Saturday, March 31, 2007

Who is Niki Haris?

For the last few weeks now there has been a commercial on TV that never fails to turn my head toward the tube. Visa, the credit card company, has a new campaign that features "Downtown", the old Petula Clark hit from the 60's. The video shows a winsome, though unremarkable actress/model being whisked through a rapid succession of cosmetic transformations into some kind of beauteous archetype of fashion and glamour, all because of the power of Visa credit, blah, blah, blah... Big deal.

What is completely arresting about this commercial is the great arrangement of this song and an outstanding singing performance by the stylish black woman who we see at the beginning and end of the spot. In less than 30 seconds, her soaring and soulful vocal on this commercial grabs you and doesn't let go until it's done.

So, after wondering for several days, I finally went to Google and typed in:

"visa commercial downtown"

Lo and behold, it seems I am far from being the only person impressed by this commercial. What pops up immediately in this search are several referential hits reflecting a real interest in this talented singer. It turns out her name is Niki Haris, she's got a website (of course!) and has successfully developed a genre-hopping, multi-faceted singing, acting, and dancing career. Among many other credits, she is a long-time backup singer for Madonna, has toured with legendary funk band Rufus (in the shoes of Chaka Khan), sung at the Newport Jazz Festival, choreographed major dance performances, written and performed music for television and movies, and released numerous gospel, dance, pop, and jazz albums. Pretty amazing. Most artists don't get to enjoy much success in so many disparate fields.

If you've gotten this far and don't have any idea what I'm talking about, YouTube has the video clip:

I am again amazed at how cool it is to have so much information so immediately available with today's technology. There are many things about computers and the internet that I don't like but, as recently as a couple of years ago, it would have been very hard to find ANY of this information, but now, it is right at our fingertips, complete with video. Amazing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Untitled and mercifully short post in which the author whines about having to work too much. He should shut up and count his blessings.

Alas, this is my life's theme this week. I am burning the candle at both ends and working like a dog. Not a heroic Space Dog, but a regular working stiff of a dog that is compelled to work at too many jobs all at one time such that he has no time to sniff the breeze or run free in the fields or gaze at (or lick) his navel or other things that dogs like to lick.

You'd be surprised at how many images there are on the internet of a candle burning at both ends. Most of them are copyrighted. I guess it's something folks can relate to.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dogs in Space

This is excerpted from the Space Today Online website:

"Korabl-Sputnik-2 (Spaceship Satellite-2), also known as Sputnik 5, was launched on August 19, 1960. On board were the dogs Belka ( Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow). Also on board were 40 mice, 2 rats and a variety of plants.

After a day in orbit, the spacecraft's retrorocket was fired and the landing capsule and the dogs were safely recovered. They were the first living animals to survive orbital flight. Strelka later gave birth to six puppies, one of which was given to Caroline Kennedy, daughter of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Today, the bodies of Strelka and Belka remain preserved at the Memorial Museum of Astronautics in Moscow. Belka sits in a glass case in the museum while Strelka is part of a traveling exhibit that has visited the U.S., China, Australia, Israel and other countries."

The photograph is from a Library of Congress photograph collection. Stumbling over one of the cutest dog pictures I've ever seen inspired me to do a little research on it's subjects.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blessings #1

This entry is, hopefully, the first of a kind. I have just passed the 100-post mark and it occurred to me only this morning, sorry to say, that I really need a category entitled "Blessings".

I am writing this post on a laptop, a Mac iBook G3, given to me a couple of days ago by a very dear friend. As her family upgraded their own computers, she graciously bestowed this one on me. Refusing my attempts to pay her, this is by no means an uncharacteristic kindness of my friend. She routinely demonstrates the spiritual gift of generosity to all who know her. It's who she is and it's what she does because it's the way God made her. And she knows full well that what she has done for me is not merely given me a gift, but she has enabled me. She has invested in my life in a singularly meaningful way. I am humbled and awed by this, and I can't express enough gratitude. I will spend the next few weeks trying, though.

