Monday, November 28, 2016

What Do We Call That, That... Affected Vocalization? I suggest "Jeweling" ...

There doesn't yet seem to be consensus on what to call that "thing" that many young female (and a few male) vocalists now do to stylize their vocalization. But once you hear it, you'll probably recognize it.

A few examples:

Why Did You Marry, by Nataly Dawn

Lucky, by Kat Edmonson

Fireflies, by Owl City

The style is now deployed to the extreme by many young singers, particularly those striving to distinguish themselves in TV competitions. Listen to the judges on America's Got Talent freak out about how "special" this is:

Grace VanderWaal on America's Got Talent

The formula for this style seems to be to transform every vowel into a tortured sequence of intermediate or even unrelated vowels. For example, the "I" in "I love you" might become \ äəij \ , rather than \ ī \ as in "ice" and so forth.

It's tempting to call this "diphthonging," but that would refers to fusing merely two vowels, e.g. a+i= ai, so perhaps "polyphthonging" or "multiphthonging" might be more appropriate. In any case, it's perhaps a form of "vowel breaking," somewhat related to the spoken phenomenon that we call "southern drawl" - that tendency to introduce intermediate vowels that sort of draw a word out; e.g.,

cat becomes \ cæjət \

pet becomes \ pɛjət \

And so forth. Drawl gives us some insight into the cultural reasons for ornamenting sung vowels: it's to lend some lilt to words that would otherwise be short and, well, otherwise unremarkable.

So where did this \ shɪjət \ begin, you ask?

Well, I remember noticing affected vocalization way back when Björk first came on the scene; here is an early example; see if you can count how many vowels she manages to insert into the words "quiet" and "still":

It's Oh So Quiet, by Björk

Sinead O'Connor certainly gave us some finely affected vocalizations as well; for example,

Nothing Compares 2 U, by Sinead O'Connor / Prince

O'Connor was of course one of many "Celtic" singers to bring the passagio into play, giving us that falsetto-like yodeling sound that conveyed heartache and vulnerability all over the airwaves. The style perhaps reached its pinnacle with Sarah McLachlan:

Adia, by Sarah McLachlan

But I digress; Sarah McLachlan really didn't polyphthong so much.

One of the most memorable examples of affected vocalization was furnished by Jewel Kilcher, known to most of us simply as "Jewel." Remember this vocal gem from the mid '90s?

Who Will Save Your Soul, by Jewel

Here, Jewel explores every human register and every vowel in every word. I think we need to award her bonus points for also using vocal fry a.k.a. "creaky voice" ...long before it was a thing. (Move over, Zooey!) Yes, Jewel did it all, and long ago. So maybe we should call it "jeweling" ?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity - 3 Stars

I just enjoyed "The Man Who Knew Infinity," the new film about Indian prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, the real-life mathematical prophet who delivered so many very important and difficult mathematical identities around the time of the first World War.
In the film's lead role is Dev Patel, the talented young Londoner who you will remember from "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies, as well as the UK version of "Skins." Patel delivers a fine performance, and he is much assisted by Jeremy Irons, who is cast as Ramanujan's Cambridge colleague, G.H. Hardy.
I would've preferred the film to be less about the tension between the two lead characters, and more about Ramanujan himself- his life and times. I was hoping to learn more about Ramanujan's upbringing and what motivated him to pursue mathematics with such incredible focus. However, it's quite possible that there really isn't much of a record, simply because he arose so quickly from complete obscurity. "The Imitation Game" writers would probably want to imply Ramanujan was somewhere on the spectrum. Maybe it's best that this film actually sticks to the facts!
And the facts are these: Ramanujan had an incredible mathematical gift, and his work continues to astound any who understand it. Those familiar with Indian mathematics will know that there have been many amazing prodigies; yet Ramanujan is truly beyond comparison...*any* comparison. He was so good that when you really delve into his work, it feels like a very clever hoax. Can he possibly be *that* good?! Therein lies this film's big challenge: it'd very difficult for audiences to grasp the magnitude of Ramanujan's contributions. And so any non-mathy audience members are supposed to sense that genius, somewhat vicariously, via the other math whizzes who encounter Ramanujan in the film. And so the film has a *very* difficult challenge, and unlike "Imitation Game," there aren't gimmicks that can be deployed e.g. defeating a Nazi machine. Ramanujan simply did incomparably exceptional work in mathematics, with no real goal in mind other than imparting his findings to others before he passed. 
(Note: Ramanujan suffered from all manner of maladies throughout his short life and probably knew that he'd be gone soon. The movie doesn't inform us quite enough on that point, I feel.)
"The Man Who Knew Infinity" doesn't pack all the star power and made-for-Hollywood character eccentricities and narrative gimmickry of "The Imitation Game." This film doesn't have the same broad-audience appeal ...and really isn't even aiming for that. However, it is very nice to see Ramanujan's story finally being told with good care. Ramanujan was the kind of person who only becomes more and more amazing, the more you know.
Good film; very well cast and filmed. I would've really enjoyed another ten minutes on his earlier life, and that might have helped the whole film feel more personal
I'd give it three stars out of five.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

**** #MANHATTAN: #MadMen meets the Manhattan Project (my review)

Though cancelled by WGN after two seasons, the series MANH(A)TTAN has received exceptional critical response. I can see why.

Set around the remote campus of Los Alamos during the WW2 project of the same name, MANH(A)TTAN doesn't aim to retell that story with literal historical accuracy. Instead, it is a form of historical fiction that focuses on the very real isolation, the smothering secrecy, and the surreal circumstances of families sequestered for years. Imagine the dysfunction that ensues when you put a lot of brilliant people in a box and tell them to work together on something that might end life as they know it; that is what MANH(A)TTAN is all about.

The acting and cinematography in MANH(A)TTAN are top-notch, and you can expect the same attention to historical detail that many of us enjoyed throughout Mad Men. The writers put an engaging cast to the test, and the result is really superb dramatic television. I truly don't know how I missed it until now.

Don't let the series graphic mislead you: there is nothing remotely comedic or strangelovish about MANH(A)TTAN. This is a seriously disturbing story- perhaps too much so for WGN.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quick summary of #Bundy/ #Hammond standoff near Burns, yours truly

"People need to be aware that we've become a system where government is actually claiming and using and defending people's rights, and they are doing that against the people" - sample of the incoherent mutterings by the leader of a group of idiots presently occupying the Federal Building near Burns, Oregon. 
The "Burns" site is kinda ironic; this band of protesters is allied with a father and son convicted and serving time for arson, the Hammonds.
The leader of the "militia," Ammon Bundy, is the son of cantankerous rancher Cliven Bundy, who thinks it's okay to release his animals to graze in a national park land without paying fees.
Bundy says they'll occupy the building near Burns for a year or so if necessary. I don't think the vending machines will get them past a few days but who knows, maybe they brought peanut butter.
But wait for it... this gets even better. The Hammond family has said they don't want the protesters there. That's right, the people on whose behalf the protesters are committing this federal crime actually don't want the protesters there:
"Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family," the Hammonds' lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward. Whose jurisdiction this caper has now well exceeded.
Apparently the Bundys had a bit too much fun on New Year's Eve. Just hope it doesn't end in unnecessary violence, though. 
‪#‎Murica‬, baby. Hey this would make a good miniseries, if it were set in the 1800s.