb.

Winner: Roger Waters. Sorry Dweezil. Roger outgunned you massively on this one, but he was dealing with a much bigger venue. The scale leaned in his favor from the start, and I took that into consideration. Even with the scale handicap – he just plain outgunned you.

The Sound
     Impeccable. I can assure you I am intimately familar with The Wall. I must also admit that I was not very familiar with ‘ Apostrophe. I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. I only own one Frank Zappa Album; Quadiophiliac. However, it is in on DVD Audio; remastered by Dweezil in multi-channel surround, as was originally specified Frank.
     Everyone involved in projects by Waters or Zappa is the “cream of the crop”. Whether they be technicians, musicians, vocalists or personal assistants – I am positive they are held to the highest standards of excellence. I’m sure it doesn’t matter if they are making coffee or tweaking a knob on a 96/24 audio console; everything has to be spot on. There are no shortcuts. Dedication to audio perfectionism requires state of the art gear, tweaked by technical experts and massaged by audio artists. Both shows had this in spades. Since Dweezil was playing a much more intimate show, I can’t knock him for not bringing the Qadrophonic rig like Waters did. I’m not even sure Frank envisioned this material as multi-channel. The balls-on stereo imaging present at the Zappa show more than made up for the lack of quad.

Both Winners.

The Emotions
     Roger brings with him a personal tale of fear, regret, disconnectedness and an anti-establishment world view. I can relate to that. I get the story. I love the story. I’ve seen it on the big screen, small screen, mid-sized screens and now on Ultra-Huge screens. Great story. Emotionally charged. Power packed.
     Zappa’s tales are a bit more fun. Uplifting and whimsical at times. Dreamy and surreal. At one point, as Dweezil did a bit of improv on the guitar; he effortlessly played an instantly recognizable Jimmy Page riff. It was a fleeting, joyous moment. I felt a tear well up and roll out of the corner of my eye as I had an epiphany. Concerts at this level of musicianship aren’t always about the spectacle…they are about the music, and how it can transcend time and space.

Winner: Zappa

So, there you have it folks. Big vs Small. Grand vs Intimate. Composer against composer. A tie. All things considered; either of these shows beats out any other plans for the night you might have had. You really have to see them to believe them. I can’t describe just how well both of these guys were able to capture a moment in time, bottle it and preserve it to be released upon an unsuspecting (or anxiously awaiting) public decades later. They are both incredible shows. Zappa and Waters – I salute you both.
 

Hot Pockets – A Guest Blog Post by Nicole Dunn

December 1, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Blogging, Review | 1 Comment
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

hot pockets…

Last night Jordan and I got to go see Jim Gaffigan at the Comerica (previously dodge) theater.

I was excited to see Gaffigan live because I had been following him as a comic even before he had Comedy Central Specials or Cd’s. His timing and delivery are classic.

This was a show with all new material, which is probably why the security told everyone at the door ” no pictures or video, not even on your cell phone”. There was one opening act by a comic named Jordan Rubin. He had an interesting style. He would pause in between his jokes to make it seem like he forgot what he was going to say and it would make the next punchline seem random, but it all came together. He had a good joke that hit well with the audience about the rapper Mystikal. He did a good job of warming up the crowd for Gaffigan.

Gaffigan’s act did not disappoint for the long time fans and roped in new fans. The main focus of his act was about working out (or lack there of), the gym, the glory and disgust of McDonald’s, the facade that is Subway, hotel living and hotel indoor pools, and whales. It seems like a far leap from talking about the creepy guy who stares at the women on the hip abductor machines to whale blubber but it flowed seamlessly. The show kept the audience engaged and laughing in hysterics. It was a well timed show, lasting about an hour and half. Gaffigan left the stage and the audience cheered for an encore and without disappointment, he came out and gave the crowd what they wanted to hear….the hot pockets skit. He added new some material to the older, adored jokes about the microwave favorite. He even threw in a shout out to bacon, which was a big focus in his last special “King Baby”; it was subtle but it got a big reaction.

As a long time fan, I loved his new stuff. Jordan made a good observation about how, for the most part, his act is pretty clean as far as comics nowadays goes. Even though it isn’t packed full of swear words and filth, his jokes are relatable and hilarious. I’ll watch this special over and over again when it comes out on cable.

via phoenix dunn family.

Breathing In Music

November 11, 2010 at 2:02 am | Posted in Concert, Digital, Review, Vocal | 1 Comment
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Breathing, in music, is critical. Just ask any singer. I’d dare say that you could probably ask any musician, or for that matter – any human. Breathing is absolutely critical to life; it is also particularly important to music. Go ahead, google it – if you must. Wind instrument players have special techniques of breathing to play notes indefinitely. Guitar players and violinists use good posture and specialized breathing practices to play at optimum efficiency.

Breathing can also be bad in music. When? When it is done by audio processors (compressors), unintentionally. 

That seemed to be the case tonight, at Comerica (formerly Dodge) Theatre. Unintentional breathing. Irritating breathing. Maddening to me. I looked around, and figured I must be the only person noticing it. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the Celtic Thunder show. Why wouldn’t they? The performers are attractive, and fairly talented. It is a pretty set-design (if a bit too artificial and contrived looking); with the requisite chemical fog/dry ice fog, and hazers fired up to accentuate the moving lights.  The voices are clear and bright, compliments of the state-of-the-art headest mics, capable of picking up a dying breath and projecting it to an audience…and “there’s the rub”, folks.