My intention is to optimize my new iBook for the writing and production of original music. A bright happy day has dawned around here in the land of Pike Speak. Dreams deferred have been resurrected and have taken on fresh, new vibrant colors.

I am richly blessed in friends, that is for sure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blue Man Group: How To Be A Megastar Tour

Last Sunday night we went to see the Blue Man Group in Dayton and it was a fabulous show. I have always been intrigued by how wildly creative they are and especially fascinated with their unusual musical instruments.

This particular tour features a large live rock and roll band and a lot of music, inclusive of both classic rock and some fine original music. Their version of The Who's "Teenage Wasteland" is especially great.

There are two primary themes to the show. The most visceral is the unfolding parody of the cult of celebrity, specifically in the music biz, which they launch off of the concept of the three blue men sending off for and receiving a mailorder manual and video with instructions on how to become a megastar. Very, very funny stuff.

The secondary theme, more subtle and thoughtful, unfolds in the original music and video segments, exploring the postmodern idea of feeling alienated and dehumanized by mounting contemporary societal pressures and the pace of technological advancements. These themes include the emotional and spiritual aspects of being overwhelmed by the amount of information, feeling alone in crowds, searching for love, the fear of reaching out to others in meaningful ways, and the pressure to suppress individuality for the sake of conforming to social conventions.

Artistically, some of these ideas succeed better than others, but the juxtaposition of these ideas with outrageous humor and bold artistic gestures and images was loads of fun.

It is a smallish venue, the Nutter Center in Dayton, and we had excellent seats some 32 rows from the stage, next to the sound board The show was mixed on a Yamaha PM1D with minimal outboard gear employed. Audio Analysts, one of the best companies in the industry, provided all of the tour support on the audio side. The volume was completely adequate but even at its most exuberant never approached the sound pressure levels usually heard at a live rock show. And the mix was quite good, very listenable, especially for a show in an athletic arena. Sorry to say, I'm not sure who the lighting company was, but the lighting design work was great.

Other show highlights included great performances by the band and extensive utilization of some of their unique self-designed musical instruments such as the tubulum and the drumbone made from PVC and the airpoles, which are made of various sizes of steel whip antennae. Very cool. Also, I especially enjoyed the boisterous use of the suspended concert bass drum and the open grand piano soundboard, both of which were pummelled mercilessly with giant sized mallets. Great video and animation, as well. There also had confetti cannons, TV headgear, and some crazy live video shennigans with microcameras inserted into various objects and orifices. Wild fun. It was a very enjoyable evening.

I found this pick underneath one of the seats in the row behind us as we were leaving.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

4:00 AM and wide awake

“So what did you write about?” she asked as we walked to the car.

It was 10:00 PM and we were on the way home from Sacred Grounds, Richmond’s premier coffee shop. We had been there since 7:00, kind of an impromptu date night, with the intent of a light supper and the relaxing cup of warm joe.

She is working on fleshing out the bones of a great book idea on her laptop. I had a little BSF homework left to do, passage analysis on Romans 12:3-8, and then the freedom to read or to write as I pleased.

“Hmm.” I cleared my throat. I had anticipated this question, and had already weighed my response. I had considered the parry, perhaps the distraction or the oblique, but opted for transparency. I wanted to be honest, but I didn’t want to cast a pall on the whole evening. “Disappointment, mostly…but it was good.”

She was quiet for a moment. Not the answer she had hoped for, but she was not surprised either. She knew that I wasn’t talking about her, or about us, but about me.

“Was it something from that book?,” she inquired, very slightly peeved, wanting to know if this was just me being gratuitously morose again or if there had actually been a spark of something meaningful in my answer. She had given me a wonderful little volume several days before entitled “The Pocket Muse-Ideas and Inspirations for Writing,” by Monica Wood which I had been reading with enjoyment.

“Sort of…well, yeah, definitely,” I replied unconvincingly. But as I considered the naked inadequacy of that answer in the quiet time after that, I realized that it really had been partly a result of something I had read.

