ORB-ISH

Thus far, my 3D experience in After Effects has consisted of making cubes in After Effects 3D environment. I figured it was time to move on to spheres. So I searched the www and quickly located a FREE plug-in from Video Copilot called ORB. Yes, that’s right, it’s free ! And, there is a nice video tutorial, so I was making “Orbs” (spheres) within minutes of downloading the plug-in, thanks to Video Copilot ! It uses its own 3D space which is controlled within the plug-in (and not After Effects 3D space), which presents some constraints ( … ah, but isn’t much of film-making about working around constraints ? … ) In the process of learning to use ORB, I made a series of variations (or perhaps, meditations) which consist of loops. I assembled all the variations to create the little film “ORB-ISH”. The imagery derives mainly from time-lapse scenes collected over the last 2 years. The variations are put together in the order that they were created (with music was added).

Yeah Mon, I am the Shaman

Donovan’s new song “I Am The Shaman” has a video directed by David Lynch. It’s beautiful & haunting and features a chorus sung backwards. I don’t know if this was Lynch’s idea or Donovan’s, but it has a strange effect and plays well in the dreamlike quality of the song. It’s good to see Donovan still doing his mystical thing at age 75. Remember “The Hurdy Gurdy Man”? That was over 50 years ago. I was 17 and had no idea what he was singing about and no idea what a “Hurdy Gurdy Man” could be. Still, the song stuck with you.

In the intervening years, I found out that a Hurdy Gurdy is a stringed musical instrument which has a rich history dating back to the 11th century. A hand crank rotates a wheel which rubs against the strings producing violin like sounds. It is similar to a bagpipe in that it has drone strings which produce a constant sound under the melodies played. It is hard to imagine one “singing songs of love” against the melancholy sounds it produces, but if anyone could do it, Donovan could.

My friend Phil Arnot 1924-2021

I first met Phil Arnot in 1991, responding to an ad in a local newspaper for a 9 day backpacking adventure in a “remote” region of the High Sierra called “The Black Divide”, led by Phil. At the time, I was nearly 41, and in reasonably good shape. Phil was 67, so I figured I would have no problem keeping up with the group. It’s not like we were mounting an expedition to Mount Everest. The first day, as we entered the High Sierra by hiking 8 miles over Bishop Pass (12,000′) burdened by backpacks heavy with supplies for the next 9 days, it dawned on me that this was going to be an awesome experience. And, despite the the fact that everyone in the group was in as good or better shape than me, none of us were as fit as Phil. Phil, as it turns out, had been hiking all over the High Sierra since the 1940s, and guiding trips since the 1960s. He had an intimate and spiritual relationship with this sublime wilderness and loved to share it’s secrets and stories with others. He used to say that he did not go into the wilderness for recreation, he went there for RE-creation, to be renewed, to be RE-created in the pantheistic beauty of the natural world.

Besides being a wilderness guide, he was a skilled photographer, author and teacher. He grew up in San Francisco and was a star athlete excelling in track while in High School and later at University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a pilot on a B-17, flying 21 missions over Germany for which he was awarded several service medals. After the war, he became a committed pacifist, frequently attending peace marches and writing letters to politicians, hoping to make the world a better place. He most certainly did. For many who knew him, myself included, he was an inspiration. GRATITUDE. PEACE. LOVE. My friend.

Maurice Ravel “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand”

As far as I know, and that is certainly not much, Ravel wrote 2 piano concertos. Both are fantastic, and contrast nicely with each other. They were both written around the same time, 1929-1930. The Concerto in G is light, jazzy and has an affecting adagio in the middle section. The Left Hand Concerto is dark and moody and doesn’t have a middle section.

The Left Hand Concerto was commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who happened to be the older brother of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the famed philosopher (known for quotes such as “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.”). Anyhow, Paul Wittgenstein made his musical debut in 1913, at around age 25. In 1914, World War I breaks out and he is called into Military Service. It does not go well for Wittgenstein, during a battle he is shot in his right arm and then captured by the Russians. His right arm is amputated. While recovering in a prisoner of war camp in Siberia, he resolves to continue his career as a pianist using only his left hand. After the war, after much study, he approaches many well-known composers of the day, including Maurice Ravel who wrote the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand for Wittgenstein. There was friction between Wittgenstein and Ravel, after Wittgenstein made changes to Ravel’s score. Go figure.

3 Etudes for piano by Bela Bartok

Etudes (French for “studies”) are instrumental works, usually requiring considerable athleticism or dexterity, intended to help develop particular technical skills at whatever instrument.  The great ones, like those of Chopin or Debussy, transcend the level of being mere exercises, and are great works of music, frequently preformed in concert halls.  Bartok wrote only these 3.  He performed them for the first (& last) time in 1918 to an unprepared and shocked audience.

This performance is by a young (age 25 at the time of this recording) Russian pianist Mark Taratushkin.  For whatever reason, even though I have heard various recordings of these works, his performance here really impressed me, somehow transcending the sheer virtuosity required.  Bravo!

pr. cl. (a CalArts optical printer film circa 1975-77)

I was a a student T.A. at Cal Arts 1975-1976, and I was tasked with instructing fellow students on the operation of the Optical Printer and the Oxberry Animation Stand (skills I acquired from the great Pat O’Neill, a mentor).  In the course of teaching Optical Printer techniques, the class did little film experiments (which I used to keep in film cans that I labeled “pr. cl.”, my abbreviation for “printer class”).  I left CalArts before the end of the 1976 academic year to work at Industrial Light & Magic on a film called Star Wars, and the classes were ably taken over by David Wilson.  One of the students in the class, Rick Blanchard, ended up with the “little experiments” and created this film.  Crazy, but I have no memory of how I ended up with a print of the film, which I had digitized a number of years ago, along with other films, and promptly forgot about.

CalArts optical printer, circa 1973:

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Tarantula (!) 1955 in QUAD-o-RAMA !!

Truncated and QUAD-o-RAMAed so that you can experience and enjoy this classic 1950s science fiction film in exactly 10 minutes.  Note the exclamation mark after Tarantula only appears in the advertising art but not on the main title of the actual film, a fascinating bit of useless trivia.

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Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G

A great performance by Yuja Wang, wonderfully photographed capturing all the major members of the orchestra. This bluesy jazz influenced work premiered in January 1932 with Ravel conducting the orchestra and Marguerite Long performing (the work is dedicated to her).  It is said that Ravel was influenced by Jazz idioms which were popular in both Paris and the United States.  Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in 1924.  Was Ravel influenced by Gershwin?  Certainly there was some mutual admiration.  They met in New York in 1928, Gershwin age 30, Ravel age 53.  Gershwin supposedly asked Ravel about the possibility of studying with him… to which Ravel replied:  “Why would you want to be a 2nd rate Ravel when you can be a 1st rate Gershwin?”

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Ravel at the piano with Gershwin looking on.