Whenever you take something as pure and recognizable as a human voice (or a violin bow drawing across a string) and electronically process it, there is a problem. The problem is the human ear. It is very good at picking up anomalies. How those anomalies are addressed by the human brain varies between individuals. Some people, like me, will dwell on them and get irritated. Others, like my beautiful girlfriend, will notice them but not realize that is why they just “can’t get into” the show. Still, others will seemingly not notice/care and will go about clapping, cheering and giving standing ovations. Maybe it is because the last group is 12 years old and was raised on mp3 files and compressed audio; or they are from the generation prior to “hi-fi” and assume that’s how it is supposed to be. Maybe they are just in shock, and awed, from seeing a modern moving lighting fixture cut through chemical haze with its dichroic colors and “totally cool” beams sweeping the stage and audience. I dunno… but I digress.

My point is that breathing in music is essential. Singers do it. They have to. The stringed, acoustic, instruments do it. They have to. The drums do it. They have to. That is how acoustic instruments work. They vibrate air. That is how the impressive speaker system hanging from the ceiling works. It vibrates air. Music breathes. Plain and simple.

My gripe, in this case, is with the electronics and the people that run them. Electronics do not breathe. They don’t interact with air; not like an instrument does. To them – breathing is bad. Breathing is a side effect of being set wrong. If your ears hear “breathing” or “pumping” that your eyes can’t physically correlate to a person – something electronic in the chain is not set properly.

Today’s sound engineering for live shows like Celtic Thunder is incredibly complicated. There is a lot of technology between that violin player at the back of stage, or the singer at the front of stage (wearing a headset mic), and the people in the audience. Sometimes that technology has quirks or problems. I get that. Problems like electronics audibly “breathing” is caused by a setting measured in milliseconds. For that problem to exist for almost an hour into a show is appalling. It is either caused by an electronics unit being faulty, or more likely; by that unit not being set correctly.

I applaud Celtic Thunder for their efforts and performance. The performers have talent. The “violin girls” are very talented. Too bad they aren’t featured a bit more. Too bad most of the string section was buried in the mix for half of the show. I wish I would have seen this show sans technology, and somewhat-cheesy theatricals, at some natural ampitheatre. It’s probably a great show acoustically and unscripted. Unfortunately, tonight that show got buried by the behind-the-scenes electronics I love so much not being transparent.

Once again…I must quote George Lucas and his THX division…”The Audience is Listening”.

Scorpions at Dodge Theatre

July 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Posted in Audio, Concert, Metal, Review, Rock | 2 Comments
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Scorpions CrowdAs you can see from the quick cell phone shot here, the Dodge was completely “sold out” for the Scorpions final world tour. Every seat was paid for;  almost none of the ones on the floor got used, as people chose to stand up and rock all night.

You just can’t sit down when the Scorps are on stage.  They come out all guns blazing and stay there. In true metal style, all the tried and true crowd pleasers were in effect.

Smoke machines intensified the visual impact of the moving Martin lights while James Kottak pounded the skins atop a drum riser that lifted towards the stinger-shaped lighting trusses overhead. Pawel Maciwoda stood atop his bass cabinets and created a thunderous bottom end. Rudolf Schenker laid down the steely crunch guitar while Matthias Jabs skillfully cut through the thick air like a titanium drillbit sinking into a block of aluminum. Klaus Meine effortlessly laid his unmistakable German voice right atop the layers of metal music pouring from the speakers overhead and the crowd went wild.

These guys have been putting on world class rock shows for decades, and they never disappoint. Ever. From the state of the art sound and lighting systems, right down to each members slight changes in ensemble throughout the night, every detail just adds to the total overall impact of the spectacle. It might be stereotypical, but it seems to me that Germans are really great at getting details just perfect. From the custom made Dommenget guitars to the concept of putting LED video screens everywhere on the stage – its a well-designed package.

You might wonder if this level of detail is necessary in a metal show. In the case of the Scorpions, absolutely. Everyone in attendance knows the songs. They know the words and guitar notes from this year’s album and the album from 25 years ago. They are singing those songs while Klaus extends his microphone into the crowd, and following every note played by Matthias and Rudolf on their own personal air guitar. That gives everyone plenty of time to notice things like videos of speakers playing superimposed over speakers actually playing, or bright little rings of LEDs surrounding a laser-sharp beam of projected light even if they only take it in subconsciously. The ability to lift a drummer high in the air is an absolute necessity, in my mind, if you really want to drive home a crowd-participation drum solo. Yes, details matter.

They played all the hits, they played stuff you know and love but forgot that you know and love. They played a couple that you don’t yet know but will soon enough love. Since we are in Arizona, they played that one too. Complete with video of the state flag, the state motto and they even got some footage of the drummer out in the desert somewhere. Once again, details matter.

As I mentioned, many of the guitar screams you know and love were provided by axes custom made for Matthias and Rudolf. Other riffs were courtesy of the familiar Flying Vees , Explorers and Strats.

As for the drums, I stopped by the sound booth and peeked in to verify that some things just haven’t changed in 20 years. Those definitive kick and snare drum sounds are still being provided by some trusty ol’ Wendel Jrs.

Bottom Line: Details matter. Germans make good stuff. Scorpions rocked 25 years ago. They rock now.

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Tesla opened the show, and sounded great. They played their hits amidst a solid set of hard rock. The new stuff from the album Forever More sounds just as good as anything from The Great Radio Controversy or Psychotic Supper, which were both dipped into during the set. In fact, I even noticed that Edison’s Medicine features a theremin, a fact I was unaware of until last night.

Bottom Line: Hair metal is always fun. People love concert T-shirts, miniskirts, guitars and drums.

My Rant on Plant

July 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Concert, Review | 1 Comment
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I have to admit, that I almost didn’t take the time to write this review. It feels almost like treason, or at least a high crime in the rock and roll court of law. I will toss out my fifth amendment right and write it anyway. Before I get into the review itself, however, I would like to cover some concert etiquette. Continue Reading My Rant on Plant…

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