“Cleverness is not wisdom” was the quote by Euripides that had stuck with me. Wood’s intent with that quotation was to expose the fallacy of prosaic artifice that does not serve the writer’s subject or intent, but instead attempts to impress the reader with the author’s intellect or deft technical skill. But the bigger difference between cleverness and wisdom is not in technique, but in ethical depth and veracity. Wisdom is informed by truthfulness, whereas in cleverness truth is optional and sometimes an encumbrance.

So what I had written in my journal was truthful. Painful, confessional, self-accusatory, lacking in cleverness, and with no pretense at wisdom, but definitely truthful.

And truth can set a man free.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Gandhi Schmandhi, thats what I always say...

Fred Thompson's got it goin' on. Commenting on some of the anti-war left's exaltation of Mahatma Gandi as a symbol of peace, he notes:

"During World War II, Gandhi penned an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis. Later, when the extent of the holocaust was known, he criticized Jews who had tried to escape or fight for their lives as they did in Warsaw and Treblinka. The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife, he said. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. Collective suicide, he told his biographer, would have been heroism."

Fred and I agree, Gandhi was a knucklehead. Although I mean that in a nice way.

Refractions: Being a Child of the Creative Age

I read the transcript of an inspiring speech by artist Mako Fujimura to the recent International Arts Movement (IAM) conference, an organization I had never heard of until yesterday.

"If you asked a room full of kindergarteners "Raise your hand if you are an artist!" Almost every child would raise his hand. But if you ask a room full of adults, almost every adult would not."

Quoting Bronte's Jane Eyre, and holding it up as a model, Fujimura calls on artists to “create the world that ought to be.” It is a stirring and fascinating piece.

Please go read it.

And I need to go find a copy of Jane Eyre. I know, don't say it...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Current Events

JP is out of school for spring break. Its great to have him home.

My grandma turned 91 this past Friday and we celebrated on Sunday at my folks house. She is such a gem. We are so blessed to have her in our lives. She got her driver's license renewed last Friday, too. But she only drives to church, the bank, and the grocery...less than 5 miles round trip, so don't worry. She's smart and she knows her limitations.

I don't exactly know what to call what it is I did at church on Sunday. Basically, during the offering time, I orated/performed a poem (co-written by my friend, John Waltz) accompanied by a simple hip-hoppish/electronica-style musical underscore that I composed. Is there a name for that? I was a little nervous at first, but after I got into it, it seemed to go well from my perspective. So far, all the feedback I received was positive. It was definitely different than anything we had done before. It was my wife's concept. She's a smart one. If I get a video clip, I'll try to figure out how to post it.

We did several cool things at church this weekend, including playing as a postlude the old R&B hit "I'll Take You There" by the Staple Singers, redone ala BeBe & CeCe Winans. Jesus likes the funky music and so do I. Go check out this fabulous YouTube clip of this tune on Soul Train. You know this song - you love this song. It is big fun.

Next weekend, I get to play my lapsteel guitar at church. I need to practice and get my chops together. Scary, because I'm really not very good, yet.

The snow is nearly gone, having had a couple of days where the temps were in the upper 50's. It was unnerving how quickly the birds and bugs appeared, though, at the first hint of warm weather. Somehow a wasp got in the house, in our bedroom, and in our bed on Saturday morning. Not long after I left for a BSF meeting, Nancy woke up to find that she had been stung on the palm and looked over to see a wasp sauntering across my pillow. She was not pleased, to say the least. And we've already had flies and ladybugs (actually, it is that stinky little asian beetle that looks like a lady bug - you know the one). Yeesh. This old house needs an exterminator.

I'm quitting my part-time job at the USPS. As much as we need the extra income, I really have felt since the first of the year that the Lord was nudging me to let it go. It will be a couple of months, probably, before they find my replacement and I am committed to stay on until they do, but it is in the works. This will help me in several areas, simplifying some things and enabling me to do a better job in my function as lay worship leader and artist at my church. It will also require me to trust God in an area where I always seem to have security. I'm cool with that although I don't expect it will be easy. The Lord and I have a long history with this particular topic, and I'm probably due another lesson. He will provide, just like He always has.


Friday, March 09, 2007


"Prayer is like the dove that Noah sent out from the Ark. It blessed him not only when it returned with an olive leaf in its mouth, but when it never returned at all."

This thoughtful illustration is quoted from Today's Dictionary of the Bible, the 1982 edition, which is published by Guideposts/Bethany House Publishing. One doesn't expect such poetical musings from a dictionary. I copied this quote several years ago and it is written on one of several small slips of paper that randomly inhabit the pages of my Bible. It is fun to stumble across it from time to time as I'm reading other things.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Triangulation Adulation - The small, the mighty

Last night I finished the track for my spoken word thing that I'm doing for my church this weekend. It is pretty simple, really, composed mostly of loops and effects from Garageband (the program, not the previously mentioned website), which is, of course, a standard fixture on my wife's Mac laptop.

As a composer, one of my very favorite instruments is the triangle. It is a very unassuming, seemingly simple device. It looks like it would be easy to play and is just about as uncomplicated in design as anything one could imagine.

Even a caveman could play the triangle!

This is not true, however. The triangle, like the humble shaker, actually requires great physical skill, keen sense of rhythm, and zen master-like powers of concentration. It is capable of a tremendous variety of subtle tonalities. In an orchestral setting, the triangle is sometimes played in a manner as shown in the picture above. In more rhythmic applications, i.e. Latin or other "world" musics, it is typically held in a way that enables the player to use his palm to alternately mute and unmute the triangle as he strikes it. It is only very occasionally played in the style of the chuck wagon cook who is calling the ranch hands in to dinner.

The triangle completely and absolutely dominates in the frequency spectrum that it performs in. There are a few other noteworthy cymbal-type percussion devices that also thrive in that part of the spectrum, but they do not rule the kingdom like the triangle does. It is really an especially powerful sound when played in a driving, rhythmic beat. It creates a relentless, irresistable pace to the beat, energizing a groove like nothing else. It adds a special kind of shiny high-gloss sheen to the sound, but it can also be the glue that fuses together the various elements of a groove. From a compositional standpoint, much of this is true of electronic, sampled triangle sounds, as well, although I always prefer the real thing when possible.

This is the kind of thing that makes me happy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I'm working on a couple of real blog entries...some poetry, another Frederick Polley installment, maybe some reflections on the the prophecies of Isaiah, and/or the attributes of God. You know, the regular stuff, nothing too heavy.

But I'm also working myself silly at the moment. I need a clone...preferably one with some significant investment income to rely on.

So, for now, all I've got is this link to a cool website with great music by people you've never heard of before. Pick a genre and then find the button that says "PLAY ALL" and away you go, listening to tunes on your computer. Sure it's obscure, but that is what makes it cool. Only you, me, and maybe 37 other people on the planet will know this music exists.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How To Make A Record

Here are a couple of really cool short YouTube videos on how vinyl records are made. I've been in the music biz for over half my life and I've never seen this before.

Part 1

Part 2


Do you kiss your grandma with that mouth?

I found this survey about the use of profanity on the internet interesting. The focus is sufficently narrow, specifically targeting high-profile politcal blogs on both the right and the left. It does include, of course, not just the blog content but the comments left by blog readers. It is not high science, perhaps, and I don't know if the methodology would survive the scrutiny of professional statisticians, but it is telling, nevertheless.

It would appear, as I suspected all along, that Democrats are a bunch of rude, intolerant, closeminded, foul-mouthed heathens. Oh, and the Republicans are too. When it comes to being wrong, just because you aren't as wrong as some other guy doesn't mean you are right.

Let it be known that we'll brook no such sailor-talk around these parts.

h/t Instapundit...because Glenn knows it all first and then tells the rest of us.